Press Release
July 28, 2020

Privilege Speech of Sen. Juan Miguel F. Zubiri on COVID Test Result

Mr. President, I rise on a personal and collective privilege. Yesterday, I was excited to start our second regular session of Congress and to hear the SONA of the President. Those who were going to attend the SONA physically at the House of Representatives Session Hall were supposed to be tested for COVID-19 using a PCR or swab test. We understand that procedure was for the health, safety, and security of all those attending the SONA, particularly President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. So we came early in the Senate to have our swab test taken, of which the result could come out before the start of the State of the Nation Address.

Later in the day, Mr. President, I was approached by our Medical Bureau Director I was about to finish lunch with some of our colleagues, to inform me that the PCR test conducted by the Lung Center of the Philippines yielded a positive result. I was alarmed, and I thought to myself, oh no, not again.

I immediately informed our colleagues whom I was having lunch with, for them to quarantine, as well as to give them my apologies. I have to apologize to the gentlemen and ladies who were with me during lunch.

After informing them, I followed protocol, immediately headed home and decided to isolate myself and not attend the SONA physically anymore. On my way home, I was reminded of what happened to our dear colleague, and my fellow COVID survivor, Sen. Sonny Angara. I remember that after his long quarantine in May and recovery period, he was swab tested as he was donate plasma at St. Luke's, and his test yielded positive as well for COVID-19. His doctors and some experts stated that this positive result could be attributed to the remnants of dead COVID-19 viruses in his body—which some PCR machines cannot distinguish if the COVID-19 viruses are dead or live ones. I know as well of other recovered patients who've had the same experience, particularly my friend Edgar Gatchalian (no relation to Sherwin Gatchalian) who had 16 swab tests due to recurring false positives.

And so, on my way home, I thought of having another confirmatory test. It's like getting a second opinion, so to speak. So I contacted our untiring Red Cross Chair, no other than Senator Dick Gordon, and asked if I can have my confirmatory RT-PCR test with them. The result of the Red Cross RT-PCR test on me was released this morning, and I'm happy to say I am COVID-negative.

Mr. President, I am not an expert on this, and I don't want to pretend to be an expert, but to my understanding, the machine used by the Lung Center and perhaps many other DOH-run hospitals and laboratories conducting PCR COVID-19 test is the GeneXpert machine. I understand these machines were initially intended for TB—tuberculosis—and were later retrofitted for COVID-19 PCR test. I'm not quite sure of the sensitivity of these machines, if they can distinguish dead or live ones.

There is the idea in immunology that you can't catch the same strain of virus twice, especially in a short period of time. You may, of course, catch a different strain—that's certainly possible with the coronavirus, which is a large family of viruses that can cause everything from the common cold to COVID-19. But can we catch COVID-19 twice?

When my test came out positive again yesterday, I immediately consulted with doctors and infectious disease experts I'd met throughout the five months of this ordeal, and I read up on studies on this, and what I am coming to understand is that some RT-PCR tests detect not just active COVID-19 infection, but also fragments of the COVID-19 virus.

South Korea's Center for Disease Control has been leading the scientific inquiry on this, because they have encountered numerous cases of recovered individuals suddenly testing positive again a few weeks later. They took 285 recovered positive cases and traced 790 of their contacts, and they concluded that no viral infection took place between the re-positives and their contacts. The CDC also took respiratory samples from the re-positive individuals and tried to isolate the COVID-19 virus in cell culture—and the results came out negative, meaning the virus was no longer active, as they were only fragments of the dead virus.

What we might take from South Korea's study is that a person may already be recovered, but still test positive. Experts from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health have also been studying this phenomenon, and are coming to the conclusion that recovered individuals may still possess residual genetic material from the broken-down COVID-19 virus. This residue is no longer harmful or contagious. It's merely a trace of the virus. Unfortunately, a PCR test will not be able to distinguish between an active infection and a biological residue.

With those facts, Mr. President, I will put a premium on the test conducted by the Philippine Red Cross. Not only because I have utmost trust and confidence in our Chairman, Sen. Richard Gordon, but because Red Cross is using state-of-the-art machines. This is not to discount the capabilities and professionalism of our medical experts in our hospitals and government laboratories, but they must be given the necessary or right machines. No matter how good they are, without state-of-the-art machines, their expertise could be put to naught.

My point, Mr. President, is we are more than 4 months into this pandemic, and we should have perfected or at the very least attained a certain degree of expertise and accuracy in our testing capability. These facts and scenarios could have been factored-in in our testing protocols and triage screening of patients. It could not be one-machine- or one-system-fits-all. If our testing protocols are not accurate or suited to the conditions of patients, whether they are new infections or recovered patients, we may not be presenting a clear picture of the number of COVID cases. It could be higher, or it could even be lower than the current figures, due to false-positive or false-negative cases.

The DOH should be more prudent in testing and releasing the result of recovered patients. Should they have their tests after a certain period, say 2 or 3 months? Are those repetitive tests necessary for recovered patients, if these will certainly turn out to be false-positive? Imagine the anxiety and mental anguish such a false-positive result will bring to the recovered patient, his family, and the people he interacted with. With what happened yesterday, I unintentionally caused anxiety and perhaps even panic to some of my colleagues and workers of government in the Senate—not to mention the stress I caused my wife and children. I thought my father and mother were going to have a heart attack from the stress they received last night.

That's why the DOH must come out with the right protocols dealing with recovered patients, so they won't be discriminated against in the future.

I hope these issues could be threshed-out during the Committee Hearing. I understand several resolutions were already filed relative to these issues.

So let me repeat to my colleagues, my friends, and the Filipino people: I am negative. My confirmatory test with the Philippine Red Cross has come out and shows I no longer have live RNA cells for COVID-19. Ibig pong sabihin nito ay hindi na po ako nakakahawa, at ligtas po ang mga recovered patients habang meron pa silang antibodies. Nevertheless I will still quarantine myself during the rudimentary period, just to be sure. But I want to ensure everyone that I feel well and healthy.

I want to thank God and Mama Mary above all things, and I just want to thank each and every one for the outpouring of support, for all the messages that have uplifted my spirit and kept me emotionally, physically, and spiritually strong during this new challenge of mine. And I apologize once again to all those I caused stress to during this false-positive.

And I apologize once again to all those I caused stress to during this false-positive.

Thank you, Mr. President.

News Latest News Feed