Senate President Vicente Sotto III at the Senate on March 2, 2020. Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

Insisting on his stand against the mandatory use of face shields in public, Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday asked who was the “genius” that persuaded the government to retract President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier policy.

“Sinong genius ang nambola sa gobyerno?” Sotto said in a text message to reporters.

(Who was the genius that persuaded the government?)

He sent a copy of a briefer containing summaries of the documents submitted by the Department of Health (DOH) which indicated that the Philippines is the only country that mandates the use of face shields on top of face masks.

“It’s confirmed, even the brief sent by DOH proves no country in the world mandates the use of face shields on top of the face mask. It’s either or in most countries. Other countries, mask only!” he said.

“So, saan o sinong expert may sabi na dapat sabay?” he further asked.

(Who was the expert that said we should use both face shield and face mask at the same time?)

Asked if there are certain businessmen who are pushing for this policy, Sotto said it may be possible.

“Maaari. People cannot help but suspect something is wrong somewhere,” he said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson likewise said that profit may also be a possible reason behind the mandatory use of face shields in the country.

“That is in the realm of possibilities considering all the inconsistencies and conflicting statements of those in charge of the handling of the country’s pandemic response – from persistent reports of irregularities in the handing out of the social amelioration program to the procurement of COVID-19 related product,” he said in a text message to reporters.

“The track record and pattern of misuse and mishandling of public funds and other similar issues involving PhilHeath, [Department of Health, Food and Drug Administration] etc. do not help assuage the negative public attitude in this regard,” he added.

It is no longer surprising for Senator Francis Pangilinan if some officials are earning from this face shield policy, citing the COVID-19-related equipment which they found to be overpriced during the previous Senate hearings.

“I wouldn’t be surprised as was established with the overpriced testing kits, PPEs and testing equipment involving the DOH exposed in Senate hearings last year,” he said.

GMA News Online has contacted presidential spokesperson Harry Roque and DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire for comment, but has yet to receive their replies as of posting time.

Documents

The DOH has submitted documents such as copies of the study conducted by The Lancet and a separate study from India, and a list of countries mandating the use of face shields.

The list of countries include:

  • China – shifts from masks to face shield and not using both, based on data on June 16, 2020
  • South Korea – shifts from masks to face shield, and not using both based on data on June 16, 2020
  • Malta – using face mask or visors/face shield)
  • State of Oregon, United States – masks, face coverings or face shield, not required to wear both masks and shield
  • United Kingdom – face shield required only for staff who work in close contact with public, such as hairdressers, barbers, beauticians, studio artists and studio photographers.

These were submitted after Sotto requested the DOH during the last Committee of the Whole hearing to present the basis used by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases for the face shield policy.

The briefer provided by Sotto also cited excerpts of studies from India and The Lancet which indicated that the protection provided by face shields against COVID-19 contraction is not conclusive.

Moreover, Senator Risa Hontiveros echoed Sotto’s statement, saying studies indicated that the use of face shields should be optional.

“Epektibo ang face shields para sa mga specific settings, tulad ng mga trabaho na may close contact sa kanilang mga kliyente o kaya kapag nagbabyahe sa mga pampublikong sasakyan kung saan malimit ay siksikan. Pero para ipilit pa para sa general public use, hindi na tama ‘yan,” Hontiveros said in a video statement.

(Face shields are effective for specific settings like in workplaces that require close contact or when riding public transportations. Requiring this for general public’s use is already unwarranted.)

“Hindi ko alam kung saan nanggagaling ang sigasig ng administrasyon na sapilitan tayong pagsuotin lahat ng face shield,” she added.

It was Sotto who first announced that Duterte agreed that face shields should only be used in hospitals.

“Last night, the President agreed that face shields should only be used in hospitals. Allowed us to remove ours! Attn DOH!” Sotto said in a tweet.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed Sotto’s statement, saying the President’s decision is considered a policy.

Roque announced in his Monday press briefing that face shields are not mandatory worn outdoors unless a person is in a crowded area.

But hours after, Roque said Duterte has directed that face shields are again mandatory indoors and outdoors as more COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant were detected in the country.

On Tuesday afternoon, Roque said there is nothing wrong in “flip-flopping” government policies as long as there are “supervening events” particularly the case of Delta coronavirus variant detected in the country.

The Delta variant, first detected in India, is 60% more transmissible, according to health experts. The Philippines has recorded 17 cases of Delta variant so far.

Some senators called on the Executive Department to be consistent in releasing statements on COVID-19 policies following the confusion caused by different announcements on the mandatory use of face shields in public. —KG, GMA News