MANILA — Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque said on Friday he was "only human" as he explained his outburst against a group of doctors who laid out their suggestions to contain the uptick in COVID-19 cases.
A leaked video of the COVID-19 task force's meeting showed Roque raising his voice and jabbing his fingers at the screen, after some doctors urged the government to refrain from easing Metro Manila's lockdown.
Roque said the meeting was supposed to be "classified secret" because their decisions would affect all citizens. He also said there should be "debates" to ensure right decisions are made.
But he acknowledged, "Kinukumpirma ko po na tayo po’y naging emosyonal at pasensya naman po kayo, tao lamang."
(I confirm that we became emotional and sorry, I am only human.)
Roque said he was advocating for those who go hungry due to hard lockdowns.
"Ang pakiusap ko lang po, ‘wag po nating isipin na ang mga desisyon ay parang mga clinical decision lamang," he said.
(My only request is let us not think of our decisions as only clinical decisions.)
"Kung meron po akong na-offend sa aking pananalita, well, humihingi po ako ng abiso. Pero kinakailangan lang pong pakinggan natin ang boses ng mga hindi naririnig sa IATF, ang hanay ng naghihirap at nagugutom," he said.
(If some were offended by my language, well, I ask for notice. But we need to listen to the voice of those unheard by the IATF, the ranks of the poor, the hungry.)
Roque said he did not curse at the doctors.
"That was the first time that I lost my bearing in an IATF meeting. But as I said, I may apologize and I have in fact apologized for the manner, but never for the message," he added.
"I stand by the message."
In videos obtained by the Inquirer, Roque was recorded as saying the government considered economic ramifications and people who would go hungry in its efforts to contain the pandemic.
“It does not mean that we care any less. And let me point out to everyone, this group, they have never said anything good about the government response,” he said, raising his voice and jabbing a finger at the computer screen.
Roque was reportedly responding to Dr. Maricar Limpin, president of the Philippine College of Physicians, who urged the government not to relax curbs in Metro Manila for fear that COVID-19 cases would continue to soar.
“Do not sit there as if you’re the only ones right. We’re trying to achieve total health. Who wants COVID to kill people?” Roque told Limpin in the video.
“Are you saying that only medical frontliners are concerned about the health of the people? We all want to save lives. For crying out loud, no one in the government wants a single life lost. No one!”
“How dare you think that we are not considering steps to prevent the loss of lives?” he added.
An official was then heard telling Roque, "Relax, partner, relax."
Health workers “deserve an apology for this rude behavior,” former government adviser Dr. Tony Leachon said on Twitter.
Dr. Leni Jara of the Shape Up to Defeat COVID-19 group agreed Roque owed an apology to medical professionals.
“Tumigil ka. Sumusobra ka na. Binastos mo na ang mga nagtatrabaho at ang mga nagliligtas ng mga pasyente. Binastos mo! You should apologize to them,” she said in an online media forum.
(Stop it. You've gone overboard. You disrespected those working and saving patients. You disrespected them!)
At least 103 medical workers have died during the pandemic, among some 33,500 coronavirus fatalities overall.
Scores of health workers held protests last week to demand an end to what they called government neglect and unpaid benefits, as pressure built in hospitals fighting one of Asia's longest-running coronavirus outbreaks.
The Medical Action Group (MAG) recently said President Rodrigo Duterte had no right to run for vice president in 2022 because of supposed "failure of policies" and anomalies in government's management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Hindi ko po alam kung saang planeta nakatira ‘yang mga health workers na ayaw kay Presidente kasi buong daigdig po ang sinasalanta ng ganitong problema," Roque said of the group on Tuesday.
(I don't know what planet these health workers are from because the entire world is being devastated by this problem.)
The health department on Thursday reported 22,820 coronavirus cases, a new daily record. It said total confirmed cases rose to 2.16 million, while deaths reached 34,733.
— With a report from Reuters