AN alert reader has taken issue with The Manila Times’ depiction of Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. as a Health executive, as he openly contests the position of the Department of Health and its top officials on what is the cause of the persistent rise of new Covid cases in the country.
In our issue on Saturday, September 5, we headlined a report by Times reporter Catherine Valente, which said that top health executives are split in their opinions on the cause of the coronavirus’ spread in the country.
The two officials Ms. Valente prominently cited were: 1) Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, a doctor with experience and background in public health, who delivers the daily briefings on the pandemic situation in the country for the Department of Health and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID); and 2) Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., who doubles as the chief implementer of the government’s pandemic response.
It cannot be reassuring for the nation and the public to find these two officials sharply clashing in their perception of our Covid problem because it suggests that our battle plan and policies against Covid-19 are headed in conflicting directions.
Reader Mario Patricio contends that the credentials and competence of these two officials for fighting the pandemic need to be reviewed and validated by the government.
Health Undersecretary Vergeire, as far as we know, is a bona fide doctor of medicine, who took postgraduate studies in the field of public health. She has been dealing with infectious diseases for quite some time at our Health department.
Secretary Galvez, on the other hand, is a government official, whose aptitude for health problems and issues seem to have come from nowhere. By experience and training, he is a man of military science, whose specialty is soldiering and troop command and who was at the forefront of the government’s peace negotiations with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Until he was tapped to serve as chief implementer of the government’s anti-Covid program, he had never dealt with health issues in his public life.
There is a second puzzle about Secretary Galvez. It does not say in the record that he is a member of IATF-EID.
The IATF-EID was created in 2014 through Executive Order (EO) No. 168, which was issued by former president Benigno Aquino 3rd. It was organized as the government’s instrument to assess, monitor, contain, control and prevent the spread of any potential epidemic in the Philippines.
The executive order enumerates the executive departments that are members of the IATF- EID; nowhere is the presidential peace adviser mentioned as part of the task force by the EO.
While it is true that Galvez has been designated as the chief implementer of the government’s Covid-19 program, this designation did not establish him as one of the policy makers in fighting the pandemic. His actual work appears to relate more to executing policy, rather than making it.
When Secretary Galvez declares emphatically that the cause of the spike in Covid infections is home quarantine, he is making an important judgment that should properly be made by a duly appointed medical professional. It is not his role or responsibility to decide what is the cause of the viral spread.
In contrast, our Health department, which has more medical professionals than any other organization in the country, contends that the increase in cases is mainly due to the opening of the economy and the increased mobility of people. The Health department is named as chair of the IATF-EID in the enabling order.
Clarification, therefore, of Secretary Galvez’s role in the pandemic fight is necessary. This could lead to a more successful strategy in managing the health emergency.