2020: Pandemic rewrites gov’t plans, Duterte routine
MANILA, Philippines—The year 2020 is one for the books mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic which placed government efforts under tight public scrutiny, especially on President Rodrigo Duterte’s response to the health crisis.
Since mid-March, when the government announced one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns, Duterte has been regularly delivering speeches to update the public of the government’s fight against the disease. As in his usual extemporaneous public remarks, the popular leader’s pandemic speeches aren’t lacking in controversies.
People who watched Duterte’s speeches may recall how his banter against COVID-19 has evolved from anger to dismissive statements, including one in which he suggested that gasoline be used as disinfectant.
With 2020 winding down, let’s look back at some of Duterte’s most talked about pandemic remarks that hogged local and international headlines.
Just weeks after the country had its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus disease from China, Duterte tried to calm the public and make light of the issue by claiming that the government is “on top of the situation.”
“We are prepared to handle this public health emergency, in case the worst scenario happens,” Duterte said in a speech last Feb. 10.
“You know if we can’t beat this son of a….this idiot corona, I’m hunting it. I want to slap the…,” he said in Filipino.
Amid the Luzon-wide lockdown, Duterte delivered violent threats in a taped speech aired on the night of April 1, just hours after over 20 Quezon City residents were arrested for demanding government assistance and protesting without permit.
The President called out progressive groups, specifically urban poor group Kadamay which he blamed for instigating the protest. He then proceeded to claim that he has ordered the police and military to “shoot” troublemakers during the lockdown.
“My orders are for the police, including the military, also village officials that if there’s trouble and there’s an occasion that someone fought and your life is in danger, shoot them dead,” Duterte said in Filipino.
“Do you understand? Kill. Instead of you creating trouble, I’d bury you. The burial is mine. Don’t test the government because this government is not inutile,” he said.
But three days later, Duterte denied issuing the “shoot-to-kill” order against quarantine violators. He explained that law enforcers will resort to force only when their lives were put in harm’s way.
“I never said in public ‘shoot-to-kill. Period,” Duterte said.
“If you think your life is in danger, that your beautiful wife would be widowed, marry again and your children will lose a father, if you see that your life is in danger, make the first move, kill,” the President said in Filipino.
Use ‘gasoline’ as disinfectant
In his July 21 speech, Duterte stressed the importance of wearing face masks to avoid contracting SARS Cov2, the virus that causes COVID-19. He gave the public what he said were “tips” on reusing the masks.
The President, a lawyer by profession, claimed that face masks can be used repeatedly as long as these are sprayed with a disinfectant. But for those who can’t afford disinfectants, he offered an alternative: “gaas (kerosene)” or gasoline.
(No joke: Duterte says on suggestion to use ‘gaas’ as disinfectant)
“Soak it in gasoline or diesel…that son of a b…COVID-19. That won’t last. It’s true. If you don’t have…if you want to disinfect, look for gasoline. Soak your hands in there,” Duterte said in Filipino.
But Duterte’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, as well as the Department of Health (DOH), said that the President was just joking about using gasoline as disinfectant.
However, Duterte, in a speech in July 31, said he was not joking on his prescription.
“What I said is true. Alcohol, if there’s no alcohol available, just go to the gasoline station then have it poured. That’s disinfectant. Alcohol, gaas (kerosene),” he said.
During his visit to the Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Headquarters in Jolo, Sulu on July 13, Duterte bragged about “dismantling” oligarchy in the Philippines.
He made the statement after the House of Representatives panel on legislative franchises voted to reject the franchise renewal of broadcast giant ABS-CBN which has drawn the ire of Duterte for its supposed biased reporting and for not airing his 2016 presidential campaign advertisement.
Duterte did not name names in the edited version of the speech aired by government media. But according to a recording of the full speech acquired by the INQUIRER, the President apparently mentioned ABS-CBN when he claimed victory against oligarchs.
“ABS-CBN mocked me. But I said if I win, I will dismantle oligarchy in the Philippines,” Duterte said in Filipino. “I did it. Without declaring martial law, I destroyed the people who control the economy and are gripping the people and not paying. They take advantage, theirs is political power,” the President said in the unedited recording of his speech.
He then accused the network of having “holding companies” abroad and “misdeclaring” the land area of its compound on Mother Ignacia Avenue in Quezon City. These remarks about ABS-CBN were cut out from the edited version of his speech.
Russia’s ‘guinea pig’ for Sputnik-V
When Russia announced developments in its COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik-V in August, Duterte was among those expressing elation, lauding Moscow’s efforts in developing a vaccine against coronavirus.
