HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque III yesterday said violations of minimum health standards, especially physical distancing, marred the recent crowd-drawing events attended by Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao and presidential spokesman Harry Roque.
“There is (a) clear violation of minimum health standards as there was no one meter distancing. The point is we can see that there has been a flagrant violation as we are looking at it right now,” Duque said while referring to the images of Roque and Pacquiao that have gone viral in social media platforms.
“Clearly, from my standpoint, there appears to be violation of the physical distancing that we have been harping on,” he added.
But while the physical distancing protocol was violated, the people in the event were seen wearing face masks and some wearing face shields as well.
Pointing out that public leaders naturally draw large crowds when they attend public events, Duque appealed to his fellow government officials not to hold any gatherings if they cannot ensure adherence to established minimum health standards for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Duque said it would be good for government officials, as well as the general public, if no mass gatherings are held.
“Don’t push through with the event. Don’t continue with it if you cannot ensure that physical distancing can be observed. It’s just raising the risks even more and therefore a potential surge might be in the offing,” said Duque.
He said this is regardless if it is held indoors or outdoors, where there is adequate ventilation, as it will always be better to err on the side of safety.
“It’s always better to be conservative and err on the side of caution,” said Duque.
The health chief made his comments after Interior Secretary Eduardo Año announced there will be a fact-finding probe on the events in Bantayan Island, Cebu, which was attended by Roque, and the one in Batangas, where Pacquiao was among the attendees, to determine if there was a violation of health protocols and to find out who should be held liable for the violation.
WHY ONLY ME?
Roque yesterday bewailed what he called as unfair treatment after he drew flak for the Bantayan Island public event. He said some media groups had been critical of him in their report despite the fact that he himself followed health protocols.
Aside from wearing a face mask, Roque said he likewise avoided handshakes to prevent contamination exposure.
The spokesman said Vice President Leni Robredo had been going around the country and shaking the hands of people in the streets and addressing public meetings but she is not being condemned for it.
He showed photos of Robredo shaking hands with people she visited. The people in the photos also did not observe physical distancing.
“What I feel about is, why am I targeted? When you saw VP Leni shaking hands, isn’t that a violation of the restriction on social distancing? I ask the media, be fair,” he said.
He reiterated that he had no control of the crowd as he was only a guest but insisted that when he advised the local government that organized the event to end the activity due to a failure to observe the protocols, they complied.
Lawyer Barry Gutierrez, spokesman of the Vice President, had a short reply to Roque’s statement: “I look forward to the day when officials in this administration can just be accountable, accept responsibility, and commit to doing better, instead of bashing the VP every time the Filipino public call out their shortcomings. But I’m not holding my breath.
Nagpa mañanita ka sa beach tapos si VP pa rin ang ituturo mo? Wow lang (You held a mañanita at the beach and you are still blaming the VP? Wow.)”
Roque said that because of the incident, he is thinking of limiting his attendance to events where there would be crowd gathering.
He also said that his public appearance and activities had nothing to do with the 2022 elections.
“After what I’ve seen with the kind of media reporting and the kind of trolls that the opposition has, I’m looking forward to retirement from government service… I look forward to having my privacy again come 2022,” he said when asked if he would run in 2022.
Roque, who served as a party-list representative before becoming presidential spokesman, had initially resigned as President Duterte’s spokesman to run for senator in 2013 but later withdrew his candidacy due to health reasons. He then returned as the President’s. – With Jocelyn Montemayor