Sotto laments effect on budget debates of DND chief’s positive COVID-19 result

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III. (File photo from his office)

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Vicente Sotto III called on public officials on Wednesday to strictly comply with safety protocols after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who physically attended the budget debates after returning from abroad, tested positive for the coronavirus.

“So now we have to close the Senate. We have to close it down now because of that. The entire budget will be delayed,” Sotto said during the plenary deliberations on the budget of the Department of Health (DOH).

“If you come from abroad, even if you’re the pope, if you come from not a green country, you stay home for 10 days or 14 days — whatever the protocol of IATF [Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases] is. Now we’re getting nervous here at the Senate,” Sotto added, speaking in a mix of Filipino and English.

“I hope that, if we’re going to be strict with our people, we [also] have to be strict with our officials. We should set an example — especially if they did not come from a green country. We’re looking at the list, Poland is not a green country,” he said.

However, at the time Lorenzana returned to the Philippines — on Sunday, Nov. 14 — Poland was still on the green list.

READ: Romania out, Latvia in on Philippines’ COVID-19 ‘red’ list

Facility-based quarantine is no longer required for fully vaccinated inbound Filipino and foreign travelers from green-listed countries as long as they present their negative COVID-19 test. But they are still “enjoined to self-monitor for any symptoms until the 14th day.”

READ: Fully vaxxed travelers to PH will no longer undergo facility-based quarantine – gov’t

In an updated green list effective from Nov. 16 to 30, Poland is no longer included.

READ: Quarantine rule lifted for fully vaxxed travelers from Saudi Arabia, UAE from Nov. 16-30

In a message to INQUIRER.net, Lorenzana said he took an RT-PCR test before leaving for Poland. He embarked on a visit there from Nov. 6 to 13.

According to the defense chief, he plans to undergo a confirmatory COVID-19 test this Thursday. “I could not believe I am positive.”

Home quarantine

In response to the issue raised by Sotto, the DOH budget sponsor, Sen. Pia Cayetano, who had Health Secretary Francisco Duque III seated beside her, said she had been told that public officials could opt to undergo home quarantine “regardless of the color-coding of the country.”

“If home quarantine [is needed], the Senate is not a home,” Sotto then remarked.

Senate Majority Juan Miguel Zubiri, for his part, stressed the need to undergo quarantine when returning from abroad.

“If he went through quarantine… it would have been detected if there was a  possibility of being positive,” he said, speaking in a mix of English and Filipino.

Lorenzana found out he was positive for the coronavirus Wednesday morning. The result was from the test he took on Tuesday afternoon after attending the Senate plenary debates on the 2022 budget of the Department of National Defense.

The Senate will suspend its budget deliberations, which are being held in a hybrid manner, until Monday to make way for the disinfection of the chamber’s building and for the quarantine period of those who came in contact with Lorenzana.

READ: Senate to halt 2022 budget debates after DND chief contracts COVID-19


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