MANILA, Philippines — Various groups filed yesterday a petition for mandamus before the Supreme Court (SC) to compel the government to conduct free mass testing for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) while the country continues to grapple with the pandemic.
The petitioners headed by former Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) secretary Judy Taguiwalo said in a 74-page petition that the government officials leading the battle against COVID-19 must conduct mass testing “in a proactive and effective manner.”
At least 10 other individuals have signed the petition filed before the SC.
“The omission of proactive and efficient mass testing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a systematic and normalized violation of the right to health engenders the impairment of other human rights and liberties, such as the rights to travel, livelihood or work, education and access to justice,” the group said.
Named respondents in the case are Secretaries Francisco Duque III (Health), Delfin Lorenzana (Defense), Eduardo Año (Interior), Arthur Tugade (Transportation), Wendel Avisado (Budget), Karlo Nograles (Cabinet) and Silvestre Bello III (Labor).
In their petition, the group asked the SC to compel the officials to ensure that all suspect cases, contacts with probable and confirmed cases, healthcare workers and vulnerable individuals will be tested for coronavirus.
The group also demanded to ramp up contact tracing and rapid containment and to improve the laboratory testing capacity in the country by utilizing available resources such as test kits and creating additional testing laboratories.
They also asked the SC to compel the government to provide accurate, timely and complete information on the country’s COVID-19 situation, including data on onset of symptoms, history of exposure, comorbidities, among others.
“Without mass testing, the country treads these perilous and uncertain times blindly. Health authorities know not whose contacts to trace and who should be isolated or treated. Without mass testing, the public faces a never-ending quarantine,” the group said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. is confident that the high court will dismiss the petition, saying what they are asking for are also what the government has been doing.
Roque, at a press briefing before flying to Zamboanga City where President Duterte was set to have a conference with police and military officials, noted that the government has improved immensely from having just one laboratory for testing in March to about 70 accredited testing laboratories nationwide right now.
He maintained that the government has plans to accelerate the testing of suspected COVID-19 cases in the next few days in time for the reopening of the economy.
The expanded testing will go beyond the existing protocols, he added, since it will now cover asymptomatic persons as well as those who have contact with confirmed COVID-19 carriers. The country’s testing capacity is now also beyond the 30,000 daily target.
Roque also said that the government procured about one million PCR testing kits as part of efforts to beef up the resources to fight COVID-19. Christina Mendez
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