The joke’s on us
While still under the shadows cast by the COVID-19 pandemic, we Filipinos can still find some comic relief from clowns in the public eye.
There’s lawyer Larry Gadon, for one, who loves courting public attention with all sorts of antics. The latest gimmick of his was wandering about while seemingly wearing a face mask and face shield, in accordance with health safety guidelines. But what caught the attention of the public was that Gadon wasn’t wearing the face mask but rather had the mask taped onto the shield. He did this, Gadon said, because he believed face masks were unnecessary and face shields alone would provide enough protection. The government, he added, was “overreacting” to the risks posed by the coronavirus infection.
Such assertions were met by immediate blowback from Health Undersecretary and spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire, who accused Gadon of spreading the wrong information. “This is not a joking matter,” said the health official. “These kinds of statements are not helping us at all… People might follow this and get sick and who will it fall on? Health care workers who are really suffering already,” she warned.
Vergeire reiterated that the Department of Health has reminded the public again and again about the basic steps to take to protect themselves from the virus and avoid spreading it to others. “When you wear a mask, you protect yourself 85 percent from being infected. When you do physical distancing, it adds more, and when you wear a face shield, based on a local study that’s just been released (that goes up to) 99 percent prevention.”
Perhaps to prove his contention, Gadon should set an example and surrender to authorities. After all, what is that mantra again by administration partisans like him? The law is the law. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año is calling for a 10- to 30-day jail term for people caught not wearing a face mask when out in public (taping one onto a face shield would not qualify). Although one critic has called this suggestion “stupid on top of stupid” (authorities should instead give violators a free face mask and a warning, he believes), throwing Gadon in jail would send the message loud and clear: COVID-19 is a serious life-threatening matter and health measures should be followed by everyone. Yes, even, or especially by, lawyers who love to court public attention but end up being ridiculed instead.
Now on to the other jester whose latest statement is but the most recent in a series of gaffes. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, the President’s alter ego, reacted to findings of the Social Weather Stations that almost half of all Filipino adults—45.5 percent or about 27.3 million—are jobless. This, said SWS, was a 28-point increase from 17.5 percent in December 2019 and a new “record high” since the joblessness rate was recorded at 34.4 percent in March 2012. Just since last December, said SWS, 19.4 million Filipinos have lost their jobs.
Alarming and dismaying news, however one views it. But for Roque, the information seemed to be material for a comic sketch, sarcasm piled on top of arrogance.
Asked for comment on the grim numbers, Roque replied: “I am glad that not everyone lost their jobs because of the long lockdowns. I’m still surprised at our resilience, that only 45 percent have lost their jobs. It could have been worse because we are imposing complete lockdowns.”
Was this an extreme example of spokesperson spin—trying to turn bad, devastating news into at least a paean to our vaunted resilience?
If so, then it is insensitivity at its worst. The loss of a job, of a steady income, is always a harsh blow, not just to the newly unemployed but also to everyone dependent on that lost wage. It sounds as if Roque would only have been moved by a 100-percent job loss. The least he could have done was to express some empathy, show an understanding of the plight of many Filipino families. But maybe that’s expecting too much from a man who flouts the law (remember the ill-fated side trip to Subic to cavort with dolphins?), resorts to the lowest personal attacks and innuendo against critics of the President, many of them women, and who has made so many about-faces in his advocacies and political leanings that observers are reeling from disorientation.
It would be funny if it didn’t hurt so much. Thanks to these gentlemen and their “foot-in-mouth disease,” we at least have something to snicker at, even if in the end, the joke’s on us.
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