Roque washes hands of speech before mass gathering in Cebu
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque was in attendance when huge crowds gathered in Madridejos, Bantayan Island in Cebu to greet participants of the Suroy-Suroy Sugbo Santa Fe/Madridejos/Bantayan Escapade on Friday.
The Freeman/ Aldo Banaynal

Roque washes hands of speech before mass gathering in Cebu

(Philstar.com) - November 29, 2020 - 9:59am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 12:35 p.m.) — Despite photographs of the incident, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque distanced himself from a mass gathering in Cebu where he delivered a speech, shifting blame instead to the local government behind the event. 

In a statement, Roque washed his hands of responsibility over the event, saying he had no control over the large crowds that gathered unexpectedly to participate in the provincial government’s island group tour.

Mass gatherings, like mañanita celebrations for example, are prohibited under the general community quarantine protocols. Roque himself has asserted these protocols when talking about protests and religious gatherings, reminding the public of the ten-person limit at these events. 

“The activity where I was seen speaking before a crowd was organized by the local government, which I had no control as a guest,” Roque said.

“I was later informed, that the local official/s mentioned in interview/s that they did not expect the huge turnout of people as well,” he added.

The Palace spokesman drew the ire of social media after photos of the event went viral, with users pointing out the obvious lack of physical distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But Roque saw things differently, saying there was "general compliance" since most of the crowd wore face masks despite not socially distancing. 

“I was totally taken aback by the huge crowd that came when I went to Cebu yesterday, November 27, to grace the official opening of the Bantayan Island Airport. The venue was open air as it was held by the beach, but I had to reiterate for the audience to keep on their masks,” Roque said.

“As a precautionary measure, I observed physical distancing and reminded those who were present to observe the minimum health standards.  Also, I did not shake hands and I wore a face mask,” he added. 

'Fact finding' 

Later Sunday, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año disclosed in an interview aired over radio dzBB that "fact finding" initiatives would be launched to probe the provincial government’s island group tour and what caused the crowds to gather.

"We will make sure na magkaroon ng fact finding diyan at kung merong dapat managot ay titignan namin," he said, though he gave no other details.

It is also unclear what facts there are to find, given that the event was documented in photographs by local media.

"Nananawagan tayo sa lahat, including government officials, kung mayroon kayong activities na hindi niyo kayang ipatupad ang health standards, particularly physical distancing, stop it. Wag niyo nang ituloy yan, kasi you cannot just say sorry kung hindi na-control. Mahirap yan," the interior secretary also said.

As of the health department's latest case bulletin issued Saturday afternoon, some 427,000 coronavirus infections have been recorded in the Philippines since the pathogen first emerged in December. 

Of which, over 31,000 are still classified as active cases, or patients who are still in hospitals and quarantine centers who have neither recovered nor passed away. 

The Philippines, under the world's longest quarantine, still records thousands of cases per day, but no less than Roque himself continues to assert that the national government has managed the pandemic well.

— Franco Luna 

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