He said that Russia is willing to provide the Philippines with the vaccines for free. He even volunteered to receive the first injection of Sputnik-V to show the public it is safe for humans.
“This, I think, from President Putin, is his help to us, free,” Duterte said. “That’s why now we are accepting and whatever supply is we will discuss the volume of supply and we need..clinical, clinical studies,” he said.
“Well, let’s just inject some then let’s see the results. That is you will be given the vaccine and your body’s reaction if it would accept or not. That’s the key. So there will be volunteers,” Duterte said in Filipino.
He went on, talking in Filipino: “Me, upon arrival of the vaccine, in public, to stop the chatter, I will have myself injected in public. I will be the first to be experimented on.”
Russia’s Gamaleya Institute has yet to get past the initial evaluation of the Philippines’ vaccine experts panel for it to conduct Phase 3 clinical trials for the Sputnik-V vaccine in the Philippines. Approvals of the Single Joint Research Ethics Board and the Food and Drug Administration are also needed by Gamaleya before it can start with human trials.
‘Greedy’ Red Cross
The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) earlier halted its coronavirus testing services that are being charged to PhilHealth since the state insurer had yet to settle its outstanding balance of over P900 million.
After learning that the humanitarian organization resumed its COVID-19 testing services upon receiving partial payment of PhilHealth’s debt, Duterte let loose a rant during a Nov. 5 meeting with Cabinet officials in Malacanang, calling PRC “greedy.
At the meeting, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III reported that the suspension of testing by the PRC resulted in a decrease in nationwide COVID-19 case reporting.
“PRC has already been paid and they resumed that’s why we are continuing examination of swab specimen,” Duque said.
This is when Duterte commented: “Mukhang pera (Money grabber)”
The PRC has played a key role in COVID-19 screening. It has conducted over a million coronavirus tests, accounting for nearly a quarter of the total coronavirus testing done in the entire Philippines.
#DuterteMeltdown: Rants vs Leni
In his Nov. 17 public address on the COVID-19 pandemic and spate of typhoons that hit the country, Duterte opened his “message to the nation” with criticisms, sexist remarks, and threats related to the 2022 elections against Vice President Leni Robredo.
The President called Robredo “dishonest” for allegedly claiming he was missing in action during the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses.
Duterte was blaming Robredo for the #NasaanAngPangulo (Where is the President) hashtag which trended on social media during the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses as netizens questioned the President’s absence amid strong winds and rains in Metro Manila, Cagayan Valley, and other parts of Luzon. Duterte said he was attending the 37th ASEAN Summit then.
“I would like to give a caution to the Vice President. She made a blunder, a big one, and she practically lied making her incapable of truth. Your plot that I was absent during the typhoon, I was here. I was attending ASEAN summit,” Duterte said.
He claimed that government resources are already positioned days before Ulysses pummelled Luzon.
“I’m awake very early because of the summit. At the same time, I would go whisper to the military guys how it was developing and what was the reaction of our government people there and the resources,” Duterte said.
“You don’t have to order them because two days before, they’re already deployed there, they’re already deployed, our soldiers including in Davao. My security was taken. Half of it was brought here in anticipation of the typhoon,” Duterte said.
Duterte resorted to his usual sexual innuendos, asking Robredo: “How about you? That night, what time did you come home? Is it one house for you? Two houses? I’m just asking. Are you with congressman? Which house did you stay long?”
Robredo never made the remarks about Duterte missing during the storm. But Malacañang defended Duterte’s outburst, pointing to tweets made by the Vice President’s daughters.
However, the tweets, which asked if somebody was still asleep, did not contain any name or the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo.
Due to his rants against the opposition stalwart, hashtags #DuterteMeltdown and #NasiraanAngPangulo trended the following day to counter his insults and false claims against Robredo.
‘Late realization’ on COVID-19 testing
Calls for free mass testing have been going on since the start of the pandemic. But the government repeatedly rejected the appeal with Malacañang saying that no country can test all its citizens. The DOH also said that testing people with no symptoms was irrational and wasteful.
But in a sudden turn of events, Duterte said last Dec. 7 that he has just “realized” the importance of coronavirus testing, over nine months into the health crisis.
“You know, it’s important, for real, and I realize now it’s the testing—the swabbing and the test. Because it’s costly, I’m trying to figure out a cheaper way of doing it and I will discuss it with the secretary of health and General Galvez, how to come up with cheaper swabbing and testing,” Duterte said.
He even asked Duque to compute how much would it cost the government to provide Filipinos with free COVID-19 tests.
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