'Joke only': Roque defends Duterte's 'disinfect with gasoline' remark

Just a joke.

This by now familiar Malacañang line was again repeated by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in his defense of President Rodrigo Duterte, who was criticized by health experts and netizens for claiming in a speech that cash-strapped Filipinos should just use gasoline to disinfect their masks.

Roque even took on a tone of disbelief that Filipinos would take the Chief Executive's remarks seriously.

"Kayo naman, apat na taon na siyang presidente parang hindi 'nyo pa kilala si Presidente. Joke only. Bakit naman tayo maghuhugas ng gasolina?" said Roque on Thursday, July 23, during a Malacañang press briefing.

(I can't believe that after 4 years of him as president, you still don't know the President. Joke only. Why would we use gasoline for washing?)

Two days earlier, the Palace aired Duterte's speech where he said that gasoline can be used as a cheaper alternative to Lysol for poor Filipinos.

"'Yung wala, ibabad mo sa gasolina o diesel. Putang inang COVID na 'yan, 'di uubra 'yan diyan. Totoo, if you want disinfection, maghanap ka ng gasolina. Babad mo 'yung kamay mo. Layo mo lang, huwag sa loob ng bahay 'nyo," said Duterte during a meeting with coronavirus task force officials.

(If you don't have those, soak it in gasoline or diesel. That son of a bitch COVID won't be able to fight that. It's true, if you want disinfection, look for gasoline. Soak your hands. Just do it far away, don't do it inside your house.)

There is no scientific evidence that supports Duterte's claim.

Duterte said this in the presence of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. Later on that day, the Department of Health did not directly answer reporters' questions on whether Duterte's advice was grounded on any scientific evidence.

Right after the supposed "joke," Duterte promised to buy face masks for all Filipinos, with priority for the poor.

Jokes amid crisis

If Duterte was indeed joking, it's hardly the first time he appeared to not take the crisis seriously. (READ: 56,000 words on the virus: Duterte's crisis messaging all bluster, little science)

Back in early March, when the pandemic was still unfolding and the government should have been preparing for local transmission of the disease, Duterte was still pretending to cough during speeches and downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak.

Duterte is similar to United States President Donald Trump who also drew flak for telling people to inject disinfectant to treat COVID-19. Health experts slammed the claim as dangerous. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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