Whose fault is it?
Harry Roque, having been stymied in his ambition to get into the Senate, and having endured humiliation from his once and future boss over his supposed zero chances at being elected — after the cruel flattery of being called a senator by that same boss at a public gathering, a moment in which awkward glow he basked, grinning — appears unchastened by his experience.
The former human rights lawyer is as brassy and intemperate in his language as ever. Last week, having returned to the Palace as President Duterte’s spokesperson, he lit into Filipinos for the Philippines’ being No. 1 in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia. Filipinos should be ashamed of themselves for putting the nation in that scandalous spot through their undisciplined ways, he said: Nakakahiya po ’yan. Itigil niyo na ’yang pagiging pasaway!
By his statements in that virtual briefing, his first since Salvador Panelo was divested of the role of Malacañang mouthpiece, Roque removed the blame for the country’s sorry state from its leaders and put it squarely on the people; for good measure, he took a dig at women, at mothers, for supposedly not compelling their menfolk to comply with the rules of quarantine.
He said they should bar their husbands from leaving home and visiting their mistresses (he used the term “kulasisi”), in the process illustrating once again how such a man with a mouth and a clear penchant for vulgarity — remember how, as a member of the House of Representatives, he took gleeful enjoyment in the unseemly questioning of Sen. Leila de Lima’s boyfriend in an official legislative inquiry—succeeds in debasing public office. But then, he’s in good company.
Of course, Roque ignored the fundamental reason for the Philippines’ then-top rank in the regional scheme of things, which reason should be recognized and understood in the general strategy to contain the virus that has killed 437 as of yesterday and continues to threaten life and livelihood in this country: the government’s failure to acknowledge early enough the clear and present danger and to act decisively to stem the quickening tide.
We repeat ourselves, but the facts bear repeating: 1) It was late in January when a tourist from China was found positive of the virus that causes COVID-19, dying of it soon after, but neither President Duterte nor Health Secretary Francisco Duque III could bring himself to stop the steady stream of newly rich visitors from that country despite news of Wuhan City being ravaged by the virus; 2) early in February, Mr. Duterte saw no seriousness in the looming threat and went so far as to declare that there was “nothing to be extra scared of that coronavirus thing”; 3) mid-February, he gaily urged Filipinos to indulge in local travel, even inviting Tourism Secretary Berna Puyat to take a dip with him in the Boracay waters—in the entire month of February, only four COVID-19 cases were recorded, but persons under investigation were almost hitting 1,000; yet 4) even on March 1, Mr. Duterte was still mouthing such stuff as the virus would “die a natural death.” Etc.
By March, people were perishing in big numbers elsewhere on the planet. It was only when local transmission became apparent that Duque bestirred himself from his self-satisfied stance that nothing was amiss, COVID-19-wise, in the Philippines, and recommended to his boss that a public health emergency be declared.
By then, too much time had been ruthlessly squandered, time that could have been spent to, among others, fortify the creaking health system, particularly the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine; prepare hospitals as well as laboratories and other testing institutions; launch an aggressive public information campaign on the virus; and marshal personnel and resources, including, most importantly, securing test kits for the teeming population.
The outcome of Duque’s astounding cluelessness, or obtuseness, is plain to see. The Senate itself, or rather 14 senators, in calling for the Health chief’s resignation, scored his “failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight, and inefficiency in performance,” resulting in the “poor planning, delayed response, lack of transparency, and misguided and flip-flopping policies and measures” that have marked the country’s response to the pandemic.
Hospitals are bursting at the seams with COVID-19 patients, who are dying faster than crematorium staff can collect them. Frontliners are being infected at an alarming rate. Businesses big and small are gasping for breath. People are desperate for paid work and are going hungry, many of them more than others, despite the vaunted billion-peso Heal as One “ayuda.”
Still, the number of confirmed cases rises daily. Whose fault is it?
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