Ona’s absence won’t affect Ebola readiness, says Aquino
MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III remains confident the country’s preparations to prevent the entry of the deadly Ebola virus would not be affected by the absence of Health Secretary Enrique Ona who is on a month-long leave to prepare a report on issues surrounding the health department’s immunization program.
“No, the experts are still present,” Mr. Aquino said when asked if the government campaign would be adversely affected without Ona.
“To a large degree, except for Secretary Ona, all the rest of the team are present. So these are the experts that our country has that have been trained, etc., and they are the ones who are actually operationalizing all the concepts, all of the necessary activities, etc.,” the President told a press briefing on Friday.
Ona took a month-long personal leave. Initially, Malacañang and the Department of Health (DOH) said he had to take a leave for medical reasons.
But in a press conference on Nov. 3, the President himself revealed that Ona went on leave to prepare his answers to questions on the immunization program.
The President did not elaborate. He also brought up Ona’s request for a P600-million budget for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, which was not in the proposed 2015 budget of the DOH.
On Friday, the President said the government “was going to donate not less than $1 million to the United Nations in the global effort to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus.”
The UN had said it would need $1 billion to get the Ebola outbreak in West Africa under control.
More than 100 Filipino peacekeepers from the UN Mission to Liberia will arrive on Nov. 12 from the Ebola-stricken country after they were ordered recalled by the President to ensure that they would not be infected by the virus.
Mr. Aquino said that as the commander in chief, it was his responsibility to ensure that the Filipino peacekeepers would not be infected by a deadly disease.
Col. Robert Ancan, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Peacekeeping Operations, said the 138 peacekeepers would be brought straight to Caballo Island off Cavite where they will be quarantined for 21 days. The island is under the control of the Philippine Navy.
Of the peacekeepers, 108 are from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, 29 from the Philippine National Police and one from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
Four other peacekeepers will follow since they will be traveling with some of the equipment they need to bring home, said Ancan.
Mr. Aquino appealed for understanding from the peacekeepers and their families.
“For 21 days… they cannot go back to their own homes. We will ask them to go on a vacation on an island where they can relax and rest. This is part of the process established by your government to ensure that the Ebola virus will not spread in the country, or that the Ebola virus will not enter the country,” Mr. Aquino said.
He gave his speech at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City after the Department of Health gave a media briefing on the government’s preparations against the Ebola virus.
“I want to be clear: This does not mean that because they will come from a place where Ebola is rampant, they will also have the virus. We just have to ensure that they can safely mingle with others. We only call (this process) quarantine,” the President said.
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