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Duterte takes off mask during Albay visit; social distancing not enforced

As President Rodrigo Duterte posed in front of a crowd at a sports field in typhoon-hit Guinobatan town in Albay, he took off his face mask in front of people pressed closer together to listen, social distancing rule forgotten.

This was the scene revealed by photos from Duterte's visit to the Bicol region, the first images of the President since Super Typhoon Rolly (Goni) entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility.

Duterte and his longtime aide, Senator Bong Go, could be seen without their masks, addressing the crowd after the presidential chopper they were riding had landed on the field.

DUTERTE VISIT. President Duterte uncovers his face as he faces a closely-packed crowd in Guinobatan, Albay. Photo from the Office of Senator Bong Go

Office of Senator Bong Go

NO MASK. President Duterte and Senator Bong G walk through Guinobatan town without masks on. Photo from the Office of Senator Bong Go

Office of Senator Bong Go

It was not clear how long the two were without masks during their visit. But one more photo showed them walking through a crowd, also sans masks.

Photos of Duterte and Go in the helicopter showed them wtih masks on.

FLIGHT. A red-eyed President Duterte takes a chopper to inspect Bicol region by air. Photo from the Office of Senator Bong Go

Office of Senator Bong Go

Members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) managed to ensure more than a one-meter distance between Duterte and the crowd. But among the crowd, there was little to no physical distancing, though most people wore masks.

In two photos, people pressed near each other held up their smart phones to take photos or videos of the President.

Ironically, Go issued a press release right after the visit calling on local government officials to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing.

"Apela ko lang po sa ating LGU officials at health authorities... importante po dito social distancing, paggamit po ng mask at sanitation po doon sa evacuation center," he said.

(My appeal to our local government unit officials and health authorities... social distancing, the use of masks, and sanitation is important in evacuation centers.)

Maintaining a distance of at least one meter and the wearing of face masks and face shields are among the minimum rules being promoted by Duterte's own coronavirus task force to curb the rise of COVID-19 infections.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque and Senator Go have yet to respond to Rappler's queries on why Duterte and Go took off their masks during their visit to Albay.

Apart from landing in Guinobatan, Duterte conducted an aerial inspection of Catanduanes, Albay, and other provinces of Bicol late Monday afternoon.

Go said Duterte instructed government agencies to investigate alleged quarrying operations in the area that residents said may have exacerbated impacts of the typhoon.

Earlier, Malacañang defended Duterte's absence from major government public briefings on Super Typhoon Rolly, saying he was giving instructions to agencies from his home in Davao City.

Netizens had used the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo on social media on Sunday, the day the super typhoon made landfall.

At least 16 people were killed during the storm. Some P1.1 billion worth of rice, corn, and other crops have been damaged, setting back 20,000 farmers.

After his Bicol visit and aerial inspection, Duterte was expected to arrive in Metro Manila. – 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.

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