Another case of perceived VIP testing drew public scrutiny after the presidential spokesperson admitted he underwent 35 RT-PCR (Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests in a year.
Harry Roque at a press briefing on March 15 announced that he contracted the virus which causes COVID-19.
The spokesman was at work when his swab test result was released. He also received it immediately after getting tested on March 14.
The Palace official assured the public that he quarantined himself in his own office. He is also asymptomatic or not experiencing any symptoms of the disease.
In a separate virtual briefing on the same day, he bared that since being re-appointed as a spokesperson in April, he underwent at least 35 RT-PCR tests, citing he took three swab tests a week or every 48 hours.
“I had no less than 35 PCR test po ano, since I came back as a spokesperson for a year,” the spokesman said.
“So, talagang it came as a surprise and a shock, it’s not just a shock na after about 35 tests eh nag-positive tayo. Pero sa akin po, almost routine na ito na on a Sunday afternoon, preparatory to the Monday evening meeting with the President, nagpapakuha na ng RT-PCR test,” he added.
Roque also said that he followed “all procedures” to prevent getting infected. This include getting swab tests before his attendance to the Cabinet meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.
“I suppose po, I followed naman po all the procedures. Itong RT-PCR test naman po for Sunday, for today is preparatory nga po for the President,” he said.
How much does each test costs?
Under the Department of Health’s memorandum 2020-0391, the regulated prices for RT-PCR tests are:
- Private hospitals: P4,500 (reference) and P5,000 (cap)
- Public hospitals: P3,800 (reference) and P3,800 (cap)
The DOH and the Department of Trade and Industry also encouraged private and public laboratories to charge patients lower than the reference costs.
Some private hospitals, however, pegged their swab tests up to P8,000 especially for walk-ins.
Public hospitals also offered testing activities between P1,750 to P2,000.
How the public reacted
Sociology instructor Ash Presto stressed the spokesperson’s repeated swab tests, citing the average cost of the detection procedure.
“Thirty-five tests multiplied by P4,000 per test = PHP 140,000. Share ko lang,” she said.
“PHP 140,000 is more than a year’s salary of many Filipinos,” she added, citing another tweet of user Jan Michael Yap with the handle @jan_michael_yap.
He compared the overall costs of the 35 tests Roque received with the minimum wage of workers.
“Minimum wage for non-agriculture workers in NCR is P431.67 per day. Multiply by 20 workdays and by 12 months, non-agri minimum wage earners earn P103,600.80/year (P113,234.20 with 13th month pay). Harry spent more than a year’s wages in tests alone,” he wrote.
Others pointed out that other Filipinos, particularly those vulnerable to the contagious disease, did not have the same privilege as the Palace official.
“Meanwhile most healthcare workers aren’t even warranted regular testing UNLESS they show symptoms or have close contact with a confirmed positive, because ‘sayang lang’ or ‘may shortage na daw sa testing kits,’” one user commented.
“35 for him and poor people have to suck it up if they have COVID because testing is too expensive,” another user said.
“No budget for mass testing yet Harry Roque was tested 35 times to confirm the positive result? Make it make sense,” another user said.
One Twitter user quipped that Roque might be the “mass” in the public’s call for “mass testing.”
“Nung sinabing ‘mass testing’ ikaw pala yung ‘mass’?” the user wrote.