Press Release
June 15, 2021

CNN The Source interview of Senator Win Gatchalian with Pinky Webb on Quarantine restrictions, Covid-19 vaccination program, errors in DepEd modules and VFA


Q: Let's start first just probably a quick reaction, the President already announced last night that NCR plus will remain under general community quarantine but also mag-uumpisa na rin po today, June 15 yung shorten curfew hours.

SEN. WIN: Definitely, managing the quarantine levels is also managing our economy. And this is the rebalancing act that our government has been for the past few years, and I do support a lesser quarantine restriction in order for businesses to thrive, unemployment remains to be quite tight. It remain to be at around 8% level. So, we still have a big challenge in terms of going back to our normal employment levels during the pre-COVID, and we still have about approximately 3 million who lost their jobs because of COVID so the sooner we can relax quarantine restrictions, the sooner we can wrap our economy back in the sooner we can bring down our unemployment levels.

Q: And how are we doing so far you think, especially after the surge? Some, which started sometime in March and then ngayon nga po, the numbers are getting better here in NCR plus but nag-iincrease naman po sa ibang mga lugar.

SEN. WIN: Definitely, Mindanao now is the new source of increasing infection. In fact, a lot of areas under MECQ are in Mindanao, and the same formula applies what we have learned here in Metro Manila should apply in Mindanao meaning stricter quarantine measures, stricter health protocols. What's very important to apply there is the testing capabilities as well as contact tracing. We've learned so much, here in Luzon and a lot of the strategies that we use are quite successful, to a larger extent because we have managed that healthy balance between livelihood and lives, and we have to apply the same formula to Mindanao, meaning more testing capacities, and faster contact tracing capabilities.

Q: And of course the healthcare system also needs some sort of help or even assistance?

SEN. WIN: Correct. I remember we deployed some health professionals from Visayas and Mindanao to NCR. This time, it's Mindanao. I know that we have augmented some of our hospitals with a lot of good experts from VisMin during the surge last March, it's time to bring them back, and probably augment them also we need to make sure that the health system in Mindanao will not be overwhelmed, and to make sure that we help them overcome the increase in COVID cases in the island.


Q: I want to talk about the vaccination phase before we go to the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing today. So last night, Secretary Galvez had reported to the President that so far 7 million have been vaccinated so far that's about 5 million getting their first dose and 2 million getting their second dose. Secretary Galvez also adds that millions of vaccines should be arriving this month apart from doon sa dumating na. And even in July, he's expecting about more or less, his expectation is about 11 million. What are your thoughts on the phase of the vaccination considering we started this in March?

SEN. WIN: My position is to open it up to the general public already. By the end of the month we will have enough vaccines to vaccinate the general public here in NCR plus. And as we all know NCR plus is normally the source of infection because of the density and because of economic activity. So my position, even before was to open it up to the general public here in NCR plus precisely because we have enough inventory of vaccines, and the vaccine hesitation has already been determined. 30% of our constituents are willing to take their vaccines, and the 70% are either they're not for, or they don't want to take their vaccines. So let's give vaccines to those who want to get their vaccines and open it up to the general public as quick as possible but I also want to echo that we need to make sure that when we vaccinate, it has to be in an orderly manner. Meaning, the LGU should be made to come up with a system that will not lead to overcrowding and mass spreader events. I've seen some LGUs that because of the first come, first serve a lot of their constituents rush to the vaccination center and overcrowding happened, and that can be a super spreader event. So the LGU should guide them and should be given some guidelines on how to implement the orderly vaccination through reservation system, through online reservation system. The vaccination center should not be a cause of infection, it has to be a cause of cure.

Q: But with regards to that though, the government has opened two weeks ago the vaccination for A4 and A5, there was a hitch at some point, because I remember Secretary Galvez humingi pa siya ng paumanhin because when you say you open up the vaccination to A4 and A5, yung mga gusto pong magpa-vaccine na po, sasabihin nila kung doon sa mga cities nila, bakit kami wala pa. And in fact, it happened to some LGUs that when the government announced that it's open for A4 and A5, hindi po nakakuha ng supply ang ilang mga cities and I think Valenzuela was one of them, that's why they couldn't open it immediately to the A4 and A5, but now you're even saying buksan na natin to the general population. How do you think that could possibly pan out, although, of course, nabigyan na po ng supply eventually yung ilan po sa mga cities.

SEN. WIN: Right, the supply is now flowing, in fact here in Valenzuela, we have received our share of our vaccines, and my thoughts on this is vaccine hesitancy is still one of the biggest concerns in terms of the rollout and looking at the SWS statistics, only 30% wants to be vaccinated and this is the hurdle. We're hoping a critical mass will happen, meaning if more people get vaccinated, more people would be willing to get vaccinated. So, in other words, the supply issue has been overcome but the vaccine hesitation is still there, and we need to overcome that over time, it will not happen overnight, and my thoughts on that if we open it up to the general public and if people see that more people and more people are getting vaccinated, then we will reach that critical mass and overcome vaccination hesitancy. My thoughts on this is vaccine hesitancy is the biggest hurdle to reaching herd immunity.

