Pacquiao, Tolentino defend Duterte from criticism of COVID-19 response

JC Gotinga
As Senator Risa Hontiveros suggests improvements to the government's strategy, Senators Manny Pacquiao and Francis Tolentino object to her criticism of the President's response to the pandemic

Senators Manny Pacquiao and Francis Tolentino – allies of President Rodrigo Duterte – were quick to defend the chief executive from criticism that his government’s COVID-19 pandemic response strategy was “botched.”

After Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday afternoon, August 3, delivered a privilege speech laying out suggestions to improve that strategy, Pacquiao and Tolentino questioned her unflattering references to Duterte’s statements and actions.

In her speech, Hontiveros said Duterte left major questions on the pandemic unanswered in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 27.

“Instead of a clear plan on how this country can move forward amidst this unprecedented health crisis, what we heard was a diatribe against the ‘oligarchy,’ a swipe against an incumbent senator, a sidebar story about how he begged for vaccines from China, a long account of the war on drugs and why it is important, and a call to reinstitute the death penalty,” she said.

Reimposing a lockdown or modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in critical areas like Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces would be useless without a comprehensive plan to address the pandemic’s public health and economic impact, Hontiveros added.

“Malinaw na pumalpak ang gobyerno sa nakaraang lockdown. Huwag natin hayaang masayang ulit ang dalawang linggong pagbabalik-MECQ. Kaya ng Pilipino magtiis. Dapat kaya ng pamahalaang mamahala,” the oppostion senator said.

(It is clear that the government botched the previous lockdown. Let’s not let another two weeks back in MECQ go to waste. Filipinos are able to endure it. The government should be able to govern.)

Pacquiao: We need death penalty

Pacquiao then moved to interpellate Hontiveros.

Nais ko lang tanungin – ito bang drug lords at drug traffickers ay hindi ba natin sila susugpuin (I just want to ask – these drug lords and drug traffickers, are we not going to stop them)?” Pacquiao asked.

He said he understood Hontiveros’ concern to “assist, support, and feed the people,” but he also asked his fellow senator if she thinks drug lords have ceased their business because of the pandemic.

Pacquiao also chided Hontiveros for putting the blame on Duterte, saying it was unfair because the President probably does not know everything that happens on the ground.

Siguro (Perhaps) we have to change our perspective in life na kailangan natin, isang bansa tayo, magtulungan tayo at magkaisa tayo (that what we need is to be one country, let’s cooperate and be united),” Pacquiao said.

The boxing champion-turned-lawmaker concluded his interpellation by restating his proposal to reinstate the death penalty for high-level drug manufacturers and traffickers.

Tolentino: Duterte has left markers

Senator Francis Tolentino also had a turn to interpellate Hontiveros. He disagreed with her assertion that Duterte left out a “solid recovery plan” on COVID-19 in his SONA.

Sa narinig ko sa SONA, napakarami pong guidance, guideposts na inilatag ng Pangulo, lalo na sa ekonomiya (From what I heard in the SONA, the President laid out many guidance, guideposts, especially on the economy),” Tolentino said.

Duterte mentioned the government’s Build, Build, Build infrastructure program, the Coco Levy fund, and a P66-billion agriculture stimulus fund during the yearly address, Tolentino pointed out. Besides, he added, the President talks about other plans during his weekly public addresses.

Duterte’s SONA also touched on plans to improve internet connectivity in the country, loans for small and medium enterprises, and paperless transactions in government. These, Tolentino said, were part of the administration’s COVID-19 recovery plan.

With these, the President left “markers” to indicate the country’s direction, Tolentino said.

The senator added that Duterte’s decision to revert Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal to MECQ proved the President puts lives above all other considerations, and that he values the input of the medical community. (READ: Piqued Duterte taunts doctors to mount ‘revolution’ against him)

Hontiveros: We need a plan

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Philippines surged past 100,000 over the weekend. On Monday, the Department of Health reported 3,226 new cases, bringing the total to 106,330. Total deaths are at 2,104, and recoveries at 65,821.

“These numbers are inexcusable, but they do not even capture the true cost of the tragedy before us,” Hontiveros said in her privilege speech, presenting anecdotes of the dire impact of the pandemic on poor and working class Filipinos.

“We need a plan,” she added.

Instead of a “militarized response” to the pandemic, Hontiveros proposed “more medical and humane solutions,” such as:

  • “Improved preemptive and preventive response” through epidemiology and surveillance units in local governments. This is to monitor and detect COVID-19 cases.
  • Expanded telemedicine and e-prescription programs for non-coronavirus patients
  • “Genuine mass testing” for COVID-19 in high-risk and densely populated communities, tapping local biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in every region
  • Establishing “hospital command centers” for better coordination among health facilities, and designating COVID-19 hospitals for critically-ill patients
  • Upgrading quarantine centers as “mega-treatment centers,” and ensuring health facilities in provinces are capable of handling COVID-19 cases
  • Increased protection for vulnerable populations, with better access to testing and treatment for the elderly, pregnant women, poor families, and health workers
  • Implementing programs in the Universal Health Care Act, particularly to improve the process of designating licensed primary care providers who will serve patients for free or at affordable rates
  • Greater transparency and accountability in the government through mechanisms like the “Citizen’s Budget Tracker”

Hontiveros proposed expanding the government’s emergency cash subsidy to include lower middle class households, solo parents, and jeepney drivers.

Possible economic growth drivers during the pandemic are information and communications technology, digital education, telemedicine, logistics and public services, agriculture, food manufacturing, and urban-rural transport networks. Hontiveros said the government should bolster these, along with assistance to micro and small enterprises.

She pushed for the passage of the Balik Trabahong Ligtas bill she filed in April. The proposed measure seeks to increase workplace protection for workers during the pandemic, including financial coverage of testing and treatment if they contract the coronavirus.

Results, not rhetoric

Responding to Pacquiao and Tolentino, Hontiveros said the complexities of government officials’ pronouncements boil down to what the people are able to take away in the end – results, not rhetoric.

“Kapag kakaharap tayo ng ganyang ka-dire na mga statistics, eh hindi na po sasapat na sabihin natin, ‘Pero sinabi naman ng Presidente, ganito, sinabi naman ng Presidente, ganoon.’ Ang importante po ay ‘yung pag-implementa para makakuha tayo ng mas maaayos na resulta,” Hontiveros added.

(When we’re faced with such dire statistics, it’s no longer enough that we say, ‘But the President said this; the President said that.’ What’s important is the implementation so that we get better results.) –