Roque in a rage
The disturbing video obtained by Inquirer reporter Marlon Ramos is the stuff of nightmares for public officials, especially for those who have moist eyes for an elected office. But only if such public officials care for civility and dignity and passé notions like that, over and above their sheer pleasure at preening in the moment from an imaginary height and hurling, Zeus-like, their thunderbolts at the quivering masses.
In the video that has now gone viral, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque is seen fuming mad during a recent virtual meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF). Prior to the outburst, as a second video obtained by the intrepid Ramos showed, Dr. Maricar Limpin, president of the Philippine College of Physicians, was almost in tears “begging’’ the IATF to “please, please place NCR and other places under ECQ.’’ Limpin and Dr. Antonio Dans had joined the meeting after hearing that Metro Manila would be placed under the more relaxed GCQ on Sept. 8. They warned that with COVID-19 cases continuing to soar, the health system would “not be able to handle the situation’’ if the quarantine relaxation led to a greater surge in cases.
That was when Roque lost it. Flaring up and repeatedly jabbing his finger at the doctors, he bellowed: “Do not sit there as if you’re the only ones right! We’re trying to achieve total health. Who wants COVID to kill people? Are you saying that only medical frontliners are concerned about the health of the people? We all want to save lives. For crying out loud, no one in the government wants a single life lost. No one! How dare you think that we are not considering steps to prevent the loss of lives? We employed the ‘entire government approach’ thinking about economic ramifications, thinking about the people (who) will go hungry. It does not mean that we care any less!’’
And, lest his spellbound audience fail to get what his theatrical meltdown was really all about, Roque added: “And let me point out to everyone, this group, they have never said anything good about the government response!”
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III could be heard telling Roque: “Relax, partner, relax.” But the apoplectic Roque wouldn’t be shushed up: “They need to hear this,’’ he insisted.
What did the doctors need to hear, first and foremost? That they and their colleagues in the health sector—the exhausted, traumatized vanguard of the nation’s fight against COVID-19—were also in fact required by the Palace to be Team Duterte cheerleaders? By berating them for having “never said anything good about the government response,” was Roque expecting these people to act like paid trolls extolling the government’s “excellent’’ pandemic response despite the grim reality they confront on the ground every day? Nearly two years after the outbreak, infections are breaching record numbers, COVID-19 medicines and vaccines are in short supply, hospitals are overflowing, health care workers are staging protests because of inexplicably delayed salaries—and the presidential mouthpiece is petulantly whining that the health sector’s enthusiasm for the administration responsible for this runaway mess isn’t rapturous enough?
Elsewhere in the world, doctors and nurses and health workers are justifiably feted as heroes for their valiant, invaluable work in the pandemic barricades. Here, for insisting that their voices be heard, that their insights and expertise be taken into consideration in the pandemic policymaking alongside those of retired generals and non-health experts, and, not least, that they be paid what is owed them, they are subjected to official tongue-lashing and scorn.
Limpin and Dans were at the IATF to tell the government the hard truth—that the health care system could collapse should infections continue to rise with lowered quarantine restrictions. One may differ with them on whether more ECQs are the remedy—the Philippines’ version of lockdowns, after all, without corresponding ramp-ups in testing and contact tracing, have failed dismally to contain the pandemic. But apparently, by Roque’s reaction, the IATF is not the venue to hear unvarnished reality. Recall that health reform advocate Dr. Tony Leachon was also unceremoniously dropped as adviser to the task force after the doctor started criticizing the government’s erratic actions in the early days of the health crisis. Under this dispensation, only like-minded people, the yes-men and those who have only good things to say about the “best and brightest” by the Pasig, should be at the table.
No wonder the country is in the throes of the gravest health and economic calamity it has ever seen, with no end in sight. Against that sweeping desolation, when dispassionate, clear-minded, and empathetic dialogue among citizens is paramount if the country is to begin to heal, the disgraceful spectacle of the government spokesperson raging at hapless doctors takes the cake. Roque’s words need to be flung right back at him: How dare you.
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