In his first press conference since February 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte asked a reporter to take off her face mask and face shield while asking her question.
Never mind that, only a week ago, Duterte himself had decided to bring back the mandatory face shield rule as added protection against the feared Delta COVID-19 virus variant.
TV5 reporter Maricel Halili was the first reporter to go up to the microphone on Thursday, July 1. After introducing herself and embarking on her first question, she was interrupted by a mask-less and shield-less Duterte.
"I cannot make out – Kasi may ano ka eh (Because you have it on)," he said, gesturing to her face mask.
Halili was perfectly audible, at least through the video livestream of the event. She had on both a face mask and face shield, in compliance with government regulations.
Despite this, Duterte pressed on, "Tanggalin mo na lang 'yan, sabay na lang tayo magka-COVID (Just take it off. Let's have COVID together)."
The camera then showed Halili had taken off her mask completely and pushed up her face shield. She then proceeded to ask her questions.
Duterte's actions and words could be tantamount to inducing others to violate rules meant to curb COVID-19 outbreaks. "Non-cooperation" of persons in responding to health events of public concern is a prohibited act under the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act (RA 11332).
It would also be a violation of local government ordinances making face masks and face shields mandatory.
ABS-CBN reporter Joyce Balancio also took off her face mask and face shield when she asked her questions.
Duterte, upon hearing Balancio represented ABS-CBN, a media network he had wanted shut down, put her on the spot.
She had just asked Duterte if he had finalized plans to run for vice president in next year's elections.
"So ABS-CBN is expecting me to lose because they will campaign against me?" the President said.
"No, sir," said Balancio. "Sir, I’m just following up a story regarding a possible vice presidency that you might seek since you’ve mentioned some of, you know, your sentiments in your previous public speeches."
Mela Lesmoras, reporter for state-run People's Television, was the third to ask a question. She kept her mask on but took her face shield off.
Duterte has asked other people, like government officials, to take off their masks when speaking to him, supposedly because he cannot understand what they are saying.
This insistence from no less than the President is despite the fact that he himself emphasizes in weekly pandemic addresses that wearing a mask is important to curb COVID-19 infections.
The Department of Health has repeatedly underscored the need to wear masks and face shields together, especially in public settings, as these provide the best protection against the virus. – Rappler.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.