Q: and it's not the supply, you're saying it's the vaccine hesitancy?

SEN. WIN: Looking at the timetable and looking at the delivery of the doses, it seems to me that supply will constantly arrive this month and next month. I talk to a lot of private sector companies and their share will come end of June to early July. The same with LGU like for example in Valenzuela, the Astra Zeneca that we ordered will come in end of June or early July. So meaning, all of the supplies will come to the Philippines, the national government procurement, the local government procurement, as well as the private sector. So having said that, we have an ample supply of vaccines so it's time to vaccinate all those who are willing.

Q: When do you want, your suggestion to open this up to the general population, when do you think government should do this already?

SEN. WIN: In my opinion, we should do it now, we should do it today. If the LGUs are ready, like for example this morning I saw in San Juan will open it up to their indigents. That's A5, that's actually beyond A4. So some of LGUs are already willing and ready to open it up to the general public. If you open it to A5 that's already general public, more or less. So those of LGUs who are ready to open it up and have the capacity to do it, then let them open it up, but in my opinion, opening it up to the general public, as soon as possible in NCR plus will help us make sure we will have herd immunity by the end of the year.

Q: On a last note on this before we go on a break, malaking tulong Senator yung kapag iba't ibang tao yung nakakatanggap na ng vaccine, nakukuwento nila, nakikita ng kapitbahay nila, nakikita ng mga kapamilya nila, mga pinsan nila na so far so good, syempre ang kinatatakutan nila ang tinatawag na adverse effects.

SEN. WIN: Tama ka, Pinky, the best marketing tool is word of everyone. If everyone gets vaccinated or a lot of people gets vaccinated that's our best marketing tool, their own personal experience, getting their vaccines is the best way to convince those who are hesitant. So, meaning, the more we can accommodate the general public, the more marketers, the more people who could spread the good word, in terms of vaccination.

Q: What are your thoughts on what government should consider or do with fully vaccinated individuals?

SEN. WIN: Yes definitely, in more and more jurisdictions now, I mean, other countries are reaching herd immunity. And in order to stimulate our local economy specially tourism, we should ease up restrictions on tourists, both Filipino tourists, and both foreign tourists. For example, Cebu is tourism industry, allowing fully vaccinated tourists to come in without being quarantined, is the best way to revive the tourism industry in Cebu and also in Visayas. In the same way for the entire country. So, tourism is really a driver of our economy and we need to make the lives of tourists who want to visit the Philippines much easier and less restrictive.

Q: So zero quarantine for fully vaccinated individuals?

SEN. WIN: The most we can implement is a PCR test, but the quarantine I think, we can do away with that because they're fully vaccinated.

Q: Senator, just a quick question from our Facebook account to our Philippine government, I don't know if you would be able to answer this, anong plano ninyo or maybe even the Senate, if they have a sense here, sa mga stranded OFWs mula UAE at Oman na fully vaccinated. I guess the senator just answer that. Eto po, extended na naman po ang travel ban, cancelled na po ang mga Visa namin, would you care to comment on that please.

SEN. WIN: That is a very difficult position for our OFWs abroad, even though they're fully vaccinated, there's a lot of uncertainty on let's say, where they will land, they thought they will land in Manila, they will land in Cebu, or some other parts without knowing they will be quarantined for 10 days or for 14 days and where. I've heard some have been quarantined in Tagaytay as far as Tarlac, which is logistically a nightmare for them. So most practical way is, if they are fully vaccinated, they should be allowed to come in the country, at the very most, get the PCR test to raise the comfort level, but not indoor, that 10 to 14 day quarantine especially outside of your family. It is very difficult for them, it's very costly, mentally it's quite strenuous and being quarantined in a place out of your comfort zone is quite mentally a very difficult stream.

Q: Do you think you're going to bring this up later during the Senate committee for the whole hearing?

SEN. WIN: Definitely and we need to look at the best practices, abroad. For example, I've seen the US Israel and in some European countries, as soon as they vaccinate 30 to 40% of their population, they open up their economy already. And this is under the guidelines of their health experts, again, the sooner they can open the economy, the better for their economy to rev up in the same principle applies. These are all guided by their medical experts. The same principle applies here in our country. As soon as a person gets fully vaccinated, that means the second dose is really over. They should be allowed to come in the country with lesser restrictions.

Q: Kahit na po ito pong bansa na pinanggagalingan nila ay ban dahil nga sa surge ng ibang variants of the virus?

