Lawmakers bristle at Duterte's 'maliit na bagay' comment on pandemic

Lawmakers bristle at Duterte's 'maliit na bagay' comment on pandemic
Commuters are seen queueing in this October 1, 2020 photo.
The STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers on Tuesday said it was insulting for President Rodrigo Duterte to seem to play down the coronavirus pandemic that has killed thousands and infected thousands more insulting in his remarks late Monday night.

The president , in his weekly public address, sought to allay the public's fears over the health crisis, saying it is only a small thing compared to other crises the Philippines has endured in the past. According to economic figures released in January, gross domestic product in 2020 dropped 9.5% year-on-year, the worst since records started in 1946.

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima, a vocal critic of the government, said she understands that Duterte meant to reassure the nation with his comments but said it was "an assurance bereft of a legitimate plan and diligent leadership."

She added that the "COVID-19 'fatigue' being experienced by our country is borne of a year of corruption and failure by this administration to stay on top of the situation."

De Lima said that aside from the struggling economy, the government's pandemic response has led the country to dire straits.

"We are seeing a dangerous surge in COVID-19 cases and our health sector is again pushed to its limits. Our vaccination program has yet to commence beyond what was donated for the frontliners. Our education system is failing our students at a rate that is close to irreversible at this point," she said.

'Adding insult to injury'

Members of the Makabayan bloc, in separate statements, also accused Duterte of trivializing Filipinos' suffering amid the pandemic.

"This is an insult to those who lost loved ones or who got sick," said Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela party-list) in Filipino, "as well as to the millions who lost thier jobs and livelihood, the poor who were arrested for allegedly violating protocols, and for families who had to endure hardship and hunger."

Rep. Eufemia Cullamat (Bayan Muna party-list) also hit the government for shunning early calls for mass testing as well as delays in the vaccine rollout, saying in Filipino: "We have long been left out in the uncertainty. A year later, it appears that government has no clear plan on how to get through the pandemic."

As the country marked the first anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdown, senators on Monday called for better handling by government of the health crisis, and for it to do away a "militaristic approach" of curfews, checkpoints and arrests to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The pandemic has also brought difficulties for millions of Filipino students and teachers under distance learning, with Duterte yet to approve any plan for a safe resumption of physical classes. He said that he would only allow in-classroom classes when enough people have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

"The youth's right to accessible and quality education continues to suffer with the Department of Education's failed blended learning program," said Rep. France Castro (ACT Teachers party-list). "Our problems in education is not a small thing."

Palace: Crisis only temporary

In a briefing earlier, Tuesday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque sought to explain the president's comments, which he said were meant to give Filipinos hope.

"What the president was saying is we continue to live despite the COVID-19," he said in Filipino. "He only meant that this is temporary and that this will pass."

Roque said that a solution is already underway with vaccines against the novel coronavirus already arriving. But the jabs that have arrived so far are donations, with the government still working to ink purchase agreements with pharmaceutical firms. — Christian Deiparine

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