If the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) cannot implement and impose its own policies and guidelines, it is better to abolish this supreme health body. Recently, it has been observed that the IATF has been flop-flopping on its own decisions. It appears that the body is like a “toothless tiger.” So, it’s better to abolish this body and give the local government units (LGUs) the autonomy and total powers to formulate and set their own Covid-19 policies and guidelines.
No less than Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Senators Imee Marcos and Risa Hontiveros are among those who are calling for the IATF’s abolition due to its supposed incompetence in handling the Covid-19 crisis.
“It’s time to abolish the IATF. Let’s begin with true medical, science-based approach that would really help the public. The handling has been inept and unduly difficult for the Filipino people,” Marcos said, adding that doctors and public health experts should be tapped to “straighten out” government’s policies.
The IATF 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 country at that time. The IATF only became popular during the emergence of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) last year.
It is composed of representatives from the following national line agencies: Department of Health (DOH), Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Justice, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Tourism and Department of Transportation.
It has so many functions, one of which is to formulate guidelines and policies to prevent, minimize, control and possibly eradicate an infectious disease. Since most of the representatives have no medical background, except the DOH secretary, who is the chairman, it hired medical experts as consultants. Presently, it has 55 experts and consultants. The task force regularly notifies the President and even the World Heath Organization (WHO) about its assessment and moves on emerging infectious disease situation. Its recommendation is subject to the approval of the President.
But how many times did the IATF flip-flop on its own decisions? Consider this: As early as last year, it recommended the holding of face-to-face classes. Also, in January, it recommended that children aged 10-14 will be allowed to go out in areas under the general community quarantine (GCQ and modified general community quarantine (MGCQ). But when President Duterte did not approve the recommendations, it set aside those recommendations.
In February this year, it recommended the opening of cinemas, entertainment venues and game arcades in areas under GCQ and MGCQ, but when Metro Manila mayors, including Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella, opposed the recommendation, it did not pursue implementation. Also, last February, the IATF relaxed its guidelines for travellers. It recommended that travellers will no longer be mandated to undergo 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. This is contained in Resolution 101, standardizing travel protocols for air, sea and land. But some LGUs did not follow the guidelines and insisted on their own policy.
Just recently, the IATF came up with two guidelines. Its allows fully vaccinated individuals on interzonal travel to just present their vaccination cards instead of their negative RT-PCR test. But when some LGUs resisted, the IAFT flip-flopped (made an abrupt reversal) of their decision and left the discretion to the LGUs to require fully vaccinated travellers to present their negative RT-PCR test for their entry into their jurisdiction.
The most recent of the IATF’s “urong-sulong” policy is allowing children to go out in some selected venues in areas under GCQ and MGCQ. But some LGUs refused to implement this guideline, claiming children are susceptible to the virus. And the IATF said it will leave the matter to the LGUs. Ano ba talaga, kuya? Why can’t the IATF impose its own uniform guidelines? If that is the case, we will give the LGUs total powers to set their own guidelines. Why rely on IATF when it cannot impose its own policies?
When their guidelines on arriving overseas Filipino workers and returning overseas Filipinos did not harmonize with that of the Cebu Provincial Government’s policy, the IATF, with the backing of the President, insisted that its policy should be followed because it is based on medicine and science-based management and that because the country is under national health emergency. The President even threatened to defy any court order if the court did not rule in favor of the guidelines. The IATF is just another layer in government bureaucracy. So, better to abolish it.