SEN. WIN: Pinky, if it is ban, in other words, there are no flights, and the ban is not only geared towards our OFW but the general public of that particular country. So of course if there's a ban, then we don't have any flights and there's no way for the OFWs to come in. What I am pointing out is for example in the US, there is a lot of OFWs who wants to visit, who wants to see their families and they're fully vaccinated because in the US they alreaded reached almost 60% of the vaccination programs. Those who got their second dose are already in the 60% level so they should be allowed to come in with lesser restrictions.

SEN. WIN: ....we have enough budget for the remaining year until next year. It's important to reconcile all of these numbers. A lot of things have transpired, like for example, LGUs bought their own vaccines, the private sector bought their own vaccines we might be over allocating funds, or we might be under allocating funds for that matter. So it's important to reconcile our numbers because we're not talking about a few 100 million, we're talking about billions. And we also need to program the vaccination of our teenagers. My view is to go back to face to face classes, as soon as possible to also allow our teenagers to be vaccinated and this is already been done in the US and in Europe and in some advanced countries. So we need to also program that amount. Second is to revive our economy through tourism. Tourism is being battered left and right and what is the scientific protocol in allowing fully vaccinated persons to come in and minimizing risk of infection.

Q: So that one we discussed earlier, how to revive the economy, and really no quarantine as you're recommending for fully vaccinated tourists, whether they're Filipinos or foreigners. So those are the two things, just a follow up on that, open ho ba kayo doon sa posibleng additional budget of P20 billion for COVID procurement, for COVID vaccine procurement?

SEN. WIN: That P20 billion, Pinky was meant to be given to teenagers. The last pronouncement of the DOF is they are allocating P20 Billion to purchase vaccines for teenagers. And I'm supportive of that. Again, if you look at the practices abroad and advices of medical experts abroad, teenagers are already being vaccinated, and this is in line with going back to face-to-face classes, so I'm very happy to that. The sooner we can go back to face to face classes, the better. Distance Learning is putting a lot of stress to our families, especially to our learners.


Q: And, of course, kasama po diyan lahat ng mga problema sa distance learning. So, because you mentioned that Senator let's talk about that module that came out during the House hearing yesterday. Please explain to us, paano ho ba nakakalusot ang mga salitang katulad ng lumabas po kahapon na alam naman po nating bastos na salita. At sabi mo nga kanina before we went on air, halos lahat naman ng tao alam ang salitang yan. So why does this happen?

Q: Pinky, it's a good segue way into this very disappointing event, and I am very dismayed, with what happened. In fact, in my opinion, sinasadya yan. It was intentional, let's not play innocent or ignorant. Everyone knows that word, and whoever did that module knows that word. So, I'm pretty sure almost 100% na sinasadya yan, it was intentional. For whatever reason, I don't know. But there's a process in DepEd, this is what we call the quality assurance process. And every module, every module, every textbook, for every workbook passes through the quality assurance process. Meaning, no module will come up without quality assurance. So my question now is, this type of bad word or this module got the stamp of approval of the quality assurance and were distributed to all of our students. Obviously the system failed. And we also need to investigate this matter and hold the quality assurance mechanism or those people who are implementing the quality assurance to account. But more importantly, look for that person who wrote that.

Q: So alam niyo ho ba Senator who composes, who are part of this quality assurance team? Do you even have names, or how are they even appointed?

SEN. WIN: I'll just give you a snapshot on how modules are being designed. All the 120 Plus divisions, have their own team and they follow a specific process when they craft modules, textbooks or workbooks. We in Valenzuela, we created our own modules. We have master teachers, we have a team there that creates the modules, but that modules need to follow specific timelines and a specific process, and at the end of the process is a quality assurance process, composed of different teachers and composed of different experts. They read each and every line of the modules. They look for grammatical errors, they look for errors, they look for everything. So, it's impossible for this type of modules to get away from the hands of the quality assurance team. That's why, again, the question here is, how did it get approved and how come it went undetected by the quality assurance team. So those are the things that we will investigate, and we need the answers because we don't want our children, not only to learn but also, not only to learn the right things but we don't want our children to learn all of these bad words and one of the things.

Q: When do you plan to look into this sir?

SEN. WIN: We will have a hearing on the up and coming school opening this school year 2021-2022. And definitely we will look at the preparedness of DepEd. We will also look at the preparedness of our divisions, but more importantly, the materials being produced by our divisions, in particular, this type of errors and this type of occurrences.


Q: Quickly na lang po, yung sa VFA there is of course magpapatuloy po ito in other words for another six months just your reaction to this?

SEN. WIN: My thoughts on this is the VFA is one of the more important documents that bind our countries together, both the US and the Philippines. And it's a document that can strengthen our relationship, especially in times of pandemic. This is a document that symbolizes our strong relationship with the US, and right now in times of pandemic, we need to strengthen our relationship with all countries particularly countries who can help us with the vaccine. So it's a welcome development to suspend it but admittedly, we need to review, like any other document, any other agreement we need to review it from time to time to make sure that it's still effective to make sure it's fair for both parties.

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