MANILA - Eleven petitioners led by former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo asked the Supreme Court on Friday to compel the Philippine government to conduct free coronavirus mass testing as the country continues to battle the pandemic.
Named as respondents were top officials of the government's pandemic task force such as Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as head of the National Task Force on COVID-19, COVID-19 policy chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año as Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) vice-chairperson.
"Without mass testing, the public faces a never-ending quarantine. Without mass testing, the government allows the virus to claim precious Filipino lives, either by sickness or hunger," the petitioners said in their plea for mandamus.
A petition for mandamus seeks to order a tribunal, corporation, board, officer, or person to perform an unlawfully neglected duty.
Taguiwalo, who represents the group Citizens' Urgent Response to End COVID-19 (CURE COVID) was joined by 10 other individuals representing senior citizens, doctors, scientists, LGBTQ community, migrant workers, students, teachers, jeepney drivers, frontline workers, professionals, and homemakers.
Also included as respondents were Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
The petitioners also asked the high court to require the government to ramp up its contact tracing efforts and improve its laboratory testing capacity for the virus.
"The omission of proactive and efficient mass testing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a systemic 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 petitioners said.
PALACE SAYS TESTING PROGRAM IN PLACE
Malacañang on Friday, meanwhile, expressed confidence that the petition will be junked as it insisted that the government has a COVID-19 testing program in place.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said there is no need to compel the government to act given that the administration is continuously expanding its testing program.
"Ibabasura po iyan ng Korte Suprema, kasi sa mula’t mula po mayroon po talaga tayong programa na targeted testing," he said in a virtual press briefing.
(The Supreme Court will throw out that case given that we have a targeted testing program.)
Roque on Friday also announced the expansion of the country's coronavirus testing program to include those without symptoms of COVID-19.
"Ginagawa na po iyan at talaga namang hinintay lang natin na magkaroon ng mas maraming labs, hinintay lang natin na makabili ang DBM (Department of Budget and Management) ng 10 million testing kits," he said.
(That is being done already. We just waited for the laboratories and the 10 million testing kits.)
Under the government's expanded targeted COVID-19 testing program, symptomatic patients and health workers on the frontlines of the battle against the pandemic are prioritized for testing.
Petitioners recommended that authorities test all suspect cases or persons exhibiting possible COVID-19 symptoms and all frontline health care workers.
All contacts of confirmed or probable cases should also be tested for the virus, they added.
"The government’s failure to conduct mass testing as advised by experts and as effectively implemented by other countries and even some local government units is dangerous and deadly as it could mean that the coronavirus will not be detected in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Filipinos afflicted with the virus," petitioners said.
Philippine COVID-19 testing czar Vince Dizon earlier said the Philippines has the capacity to run over 50,000 tests for COVID-19 per day but the country has yet to maximize this.
The Philippines as of July 2 has confirmed 38,805 cases of COVID-19. This includes 1,274 deaths and 10,673 recoveries.