Duterte needs to be 'more serious' in public health remarks: ex-health chief

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 23 2020 01:51 PM

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on July 21, 2020. Robinson Niñal, Presidential Photo

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte should be "more serious" in his remarks that may affect public health, a former health secretary said Thursday.

The President may have been joking when he advised the public to disinfect their face masks with gasoline, the Department of Health (DOH) earlier said.

But Duterte needs to make accurate remarks and take health advisories from experts, said Dr. Esperanza Cabral.

"We know that the President is very popular especially among the masses at this point so everything he says can be taken seriously by these people. The public does not know when he is joking and when he is not...so he really needs to be more serious about the things that he tells the public," she told ANC.

"People may take him seriously and actually do what he says what we should do and those are not the correct things to do and people are going to be put in danger because of those."

Cabral cited US President Donald Trump, who earlier told his constituents that drinking disinfectants reduces the chances of COVID-19 infection.

"[Duterte] needs to actually rehearse these things to make sure that he’s saying the accurate things. So maybe every 2 weeks or every month he can come out when there is something important to say and he should leave it to his IATF (inter-agency task force) and national implementation to tell people the nitty gritty of things," she said.

Duterte's spokesperson Harry Roque however said the president said the gasoline advice in jest.

"Kayo naman, 4 na taon na si Presidente, parang hindi n'yo pa kilala si Presidente. Joke only," said Roque on Thursday.

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Health Secretary Francisco Duque, meantime, should listen to advisors whom he trusts after making inaccurate statements about the pandemic in the Philippines, Cabral said.

"The Secretary was correct in correcting himself as soon as he realized he made a mistake in his message because people make mistakes the important thing is we recognize the mistake and tell people the correct thing afterwards," she said.

The Philippines needs to ramp up its virus measures "faster" and on a "wider scale," Cabral said.

"We cannot keep ourselves on lockdown forever so we need to look at other methods in order to control the virus, the pandemic. We need to be improving our testing capacity, contact tracing some more, equip our communications people with better data and making sure they tell the public about this," she said.

"We need to get the public on our side, I think that is one of the things that we still need to do."

The country cannot test each and everyone of the 109 million Filipinos but it should test those who are symptomatic, at high-risk of contracting the virus, and a sample of the population for prevalence of the illness, Cabral said.

The Philippines as of Wednesday reported 72,269 cases of COVID-19, with 23,623 recoveries and 1,843 deaths. 

- With a report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News