DILG lauds SC ruling rejecting plea for COVID-19 mass testing

The Department of the Interior and Local Government on Thursday lauded the Supreme Court ruling rejecting the plea of a group seeking to compel the DILG and other government agencies to conduct free COVID-19 mass testing.

DILG Spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said the High Court’s 13-1-1 vote denying the petition for mandamus was a “breath of fresh air” that should put an end to what was obviously a “propaganda stunt.”

“We welcome the Supreme Court decision because it reinforced the government’s position that there is no need to conduct mass testing for the coronavirus simply because there is already a comprehensive COVID-19 testing program in place.”

Malaya said that the petition for mass testing makes “no sense” because existing IATF health protocols already provide free testing for health workers, close-contacts of COVID patients, and those with symptoms upon assessment by health professionals, hence, only those that need to are being tested.

He said that those most at risk for COVID-19 are being prioritized for the expanded testing as prescribed by DOH Department Memorandum 2020-0151 and reiterated by Department Circular No. 2020-0179. The two priority sub-groups are:

(1) patients or healthcare workers with severe or critical symptoms and history of travel or exposure, and

(2) patients or healthcare workers with mild symptoms, relevant history of travel or exposure, and considered vulnerable (e.g. 60 years old or older, has other illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, or is immunocompromised).

Patients or healthcare workers who are not considered vulnerable but with mild symptoms and relevant history of travel or exposure, and those with no symptoms but have relevant history of travel or exposure are also being tested under the expanded testing scheme.

“If you don’t fall under these 2 qualifications but want to be tested, you need to be assessed by a licensed health professional who shall determine whether you get tested,” he said.

“We thank the Supreme Court for dismissing this obvious propaganda stunt because it is not only impractical, it has no logic whatsoever. COVID testing is a medical procedure and therefore it must be governed by science and not by hash tags,” he added.

Malaya said that the Philippines, in fact, already has the highest testing capacity in the entire Southeast Asian region, with the country having tested more unique individuals than its economically advanced neighbor countries.

The Philippines has so far tested some 3,012,600 unique individuals in some 100+ laboratories across the country.

“Let us now focus our energy on a more daunting task at hand: living with the virus under the new normal as we all await the much-needed vaccine or cure. The economy should slowly reopen. Life goes on,” he stressed.

The High Tribunal said it denied the petition for the issuance of a writ of mandamus filed by the Citizens Urgent Response to End COVID-19 (CURE COVID-19) led by its spokesperson, former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo because the petitioners failed to show that they are entitled to it.

A petition for mandamus seeks to order a tribunal, corporation, board, officer, or person to perform an unlawfully neglected duty.

“The job of the Court is to say what the law is, not dictate how another branch of government should do its job,” the SC said in its resolution.

“Without a demonstration that an official in the executive branch failed to perform a mandatory, nondiscretionary duty, courts have no authority to issue a writ of mandamus, no matter how dire the emergency,” it also said.

Malaya agreed with the Supreme Court that the petitioners failed to exhaust all remedies as they could have gone to the DILG and other government agencies like the Department of Health, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), or even the Office of the President before filing the petition.

Named as respondents were Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as head of the National Task Force on COVID-19, Sec. Carlito Galvez as the chief implementer of the National Action Plan against COVID-19, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año as IATF vice-chairperson, and IATF members Sec. Arthur Tugade, Wendel Avisado, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.