The prevailing COVID-19 pandemic momentarily became an afterthought in a portion of President Rodrigo Duterte‘s “Talk to the People” aired on Monday night.
Prior to delivering his address, the chief executive listened to Secretary Mark Villar of the Department of Public Works and Highways who gave updates on infrastructure projects, including plans to build quarantine facilities and those that have been constructed.
The DPWH chief added that the agency also continues to work on the administration’s flagship “Build, Build, Build” program amid the pandemic.
Duterte lauded him for his efforts after hearing the report and then moved on to the next agenda.
“So with that, wala naman tayong sigurong ano. Nakapag-report naman tayo at the others, okay lang except for itong, the… Sabi nga ni Secretary Roque, the issues—the hottest issues are West Philippine Sea, ayuda and… what’s the other one?” he said in his April 19 speech.
At that point, the president paused and an official from the screen in front of him answered: “COVID.”
“Ah, itong COVID? Oh, well,” Duterte continued and then paused for a bit.
He then talked about the West Philippine Sea nearly a month after China’s reported encroachment in the area near Palawan.
Duterte’s verbal pause prior to the topic didn’t escape some Filipinos’ scrutiny online, who accused him of making the current public health crisis an “afterthought.”
Duterte: "The hottest issues are West Philippine Sea, ayuda and — [what’s the other one?] [Official: COVID.] — ah itong COVID. Oh well."
— Mikhail Flores (@mikhailflores) April 20, 2021
“A year-long pandemic is essentially an afterthought… Clearly unaffected unlike the millions of people he claims to serve,” a Twitter user said in response to the clip.
“He doesn’t care,” another online user commented with a straight face emoji.
“Just those two sentences terrify me and show me how much this government doesn’t care,” a different Filipino likewise commented.
“And after a year, this is how he responds,” another Twitter user wrote.
Duterte in his speech didn’t mention the COVID-19 pandemic since the majority of it was devoted to the West Philippine Sea following the weeks-long encroachment of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe reef.
It was the first time he has publicly acknowledged the tense sea row.
Duterte only aired his pandemic-related comments after vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. gave updates on COVID-19 vaccine procurement.
In his previous speech aired on April 15, the president assured the public that his administration is doing what it can to suppress the virus.
“Do not be afraid. Government is working. Government is busy doing everything, not nothing. Government is trying to get the things to fix all of us,” he said before.
“Iyong mga bagay ngayon, nandiyan, pero wala sa ating mga kamay. Nandiyan ang bakuna, hindi sa ating kamay. Sa kamay ng ibang tao. And this will go I think before it gets better, we’ll have to go to the worst of times,” Duterte added.
The government is negotiating with various vaccine manufacturers to purchase enough doses that will cover 70 percent of the country’s adult population in a bid to reach herd immunity.
As of Monday, the country has breached the 16,000-mark of total death count due to COVID-19.
The number of total COVID-19 cases stands at 945,745 while those who have recovered from the disease are at 788,322.
Meanwhile, there are 141,375 active COVID-19 cases.