Crowd disregards distancing as Harry Roque visits Bantayan to promote tourism
BANTAYAN ISLAND, Cebu, Philippines — For President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson, physical distancing need not be followed as long as people wear masks.
This was how presidential spokesperson Harry Roque explained the crowd that gathered on Friday at Kota Park in Madridejos town, Bantayan Island, Cebu province, as national officials and former Miss Universe 2020 candidates joined Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia in opening the island’s airport.
The Cebu provincial government has begun a tourism program called “Suroy-suroy” (strolling around) to help revive the local economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his remarks, Roque acknowledged that physical distancing was not observed during the event.
But he said this rule need not be followed if people wore masks and were assembled in an open-air venue.
“Anong isusuot? Masks. Anong dapat gawin? Hugas. At pangatlo, ang hindi natin nasusunod ngayon, iwas, di ba?” Roque reminded the crowd.
(What should we wear? Masks. What should we do? Wash hands. And third, what we’re not observing right now, avoid [crowded places], right?)
He added: “Pero huwag n’yo lang tatanggalin ang mga masks niyo. OK na yan dahil open air naman tayo.” (Just don’t remove your masks. That’s OK because we’re in an open-air venue.)
Roque said, “Cebuanos are showing that COVID-19 is not a hindrance in reviving livelihood and tourism.”
As photos of Roque with the island’s residents circulated on social media on Friday, netizens called him out for his “glaring” violation of quarantine rules.
Roque later issued a statement saying that he himself observed health protocols during the visit.
In June, the Palace official was also criticized for posing with dolphins at a theme park in Subic despite quarantine restrictions on travel, social events and mass gatherings.
Roque and Garcia were joined by Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino, Department of Tourism Central Visayas Director Shahlimar Tamano, and Department of Health Central Visayas Director Jaime Bernadas.
Police deployed for the event had to push back the crowd that welcomed the visitors.
‘Eagerness and enthusiasm’
Cebu Provincial Tourism Officer Marti Ybañez said they were overwhelmed by the turnout of people.
Mayor Salvador dela Fuente of Madridejos said he had advised the public to observe physical distancing, but authorities lost control of the crowd because of their “eagerness and enthusiasm.”
“Madridejos is located on an island. People here wanted to personally see the secretary (Roque) and the governor so they were already out of control,” he said.
In a statement on Saturday night, Roque said “I was totally taken aback by the huge crowd that came when I went to Cebu yesterday, Nov. 27, to grace the official opening of Bantayan Island Airport.”
He added that “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 also said “local officials … did not expect the huge turnout of people as well. Be that as it may, they advised the public to wear face masks and there was general compliance, as seen in the pictures that came out.”
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