Nearly a year after launch, contact tracing program still under DILG study, learning stage

May 4, 2021 - 6:03 PM
A woman wearing a face mask and a face shield as protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) checks her temperature at a community quarantine checkpoint, in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 25, 2021. (Reuters/Lisa Marie David)

The Department of Health rejected, country’s supposedly official contact tracing program nearly a year after the government launched it.

Contact tracing czar and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong revealed this in a briefing on May 4, citing that the application’s developer lacked necessary documentation.

“Well, ang StaySafe ho kasi talaga hong tinanggihan ho ng Department of Health dahil may nakita ho silang kakulangan. So nangyari po, idinonate po ito sa DILG,” Magalong said.

Despite mandating its use to local government units and having millions of users nationwide, the contact tracing czar also stated that the is still in the learning and study stage of the Department of Interior and Local Government.

“Insofar as the DILG is concerned, nasa study and learning status pa po sila,” he said.

“Yan po yung talagang kulang pa po ang documentation na binigay ng StaySafe kaya hindi pa po natin makumpleto at masabing categorically na highly reliable na po itong StaySafe,” he added.

The local executive further noted the need to iron out documentation and enhance the app’s “functionalities.”

“Kailangan pa po pag-aralan, ayusin pa at ayusin po pati yung documentation, enhance pa further ang kanyang functionalities,” he said.

Magalong then admitted that contact tracing, one of the important measures to suppress the pandemic, remains the weakest in the country.

“Overall, ‘yung contact tracing natin nandoon sa 1:4 lang. So malayong malayo na sa 1:15 na standard na contact tracing efficiency ratio. To be honest with you, I would say it’s still the weakest link among the pillars,” he said.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, however, said in another briefing that all controversies involving the contact tracing program had been resolved.

“Lahat po ng kontrobersiya tungkol dito sa app na ito ay natapos na. Lahat po ng kinakailangang i-donate ay na-donate na po sa Philippine government. At ito po ay ginagamit na po at pinapatupad na po ng ating DILG. At ang technical assistance po is being provided by DICT,” Roque said.

“So iyong usapin po na marami pang deliverables, tapos na po lahat iyan and we have decided to go full speed ahead with Safety.PH ‘no. So ano na po iyan, all systems—StaySafe.PH. All systems go na po tayo,” he added.

How the public reacted

Magalong’s statements about the StaySafe app alarmed some Filipinos online, citing being more than a year into the pandemic and still poor contact tracing measures.

“Ngayon niyo lang chichika yan talaga? Ilang months na tayo sa pandemic at simula pa lang contract tracing na ang isa sa mahalagang factors to flatten the curve. Okay lang kayo?” one user said.

“Akala ko ba StaySafe na ang official app?” another user wrote.

Others also questioned the purpose for requiring the public to download the app if the health department will just reject it.

“Pinadownload sa sambayanan yung StaySafe only to reject it,” one user said.

“Yet, required sa office ang StaySafe? Mandatory na siya? (angry emoji)” another user said.

Last March, the DILG asked the local government units and the public to use StaySafe instead of other contact tracing applications.

“Instead of using other apps, it is imperative for LGUs to use the StaySafe app for a unified system that will allow seamless, fast, and efficient contact tracing efforts,” said DILG officer-in-charge Bernardo Florece Jr.

Problems with StaySafe

The national government launched StaySafe as the official contact tracing program last September 2020.

Under the agreement between Multisys Technology Corporation, the developer, and DOH, all data collected from the program shall be stored in DOH’s COVID-Kaya system.

However, months after the launch, last March, David Almirol, CEO of Multisys Technology Corporation told CNN Philippines that DOH’s system was not yet ready for the donation and transfer of their technology.

“We’ve tried our best to do the donation, but it so happens that we found out that they need to prepare first from their end,” Almirol said.

He mentioned that they had issues with Director Eric Tayag of DOH’s Knowledge Management and Information Technology Service.

“We don’t know what’s going on, because we felt like he’s not into accepting StaySafe. We felt like we’re not actually supported by his group, to be honest,” Almirol said.

It was only on March 30 when the StaySafe application was officially turned over to the government through the DILG.