Nalzaro: IATF’s ‘sulong-urong’ attitude

The Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) was created by virtue of an Executive Order 168 during the term of former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III in 2014. Its creation was in response to the emergence of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), Avian Influenza, Ebola and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (Mers-Cov) infections that hit the global community at that time. The IATF only became popular during the emergence of Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) last year.

The IATF is composed of representatives of the following national line agencies: Department of Health (DOH), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Labor and Employment (Dole), Department of Tourism (DOT) and Department of Transportation (DOTr). It has so many functions, one of which is to set and formulate guidelines and policies to prevent, minimize, control and the possible eradication of an infectious disease. Since most of the representatives have no medical background, the task force is hiring experts in the medical field to be its advisers and consultants. The task force will regularly notify the President and even the World Health Organization (WHO) about its assessment and move on the emerging infectious disease situation.

Unlike other calamities, the Covid-19 pandemic is practically new to us. Our government has no template on how to respond and address the crisis. There is no precedent. That is why our authorities keep on changing their policies every now and then to respond to the needs of the times. How many times did the IATF change its policies?

Last January, the IATF recommended that children aged 10-14 will be allowed to go out under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) starting February. Local government units (LGUs), on the other hand, are enjoined to adopt the same relaxation of age restrictions for areas under general community quarantine (GCQ). The IATF said allowing children to go out will be good for the physical, social and mental health of children who stayed in their homes for several months. But when the President did not approve the recommendation, the IATF recalled and withdrew its recommendation.

Also, last February, the IATF recommended the reopening of cinemas, game arcades and other entertainment venues in areas under GCQ. But when Metro Manila mayors, including Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella, opposed it, it recalled the recommendation. The Department of Education (DepEd) and the IATF also recommended the resumption of face-to-face classes in areas with minimal or zero Covid-19 cases. But when Duterte said “no,” it did not force the issue.

Also in February, the IATF relaxed its guidelines on travellers. It says that travellers will no longer be mandated to undergo a Covid-19 test except when required by their destination LGU. No traveler would be required to undergo quarantine unless he or she manifested Covid-19 symptoms upon arrival. These new rules are contained in Resolution 101, which the IATF approved last Feb. 24 to standardize travel protocols for land, air and sea.

These are just some of the recommendations of the IATF that were later withdrawn. So the personalities behind IATF are not really sure and determined about their recommendations. Because if they are sure about it, they should have pushed it. Now, here come their guidelines on arriving Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) to be quarantined for 10 days in a hotel and be swabbed on the seventh day.

But when Gov. Gwen Garcia “modified” their guidelines by swabbing OFWs and ROFs upon arrival and releasing them immediately if the result comes negative but still subject for another swabbing on the seventh day, they protested and accused Gwen of defiance. They want Gwen to follow their guidelines to the letter. But Gwen did not defy their guidelines; she just innovated it. Would they again insist on their guidelines but later change it? “Sulong-urong” (advance-retreat) attitude.

In their meeting with the President last Monday night, Governor Garcia reported that the chief executive did not rebuke her executive order. In fact, the President told DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III to study Garcia’s policy and the IATF may adopt it. The President even described Gwen as being pro-active. So, in effect, Duterte listened to the side and sentiments of the governor. Duque took heed of the President’s order, but with resistance, saying: “I don’t think that will change our minds. You see, it’s only Duterte’s lieutenants who are insistent on their policies that suit their personal and hidden agenda.”