Roque’s toxic positivity

When asked to comment about the latest SWS survey that was conducted to determine how many workers lost their jobs due to the pandemic, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, broadcasting from the relative comfort and safety of his home, said that he was glad that it was only 45 percent, instead of his expected 100 percent, and that it shows “resilience.”

While this natural predisposition to look at the lighter side of life as a coping mechanism benefits Filipinos as they deal with ordinary, day-to-day challenges, this is really inappropriate within the context of the grave circumstances we face in this ongoing pandemic and the consequent contraction of our economy. We have been so used to the idea of having less than what we deserve, that it has been taken to mean we are a resilient people and subsequently enshrined as a virtue. This has caused a culture of self-effacing deference and false gratitude, where people who seek accountability are shouted down and told to just “be happy with what you have,” or “let’s all just stay positive!” Thus, we as a people dream high, but set the bar of what we accept so low for fear of being labeled as ungrateful and negative.


The glacial inertia with which Roque said those words is very telling. It is clear by how outrageously out of touch it was that he cares for neither the ordinary Filipino, nor the institution he serves. To say, with a straight face on national television, that “the glass is half full” after being asked to comment about the results of an SWS survey about unemployment, represents everything about this administration where “failing upward” into positions of power is considered a legitimate career move: It tells us that as long as the 45 percent representing unemployed Filipinos remains a cold statistic on paper, we’ll be fine.

But the thing is, we’re not fine. If ever that SWS study proves anywhere near accurate, an actual unemployment rate of 45 percent is unacceptable and would prove catastrophic for our economy. The Philippine economy is a fragile thing: a house of cards that can easily collapse in on itself. A glib dismissal of something as significant as the health of our labor force adds insult to injury, because Roque seems not to understand that these numbers are a stand-in for real, flesh-and-blood Filipinos, and the very real families who depend on them. His words and actions are nothing more than a shameful display of tone-deaf privilege coming from a person who is accountable to, and should serve the interests of, the Filipino people—nothing more, nothing less.


Let’s not forget that the reason we are experiencing what could potentially be the single most devastating blow to our economy since martial law is because of a COVID-19 response headed by a clueless administration that went horribly wrong. The very least the presidential spokesperson could have done as an official of this incompetent administration was exhibit an ounce of empathy.

At this point, we don’t even demand sincerity anymore: All we ask is just the appearance of care and concern. Just to reassure us that our leaders are still exercising a substantial degree of control over the situation. As each day passes, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is no longer the case, and that this may be too much to ask.

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Ryan Robert Flores is a product development manager at a design firm in Manila that serves clients both here and abroad.

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TAGS: Commentary, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Harry Roque, Quarantine, Ryan Robert Flores, SWS survey, Unemployment
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