This screengrab is from the June 30, 2020 press briefing by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
PTV, screen grab
Roque stands by controversial 'congratulations' remark, says he will make them every month
Bella Perez-Rubio ( - July 1, 2020 - 11:55am

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Wednesday defended his controversial remarks about "beating" the University of the Philippines' COVID-19 case forecast for the month of June.

"I don't care about the critics. I'll keep doing it every month because people should be reminded that although UP forecasts are mathematical models, we can still control the situation," the presidential spokesperson told CNN Philippines on Wednesday.

This comes after he was widely criticized by netizens, a celebrity and the leader of a militant group for a comment he made during Tuesday's Palace briefing.

"We beat the UP prediction po. We beat it. So congratulations, Philippines!" Roque exclaimed after he realized that it was, in fact, the last day of June and the number of confirmed cases stood a few thousand less than the number predicted by UP researchers.

Roque also claimed that the backlog was only at about a 1,000 more tests but the health department has not released any data to substantiate his claims.

Many took issue with the presidential spokesperson's tone and gestures as he went so far as to pump his fist in the air in celebration.

BAYAN secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. on Tuesday fired back at Roque, saying: "No, Harry. We did not win squat."

"The self-congratulations is grossly misinformed and intellectually dishonest," Reyes added.

UP researchers in a study estimated that the country would have around 40,000 cases of novel coronavirus by the end of June. The Philippines logged 37,514 cases on June 30 but is still working through a backlog of tests.

Roque on Wednesday said that National Task Force against COVID-19 Deputy Chief Implementer and testing czar Vince Dizon confirmed to him that there were about 1,000 backlogged tests remaining.

Based on the tracker of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, 46,335 or 7% among the total individuals tested have yielded positive to SARS-CoV-2 as of June 28, 2020. The figure may be greater than the number of confirmed cases as these still need to undergo case validation and processing, according to the website. 

Analysis done on data from DOH DataDrop as of 4 p.m. of June 28, 2020.

'I was congratulating the people'

"Many misunderstood [my remarks]....I was congratulating the people not the government's efforts because in the end its the people who will determine the disease will spread," Roque told ANC's Headstart on Wednesday in a mix of English and Filipino.

He said this despite the fact that the government has long blamed the lack of progress in the fight against COVID-19 on 'pasaway' or complacent and disobedient citizens. Data, however, shows that these claims are largely unsubstantiated.

Meanwhile, former adviser to the National Task Force against COVID-19 Dr. Tony Leachon on Tuesday slammed the health department anew over its handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

"Right now I can tell you we are still in the [process of trying to boost] testing and contact tracing, that should have been started 100 days ago," Leachon said at a forum hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other officials from the health department are currently being investigated by the ombudsman for their response to the pandemic.

Researchers from UP estimate that the number of coronavirus disease cases in the country could soar to 60,000 by the end of July as the Philippines is still experiencing “significant” community transmission of the illness.

As it stands, the Philippines has been under the longest community quarantine in the world with no timeline for the earlier promised "new normal" which the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases has removed from its scale of classifications.

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