Duterte misses weekly pandemic public address due to COVID-19 fears

For the first time in 3 months, President Rodrigo Duterte will not be giving his weekly public address about the COVID-19 pandemic, ironically, because of virus fears.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said on Wednesday, April 7, that Duterte's scheduled "Talk to the People" on Wednesday night has been moved to "next week."

But Senator Bong Go told reporters that the postponement was due to fears that the President would contract COVID-19 after some Presidential Security Group (PSG) personnel tested positive.

Roque eventually issued a statement but merely said the change in schedule was due to "the rising number of active COVID-19 cases." He made no mention of the PSG.

The spokesman also said the decision was for the protection of Malacañang staff.

"The preparation for the Talk to the People address entails a number of staff complement and we also take due consideration of their well-being," said Roque.

'Nothing to worry about'

Go, in a message to reports, tried to assuage concerns about the 76-year-old President's health.

"There is nothing to worry about when it comes to PRRD's (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte's) health. Nasa mabuting kalagayan naman po ang Pangulo (The President is in good health)," he said.

Go said he was with the President earlier that day, but did not give details.

The PSG, in an interview with PTV, said they currently have 45 personnel who tested positive for COVID-19.

But the group said none of them were the close-in security detail of the President.

“Our PSG personnel who got infected are not directly or closely detailed with the President and are all asymptomatic without experiencing any adverse symptom. Hence, rest assured that the President is safe and in good health,” said PSG chief Brigadier General Jesus Durante III.

He gave assurances that those with the disease are properly isolated.

“We have established protocols to contain the spread of the virus and we will continue to enforce it so that the President is kept safe and secured from all forms of threats at all times,” said Durante.

An undisclosed number of PSG personnel had already gotten vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine in September and October last year. The PSG was also able to secure Food and Drug Administration approval for administering 10,000 doses of the vaccine among its members.

However, vaccination does not mean a vaccinee can no longer get COVID-19 or can no longer be a transmitter of the disease. No vaccine currently gives 100% protection against COVID-19.

Regular pandemic meetings

The last time Duterte did not give a pandemic-related public address for the week was back in January, during the New Year holidays.

His last public address was on March 29. Earlier that day, he was also seen welcoming the arrival of one million Sinovac vaccine doses at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

One of the officials present in his March 29 meeting was Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who would test positive for COVID-19 based on results that came out on Tuesday, April 6.

However, all officials who attend Duterte's meetings are required to pass a COVID-19 test.

These public addresses, typically held at the Malacañang Golf Clubhouse or at the Matina Enclaves in Davao City, are recorded portions of the weekly meeting Duterte holds with top pandemic task force officials.

In these addresses, dubbed "Talk to the People," Duterte asks each official to give an update for the benefit of the public and then comments or asks the officials questions.

Duterte also uses the meetings to make his thoughts known to the public – whether it be rants against critics, his take on recent controversies, or his recitation of names of government employees dismissed over corruption allegations. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.