Palace tells critics: Are you deaf?
Duterte’s penultimate SONA has been perceived by some quarters as lacking in details on how the Philippines would rebound from the pandemic that has pulled the country into recession on two consecutive quarters of economic contraction.
Photo from Malacañang’s Facebook page
Palace tells critics: Are you deaf?
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - July 29, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang yesterday disputed claims that President Duterte had failed to discuss a concrete pandemic recovery plan in his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), saying those who hold such a view may be “deaf.”

Duterte’s penultimate SONA has been perceived by some quarters as lacking in details on how the Philippines would rebound from the pandemic that has pulled the country into recession on two consecutive quarters of economic contraction.

Critics also scored the President for supposedly using the address to air his personal gripes instead of focusing on ways to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Maybe they are deaf but I saw it,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said in Filipino at a press briefing yesterday.

Roque said Duterte had discussed recovery measures in broad strokes, noting that Cabinet members had already tackled detailed programs at pre-SONA briefings.

He said among the recovery measures mentioned by Duterte were the tax reform bill for enterprises and the second phase of the Bayanihan Act, a law that provided the President additional powers to respond to the pandemic.

“We have a new format for the SONA. We now have pre-SONA (briefings), where secretaries of different agencies talk about details. The President just talked about direction and broad strokes and did not go into details. We did not have a litany of figures that were heard during previous SONAs,” he added.

Roque said economic managers who attended the pre-SONA briefings had enumerated strategies to revive the economy, including the use of public funds to spur economic activity, giving of aid to affected sectors, providing loans to businesses, using monetary policy tools to encourage investments.

He expressed hope that Congress would pass bills extending the Bayanihan Act and funding an economic stimulus package by August.

“Yesterday (July 27), the leadership of Congress promised that within the month or perhaps this August, they will approve on third and final reading the stimulus package and the extension of Bayanihan,” the Palace spokesman said.

While critics are pounding on the alleged lack of substance in Duterte’s address, Roque thinks the President deserves a high score for the speech. “For me, the grade of the President is 9 out of 10,” he said.

Asked why he did not give the President a perfect score, Roque replied: “Number one, it’s long, one hour 40 (minutes). We already had pre-SONA (briefings). Second, perhaps the quotable quotes. If I were the writer, I would have placed several quotable quotes during the start and the ending of the speech. Pardon me but when I was a student, I also worked as a speech writer.”

Not alarming yet

Roque also maintained that the number of infections in the country is not yet alarming, as he lashed out at critics of the government’s pandemic response.

He said the forecast of the University of the Philippines (UP) that there would be 3.5 million infected persons in the country would have become a reality if the government’s response was a failure. More persons would predictably test positive as the government expands its COVID-19 testing, he added.

“What more do you want? I know you are from the opposition but there should be no room for politicking in this time of pandemic,” Roque said in Filipino.

Roque was asked to react to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon’s pronouncement that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) had failed to properly deal with the pandemic, which has already infected more than 82,000 people in the country.

Drilon had also cited the “lack of credibility” of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in the worsening situation.

Roque allayed concerns over the rising infections, saying very few of the infected persons are considered severe cases. He said fewer than 10 percent of infected persons represent severe cases while the case mortality rate is only about two percent.

“This number should not alarm us,” the Palace spokesman said.

“While our total number of cases is already 80,000 more or less, the (number of deaths) is less than 2,000,” he added.

Roque also called on critics to make a distinction between the Department of Health (DOH) and the IATF, which he said is composed of career officials who are experts in their respective fields.

“DOH is just one of the agencies that are part of the IATF. The IATF employs the whole-of-government approach. They are not politicians, most of them are civil servants, undersecretaries level, career officials,” he said.

Roque said the government is open to proposals to improve its pandemic response, including those coming from the opposition.

“We thank Sen. Drilon because he voted in favor of the (Bayanihan) We Heal as One Act. Nobody objected to that. Perhaps if he can think of other ways, after all that’’s the job of lawmakers, to craft policy, we can look into that,” Roque said, referring to the law that provided Duterte emergency powers to fight the pandemic.

“If there are good ideas, we are open to that. We don’t turn a deaf ear to anyone. We listen to everyone, including critics, and we consider their views in the decision-making process,” he added.

No misgivings

Roque also said the government appears to have no misgivings about its decision to lift the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila, which has been seeing a massive increase in COVID-19 cases.

Asked if the decision to re-open the economy may have caused the sudden increase in COVID-19 cases, Roque said the rise cannot be prevented because the government has ramped up its testing capacity.

“I think that is forgone conclusion as we open the economy, it will increase,” he said.

Roque said it does not follow that Metro Manila and other areas under general community quarantine will revert to modified enhanced community quarantine. “Let’s see what happens next, but reverting to MECQ is not a foregone conclusion because case doubling rate has not worsened – it has improved a little,” he said.

He said more positive cases would predictably emerge as testing capability improves.

The IATF was scheduled to meet yesterday to determine the next steps to take by Aug. 1.

“They will look at the case doubling rate, which has is still high in Metro Manila at 8.9 percent. So, it improved; because it was at 7 to 9 before. Now we are at 8.9. The case doubling rate is now slower in Metro Manila compared to the rest of the world,” Roque said.

“But we will also look at critical care capacity. Our total hospital bed capacity – although you cannot see the graph, but that’s at 54 percent. However, the ICU bed capacity is at dangerous level at 70 percent,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Imee Marcos has lambasted critics of Duterte’s SONA, calling them “deaf and dumb quibblers who failed to hear the clarion call for transformational change.”

“President Duterte’s message to the nation is loud and clear: Change now or forever hold your peace, transform or perish! His government will lead the charge against the multiple viruses that beset our country – COVID-19, all manner of corruption, criminal syndicates and an almighty historic oligarchy,” Marcos said.

“Truly, every crisis posits an opportunity. May this dreadful pandemic give us the chance to finally expunge all that rots and festers in the bowels of the nation, provide us reason and strength to remove the ancient oligarchic networks of oppression and in the process transform our country and ourselves. Let’s get to work and save the country!” Marcos added. – Christina Mendez, Cecille Suerte-Felipe

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