MANILA, MAY 11, 2009 (STAR) Deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez said there is no scientific research to back up his theory that Filipinos are genetically immune from certain viruses, but he said a lot of doctors, especially those working in the frontlines to prevent the entry of the A(H1N1) or swine flu virus in the country, share his suspicion.

“This idea could be a possible avenue of research. We Filipinos might have some genetically acquired resiliency against certain diseases,” Golez said in a telephone interview.

He said up to now, the Philippines remains free of the avian flu virus and had only one questionable case of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) several years ago even after its neighbors have had repeated outbreaks.

He also said Filipinos are known to be “clean” or hygienic, and bathes once or twice a day, which helps prevent the spread of diseases.

Golez, however, said that what is certain is that the system put in place by the country’s health authorities has helped greatly in preventing the entry of deadly viruses. The system includes disease surveillance and tracking.

He added that the country’s health and quarantine authorities have extensive experience in preventing the entry of deadly viruses into the country, such as SARS and avian flu, or containing outbreaks such the case of the non-fatal Ebola Reston virus.

“I still go to our system, as ordered by the President, as the primary reason why the country remains free from the A(H1N1) virus,” he said.

Golez said the Department of Health has also launched seminars in all concerned government agencies to prevent or address a possible epidemic in the country.

Legarda eyes EU aid

At the Senate, Sen. Loren Legarda welcomed an offer made by the European Union (EU) to help the Philippines in the event of an outbreak of the dreaded virus in the country.

Appointed as the United Nations disaster risk reduction champion for the Asia-Pacific region, Legarda urged the government to communicate early with the EU so that the channels of cooperation on emergency response would be open when needed.

“While the Philippines has yet to have a single case of the virus, we should be pro-active in getting all the available help from other nations, including this pledge of assistance from the EU,” she said.

Sasa Borko, policy officer of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment Civil Protection, said the EU’s civil protection mechanism can be adopted to deal with potential pandemics like A(H1N1).

The Philippines, along with 26 other countries, has concluded a five-day response exercises to counter the possible outbreak of the virus, among other emergencies.

“We’re always prepared to assist upon the request by any country in the world, including the Philippine government, and we have a lot of capabilities,” Borko said.

Legarda said the EU disaster assistance team had helped the government confirm the large quantities of pesticides and other toxic chemicals that leaked from the capsized MV Princess of the Stars.

Borko led a team of experts from Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Norway and Sweden that showcased the EU’s disaster preparedness model dubbed Civil Protection Mechanism.

“The Philippines should look into the EU model and if applicable, adopt it along with our Southeast Asian neighbors. The setting up of an emergency response mechanism is very important in disaster risk reduction, whether natural, man-made or due to the breakout of diseases,” Legarda said.

Self-quarantine for Palace team

Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser on External Affairs Edgardo Pamintuan yesterday expressed willingness to undergo self-quarantine after his visit to the United States.

Pamintuan, along with External Affairs Undersecretary Danilo Consumido, led a team to New York, Texas and California and met with the Filipino communities there and discussed positive developments taking place in the Philippines.

The three states, including the city of San Diego, which is a few miles from the US border with Mexico, were among those reportedly affected by the A(H1N1) virus.

Pamintuan’s team left San Francisco aboard Philippine Airlines flight 105 and was expected to arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport early Saturday morning.

Pamintuan said he and the members of his team would go on self-quarantine to ensure that they had not contracted the virus during their speaking tour in the US.

As soon as health warnings were issued, Pamintuan said he and his team members restricted their movements and stayed in their hotel rooms most of the time, venturing out only to meet with members of the Filipino community.

Pamintuan’s team also met with Filipinos in New Jersey, Maryland and Illinois to discuss the efforts of the Philippine government to cushion the impact of the global economic crisis and present the various mega-infrastructure projects that are not only changing the Philippine landscape but are also expected to bring more development to the countryside.

He presented some P188 billion worth of infrastructure projects that are now being implemented in the Luzon Urban Beltway (LUB) special region made up of Metro Manila and provinces in Central and Southern Luzon.

“These projects have not only helped mitigate the impact of the global economic crisis but have also opened up new opportunities for development and investments,” said Pamintuan, who also chairs that North Rail Corp. – Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez, Jose Rodel Clapano

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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