The first and latest chapters of our government coming to grips with COVID-19 followed the same pattern. The Palace announced the virus was a cause for concern and that the President would convene a meeting on it—after the weekend. Some time later, when cases resurfaced in the country, the Palace again made an announcement: The President would act on a recommendation from the Department of Health, issuing a declaration of a public health emergency—after the weekend.The President already took flak for seemingly being more interested in protecting Pogos than addressing mounting public unease, verging on panic in some quarters, over the virus. Finally, the weekend ended and at noon the promised proclamation was made. Then it was announced that the President would meet mayors and then hold a press conference in the evening.
After meeting with mayors, the President-Mayor held a press conference, during which he announced the suspension of classes for the remainder of the week. An observer described what transpired in this manner: “Watched the entire emergency press conference of President Duterte late last night. He had probably already taken his meds for the night and was so so very stoned. At one point he had to wipe drool off the side of his lips and many times he came very close to nodding out. But he had very encouraging words for us…”
What followed was what the writer claimed was a transcript of the President’s reply when he was asked about the lack of testing kits for COVID-19. The President, the writer claimed, said: “The kit can be distributed to the different health centers, but at this time kung kulang they can be brought to a testing station, to RITM. Kokonti lang kasi. Eh the kit, is the kit, meron namang lumalabas pa. I think that… sabi ko nga… in every epoch, maybe meron nung una, Bubonic Plague, mga gago ang tao no’n, tamang-tama lang. Tapos yung Spanish Flu, right before the wars. Kawawa yung mga tao. Pero mas kawawa ’yung sa Middle East. the so-called Roman Empire. You have read the Inquisition, kung may birth mark ka you are a witch and you are burned at stake.”
Thankfully, RADIO-TV Malacanãng (RTVM) put up a video recording of the press conference. So, looking at 30:30 to 32:26 of the recording, what the President actually said was the following.
Q. Sir, another question po. Sir, paano natin i-address ’yung kakulangan ng testing kit? Considering ah, in-admit po ni Secretary Duque na hindi problema ’yung… ah, hindi… ah, wala sila sa under-reporting kundi ’yung problem sa resources… limited tayo sa, ah, testing kit ng… funding.
A. Well, ah, really, the kit is uh, there… uh… it’s kind of, uh… To my understanding, it’s a kit that can be distributed to the different health workers and they can do it… But uh, at, at this time, kung kulang, they’re always brought to a testing station… I do not know how… how do you term the facility… [Duque whispers to President] Uh, RITM. It’s where they are being… O, kokonti lang kasi, o [waves a slip of paper]. But, uh, the kit, uh, is uh, the kit, walang… walang lumalabas pa.
Q. So may enough naman, sir, in case na tumaas pa ’yung bilang ng mga tinatamaan ng, ano… COVID…
A. Uh, sabi ko nga, eh… in every—not every generation but epoch, maybe meron nung una, Bubonic Plague, ’yung sa Middle East pa no’n, ’yung mga gago ang tao no’n, tamang-tama lang. Tapos yung Spanish Flu, right before, o after the war, Second World War. Kawawa ’yung mga tao. Pero mas kawawa ’yung sa Middle East. The so-called Roman Empire. You have read the Inquisition, kung may birth mark ka, you are a witch and you are burned at stake [eats a mint].
The truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction. There’s a lot more you can absorb from the press conference, if you care to go to the RTVM channel on YouTube.
Mercifully, just as people were absorbing the full import of the President’s demeanor and remarks, some good news came in the form of a domestically developed testing kit receiving FDA approval. As always, the public is taking things into its own hands, with social engagements and travel being canceled, and people fending for themselves.
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