President Ferdinand R. Marcos said Thursday he would only appoint a Department of Health (DOH) Secretary after the country’s coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic situation is “normalized.”

In an interview with reporters, Marcos maintained that the Philippines must first be lifted from its state of public health emergency and state of calamity before he could appoint a health chief.

“We have to get away from the emergency stance of the DOH because we have to open up businesses. We have to make the Philippines more hospitable to travelers – both business and tourists – and it does not help if we are still under a state of calamity, if we are the only country that still has mask protocol… Kailangan pa nating ayusin ‘yun (We still need to fix that),” he told reporters at the Manila Hotel.

“We must treat the pandemic no longer, we must treat Covid no longer as an emergency but something that we will have to manage forever. It’s like flu, like pneumonia. Nandyan lagi yan pero mag-ingat tayo para hindi tayo magkasakit (It’s always there but we must be careful not to get sick), and that is (the) way we should be handling Covid.”

Marcos acknowledged that it would be difficult to immediately lift the state of public health emergency and state of calamity as it would directly affect the DOH’s current handling of the health crisis.

“We cannot remove ourselves yet from the way we are handling it dahil halimbawa pag tinanggal ko yung state of calamity, hindi makukuha ng ating mga health workers yung kanilang benepisyo na nasa batas, hindi tayo makakapag-import ng vaccine, yung sa procurement, masyadong mabagal ang magiging procurement (We cannot remove ourselves yet from the way we are handling it because if we lift the state of calamity, our health care workers won’t get the benefits due them, according to the law. We won’t be able to import vaccines, procurement would be slow),” he said.

The President said the government is in the process of finding ways to normalize the Covid-19 situation to encourage investors to do business in the country.

“Sa ngayon, naghahanap kami ng paraan para nga ma-normalize na natin at hindi na natin kailangan sabihin na ang Pilipinas state of calamity pa rin, para masabi natin sa ating potential investors, ‘Pumunta kayo rito sa Pilipinas, maayos na’ (As of now, we’re finding ways to normalize the situation so we don’t have to say that the Philippines is still in a state of calamity, so we can tell investors ‘Visit the Philippines, it’s all right here’),” he said. “Paabutin natin ‘dun (Let’s try to get there) and then we will normalize also all the reorganization of the government.”

Despite the detection of the Omicron XBB subvariant and XBC variant in the country, Marcos said it is time to treat the pandemic differently from during its onset in 2020.

“I want the people to understand that this is the government’s work. Not everything is a crisis so i-normalize natin ang trabaho ng gobyerno (let’s normalize government work),” he said.

He noted that deaths due to Covid-19 have been minimal, and mostly among those with co-morbidities.

“What we have to understand about Covid and the way that we are treating it is that the risk factor of getting Covid in 2022 is very, very different from the risk factor of getting Covid in 2020 or 2021 and that is indicated by the hospitalizations and the rate of the death,” he added.

On Tuesday, the DOH reported the detection of 81 cases of the XBB subvariant and 193 cases of the XBC variant.

However, the DOH reassured the public that currently available vaccines against Covid-19 remain effective in preventing severe and critical cases.

In July, Marcos appointed Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire as the officer in charge of the department.

Marcos still needed at DA
He said the same rule applies to the Department of Agriculture (DA), which he heads “for now.”

“There are things that a President can do that a Secretary cannot, especially because precisely the reason that you gave. The problems are so difficult that it will take a president to change and turn it around,” Marcos said.

He said DA officials are supportive of his decision to remain as DA chief, adding that issues hounding the agriculture sector are “deeply embedded.”

“…The reason that I stay on up to now I have actually raised the subject with some of the — some of the staff and the employees and the secretaries in the DA, and they asked me not to,” he said.

“Very deeply embedded ang mga problema natin sa agrikultura. Ito ay nangyari sa nakaraang napakaraming taon. Kaya’t hindi ganoon kabilis, hindi ganoon kadali na ibalik sa ating magandang sistema dati. Kaya’t (Our problems in agriculture are very deeply embedded. It has been happening for the past years. That’s why it’s not easy to bring it back to the system like before. That’s why) I think I am still needed there,” he added. (PNA)