Locsin’s tweet bares ‘VIP testing’ still ongoing at Malacañang

April 16, 2020 - 3:15 PM
Mabini Hall Malacanang
The Mabini Hall of the Malacañan Palace Complex. (Ramon FVelasquez via CC BY-SA 3.0)

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy” Locsin Jr. on Thursday said that he underwent a “rapid testing” that lasted for only “ten minutes” prior to his recent entry to Malacañang.

This sparked concerns on alleged continued VIP testing of politicians and government officials.

The top diplomat tweeted that he took a rapid antibody test “as a precondition to entering Malacañang” and added that Cabinet Secretary and Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases spokesperson Karlo Nograles “has had all his fingers punctured already.”

“I left the Palace to go to the airport to see off hundreds of Canadians. I need to go to the Palace again for another test,” Locsin continued.

His tweet was a response to a French report titled “The science ticket. Will France be able to test all people with symptoms of Covid-19?” in English.

Reports said that Locsin needed to return to the Palace last April 14 after he sent off Canadians stranded in the Philippines because of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.

His tweet was not warmly received by some Filipinos who perceived it as form of “VIP testing” where public officials are reportedly prioritized in COVID-19 detection despite being asymptomatic.

“Another form of VIP testing… I thought they aren’t encouraging (rapid) kit testing?” a Reddit user said.

“Proud pa siya na VIP testing ginawa sa kanya,” wrote a Twitter user.

“So lahat pala ng papasok sa Palasyo kelangan muna itest? Ano ulit ‘yon? Shortage of testing kits? Ahhh SANA ALL VIP,” said another online user.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed that those who needed to personally see President Rodrigo Duterte, including Cabinet members, must undergo a COVID-19 rapid test first as a form of precaution.

As head of state, the health and safety of Duterte are the primordial concern amid the COVID-19 crisis, Roque added.

The Presidential Security Group (PSG) also confirmed that such tests are mandatorily conducted to Palace visitors in order to ensure “the safety and good health” of Duterte, who is at high risk because of his old age and various ailments.

PSG Commander Col. Jesus Durante said that people who tested positive are immediately barred from entering the Palace.

What is rapid testing?

The rapid testing being administered in Malacañang is different from the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kits used by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and its affiliate testing centers.

Rapid test kits use blood samples to measure antibodies in a person, not the viral load as determined by PCR test kits through nose and throat swab samples.

Rapid testing looks “for evidence that the virus is (or was) inside your body” which can be determined by looking at antibodies.

It is considered less accurate than PCR testing because the body cannot produce antibodies against the virus immediately, which may yield a false negative result.

Rapid diagnostic testing was also earlier discouraged by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration has recently approved five rapid test kits subject to be used with the supervision of a trained health professional.

Confirmatory testing is still required so it may only be used to clear patients from hospitals who were treated for COVID-19, Nograles said.

Reports of ‘VIP testing’ 

The issue on alleged VIP testing surfaced when several public officials announced that they got tested for COVID-19 infection despite being asymptomatic.

That time, only limited test kits were available in the Philippines before other countries have supplied donations, among others.

There were also a number of persons under investigation who have passed away yet failed to receive their laboratory results on time.

Officials who have undergone testing include Duterte and his family, several senators like Sens. Nancy Binay, Ping Lacson, Grace Poe and Bong Go, among others.

Some of the officials were tested more than once such as Education Secretary Leonor Briones, a high risk with her old age. She was able to get tested for COVID-19 thrice even though she once announced that she was asymptomatic.

Even former public officials were able to get tested, including their kin and staff, such as former senator Bongbong Marcos, who no longer holds a government post.

The Department of Health stated that officials were tested supposedly before they were able to “revise” the triage system but a look at their previous protocols state that asymptomatic people must not be tested.

Last month, the DOH said that there are no policies for VIP treatment but added that there is “courtesy accorded to officials holding positions of national security and public health.”

Locsin and Briones, as well as Health Secretary Francisco Duque III; Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año; Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra; Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III; Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade; and Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat are among the designated members of the IATF-IED.