Amid patients in need, Comelec asked to issue decision on suspended OVP’s COVID-19 programs

February 17, 2022 - 3:19 PM
OVP Swab Cab
The Office of the Vice President's Swab Cab service conducting free COVID-19 antigen testing in this photo uploaded on Facebook on Jan. 6, 2022. (Photo from Facebook/VP Leni Robredo)

Concerned Filipinos called on the Commission on Elections to release a decision on the suspended COVID-19 response programs of the Office of the Vice President.

The OVP’s COVID-19 response programs, including its free teleconsultation service Bayanihan E-Konsulta, are on temporary break pending approval of its operations amid the campaign period.

The Bayanihan E-Konsulta is an initiative launched by Vice President Leni Robredo‘s office in April 2021 to help fill the gaps of the public health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It offers free teleconsultations and gives out COVID-19 home care kit packages which contain basic health care equipment like a  pulse oximeter, thermometer, face masks, vitamins and medicines and other medical supplies.

Patients also receive symptom monitoring sheets where they can track the severity or progression of the viral disease.

However, last February 4, the OVP halted its COVID-related initiatives to comply with the campaign rules of the Comelec.

A day before, the Bayanihan E-Konsulta page released an advisory to the public informing them of its temporary suspension following the Comelec’s orders.

“Habang pinag-aaralan pa ng COMELEC ang petition for exemption ng OVP para sa mga COVID programs, pansamantalang hanggang bukas (Feb 4) na lang po tatanggap ng bagong pasyente ang Bayanihan E-Konsulta,” the teleconsultation page said before.

“Ito po ay para siguraduhin na matutulungan pa ang lahat ng ating mga nakapilang pasyente. Makakaasa po kayong makakarinig kayo muli sa OVP kung may updates na po tungkol sa petition for exemption for COVID programs,” it added.

“Sa panahon po na ito, patuloy pa rin nating alagaan ang bawat isa: magsuot ng mask, sumunod sa mga health and safety protocol, magpabakuna. Mag-iingat po tayong lahat!” the page further said.

The campaign period for national candidates started on February 8.

RELATED: Philippines shifts election battle to social media as COVID-19 curbs campaigning

Robredo is currently running for president in the 2022 elections.

Following the suspension, some Filipinos continue to reach out to the OVP and seek assistance amid the prevailing public health crisis.

A Twitter user on Wednesday shared a screengrab of an online exchange between a Facebook user and the page admin of OVP.

“Still no word from @COMELEC,” the Twitter user wrote as a caption.

In the screengrab, a Facebook user asked the OVP: “Bakit po walang reply sa e-Konsulta?”

The OVP’s page wrote the following in response to the Facebook user who asked about the program:

“Habang pinag-aaralan pa ng COMELEC ang petition for exemption ng OVP para sa mga COVID programs kabilang na ang Bayanihan E-Konsulta, hindi na po muna tatanggap ng mga bagong requests ang Tanggapan ng Pangalawang Pangulo.” 

“Ito ay upang ma-proseso ang mga kumpletong requests na naunang natanggap bago pansamantalang ihinto ang programa, alinsunod sa itinakdang mga batas ngayong panahon ng halalan.” 

“Sisikapin po ng OVP na matugunan ang lahat ng request na aming natanggap. Kung emergency ang inyong sitwasyon, makipag-ugnayan po agad sa DOH One Hospital Command Center sa mga numerong ito: 1555 / 0919 977 3333 / 0915 777 7777 / (02) 8865-0500.” 

“Maaari rin po makipag-ugnayan sa mga LGU o sa iba pang mga health facilities para sa inyong concern.” 

It then shared lists of COVID-19 hotlines of local government units in the NCR Plus, as well as testing centers in the area and in other parts of the country.

NCR Plus pertains to Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal.

Appeals addressed to Comelec

The online exchange between the Facebook user and the OVP page admin prompted other Filipinos to air their concerns about the pending request to the Comelec.

“Volunteer ako sa Bayanihan E-Konsulta. ‘Di na kami nagte-take ng new patients dahil campaign period na. The team appealed to COMELEC though, na payagan ito dahil pandemic response program siya. Hanggang ngayon walang balita. Nauna pa ang baklas tarp. Priorities talaga, noh?” a Twitter user claimed on Wednesday.

“@COMELEC The pandemic is still ongoing (and) we cannot deny that the Bayanihan E-Konsulta helped thousands of our fellow Filipinos who contracted Covid. Pakibilisan ang response at desisyon. Hindi pa tapos ang laban natin sa Covid,” another online user wrote.

“@COMELEC, anuna? Lives are at stake. Even I relied on Bayanihan E-Konsulta when I couldn’t receive any other accessible support,” a different Filipino commented.

Comelec rules

The OVP’s COVID-related programs began in 2020 while the Bayanihan E-Konsulta was launched months before Robredo formalized her presidential bid.

These programs were suspended due to the Comelec campaign rules.

Comelec Resolution No. 10747 requires electoral candidates to secure a Certificate of Exception for “projects, activities, and programs pertaining to social welfare projects and services.”

Reports said that the poll body has previously exempted disaster relief operations in the rule, according to Comelec spokesperson Director James Jimenez.

Meanwhile, Robredo vowed to refrain from showing up in her office’s COVID-19 initiatives if the poll body would allow the operations of Bayanihan E-Konsulta.

“It would be a waste to end this because we’re helping a lot of people. We understand why an exemption is needed, but we said that if we’re given an exemption, I won’t show my face there and we will make sure the logo isn’t identified to me,” she said.

“If we aren’t granted one, then we can’t do anything about that because it’s the decision of Comelec. But we’re still hoping because so many patients are in need of help,” Robredo added.

“We have a lot of volunteer nurses and healthcare professionals and that’s how we can help… hopefully we can get the exemption by this week,” she also said last February 6.

Senatorial bets running under Robredo’s slate also urged the Comelec to allow OVP to continue its COVID-related programs, citing humanitarian grounds.

“The Comelec exemption is important since workers direly need the quality public service that only the OVP with its vast network and experience can provide,” senatorial bet lawyer Sonny Matula said on February 9.

“We hope the commissioners realize that VP Leni has been consistently providing aid to the needy even before the start of the campaign period,” he added.

Another senatorial candidate, lawyer Alex Lacson, said that the call for exemption is “beyond politics.”

“I join Leni’s request and call on Comelec to immediately grant her petition to continue with her pandemic and disaster response initiatives during the campaign period for humanitarian reasons,” he said.

Apart from teleconsultation services, the OVP’s COVID-related initiatives include the Vaccine Express, Swab Cab and medical assistance program.

The Vaccine Express is in partnership with local government units in which the OVP would provide vaccinators to hasten the administration of COVID-19 vaccines.

The Swab Cab, on the other hand, is a free mobile COVID-19 antigen testing service.

As of February 17, there are still no reports about Comelec’s decision on the OVP’s appeal.