COVID-19

Roque on claims of IATF incompetence: Not our fault viruses mutate

Pia Ranada
Roque on claims of IATF incompetence: Not our fault viruses mutate

Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Harry Roque Jr. shares his remarks to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Arcadia Active Lifestyle Center in Matina, Davao City on February 15, 2021. JOEY DALUMPINES/ PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Malacanang

'Kapag panahon talaga ng eleksyon, lahat ginagawan ng isyu,' says Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in response to calls to scrap the pandemic task force

Malacañang dismissed as politicking calls to abolish the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) for incompetence, as surges in COVID-19 cases hit record-breaking heights in the country.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said this in a news briefing on Tuesday, March 23, where he attributed most of the new cases to transmissions caused by new COVID-19 variants, and said it was not the task force’s fault that these variants exist.

Tanggapin natin o hindi, nagmutate po ang mga virus at hindi po siguro kasalanan ng IATF na nagmutate ang mga virus sa pamamaraan na mas nakakahawa sila,” Roque said.

(Whether we accept it or not, the viruses mutated and it’s probably not the fault of the IATF that the viruses mutated into forms that are more contagious.)

But the task force had put itself in charge of stopping the entry of these variants by temporarily imposing travel restrictions on countries where variants were detected at the start of the year, and doing more aggressive genome sequencing.

Despite such efforts, the variants managed to enter and spread in the country.

Asked later on if it’s not the government’s job to manage the spread of the variants, Roque said in Filipino, “We are not washing our hands. There is this challenge of rising cases that’s why we decided to put Metro Manila inside a bubble for two weeks.”

Criticisms are just politicking – Roque

Roque opened his Tuesday press briefing by dismissing criticisms against the government’s COVID-19 response efforts as mere politicking. There are proposals of certain sectors, including lawmakers, to abolish the IATF-EID or replace its members.

Lumalakas na naman po ang ingay sa pulitika (The noise of politics is getting louder),” was how Roque opened his Tuesday press conference.

Ang aming pakiusap lang sa taongbayan, huwag ‘nyo kalimutan kasi maraming gustong mahalal at pinagsasamtalahan ang lahat (Our appeal to citizens is don’t forget many people want to get elected and our taking advantage of everything),” said Duterte’s spokesman.

Among those criticizing the IATF-EID are Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Imee Marcos, perceived to be allies of the Duterte administration. Marcos ran under Duterte’s senatorial slate in the 2019 elections.

Asked how the Palace distinguishes politicking from well-intentioned constructive criticism, Roque said: “We know that because of human experience. ‘Pag panahon talaga ng eleksyon, lahat ginagawan ng isyu (When it’s election season, everything is made into an issue).”

He defended the IATF-EID, saying it is composed of the “best minds and talent of government” and that the task force has “successfully managed the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Philippines imposed one of the longest, harshest lockdowns in the world yet is projected to recover the slowest economically among its peers in Southeast Asia. It is experiencing a new surge, surpassing the 8,000-mark on Monday, March 22.

The IATF-EID is chaired by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles. But its implementing arm, the National Task Force vs COVID-19, is led by former military generals – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año. – 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.