Jose Manuel Diokno - Chel Diokno

Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno (File photo by CATHY MIRANDA /

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno promised on Wednesday that, if elected senator, he would push for a science-based Pandemic Management Council to replace the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease, which is headed by a retired military officer.

“Our enemies here during this pandemic are not armed soldiers,” he said in Filipino. “Our enemy is a virus. So the one who should be in charge of managing the pandemic should, of course, be someone who knows issues in health, issues in science, issues in IT and technology.”

According to Diokno, one of the problems in pandemic management that could have been addressed by a science-based council is the lack of a unified contact tracing system.

“Various cities have one. Some are good, but they’re not all connected,” he said. “The approach they used is really, let’s call it, an iron hand one. We have not been able to do what should be done in a pandemic.”

Currently, most of the officials handling the pandemic have military backgrounds — although there are some health professionals like Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director-General Eric Domingo.

Among the former military officials in the IATF are Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. as presidential adviser on the peace process, and Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista.

Cimatu and Año were former chiefs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Galvez was an Army general who held various command and staff positions in various units. Bautista was an Army chief.

Diokno would prefer the council to have officials with non-military backgrounds. He would also shift the emphasis of the council from law enforcement to community service.

President Rodrigo Duterte has often been criticized for having a “militarized” Cabinet — as even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In October 2018, some lawmakers raised an alarm over the appointment of Bautista as chief of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), saying that the post should be held by a civilian.


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