Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque scolded a journalist during a live broadcast for what he claimed was her inaccurate report on a statement he made a day before.
There were, however, a couple of problems in what he did. First, he cast aspersions on the reporter in a setting where she couldn't give her side. For another, he was scolding her for something she didn't write herself.
Roque did not initially name CNN Philippines, but said one network failed to accurately report what he said in the previous day’s briefing concerning “mass testing” for COVID-19.
“Lumalabas po kasi na wala daw diumanong plano at walang aksiyon o hindi prayoridad ng gobyerno ang expanded target testing. Maling-mali po ito,” Roque said moments into the hour-long briefing. (Because it was made to appear that the government allegedly has no plan or action, or that the expanded target testing is not a priority. This is very wrong.)
He said the government has not passed on to the private sector the responsibility for expanded testing, which he said, the CNN Philippines report insinuated.
But Roque himself pointed out the root of the misunderstanding – the term “mass testing” – which he had used, and which was quoted in the report.
“Unang-una, siguro po kasi mali iyong ginagamit nating term na ‘mass testing.’ Ang tawag po dapat ay ‘expanded targeted testing,’ okay? Wala pong bansa sa buong mundo na tini-test ang lahat ng kanilang mga mamamayan. Kaya nga po mali ang terminong ‘mass testing,’” he said.
(First of all, maybe it’s because we’ve been using the wrong term, “mass testing.” It should be called “expanded targeted testing,” okay? No country in the world tests all its citizens. That’s why the term “mass testing” is wrong.)
He then explained that those mandatorily tested for the coronavirus in the Philippines are the symptomatic, international arrivals, close contacts, or traced contacts of confirmed patients, and those who’ve tested positive in rapid antibody tests. These are the subjects of “expanded targeted testing,” which the government is now enforcing.
“Mass testing,” then, would mean subjecting the entire population to coronavirus tests, regardless of whether they have symptoms, a history of travel, or exposure to confirmed patients. This, Roque said, has never been in the government’s plans.
The presidential spokesman reiterated the government’s testing protocol, the science behind it, and how unfeasible it is for any country to aim for testing its entire populace for the coronavirus.
When the briefing moved on to the question-and-answer portion with reporters via video conference, CNN Philippines’ Malacañang correspondent Triciah Terada was first in line. She immediately said she understood it was “expanded targeted testing” that the government is doing.
However, she raised the question many Filipinos have long had in mind: Why can’t mass testing be done?
Roque answered: “Mali kasi iyong term na ginamit mo kaya tuloy nagkagulo sa Twitter.... Kasi ang lumalabas, Trish, sa report mo, ay wala tayong expanded testing program.”
(See, you used the wrong term, that’s why there was chaos on Twitter…. Because it looks as though, Trish, in your report, that we don’t have an expanded testing program.)
Roque pointed out that when “mass testing” was mentioned in his briefing on Monday, May 18, it was in the context of Wuhan, China, which plans to test all its 11 million residents for the coronavirus.
He then explained to Terada how, in his view, her report made it look like the government had no policy on “expanded testing.”
Terada tried to make a point. “Sir, I have to correct that, with your indulgence…” she began, but Roque cut her off.
“Well, you don’t have to correct it if you don’t want to. Pero you are not doing the entire nation a service for doing that ’no?” Roque said.
Terada tried to speak again, but Roque reiterated his point and ignored her. “Next question, please,” he said.
Moments later, it was GMA Malacañang correspondent Joseph Morong’s turn to ask Roque questions.
“Relax,” Morong told the visibly irked Roque, who then lightened up.
Morong picked up where Terada left off. “Pero, Sir, just to be fair. That’s why we’ve been pushing this issue, ano? Definition of terms or whatever, just a little bit on this. But I’d like to read through a sound bite from you," he said.
Morong then quoted Roque’s own statement: “‘Pero in terms of mass testing na ginagawa ng Wuhan na 11 million’ – your quote – ‘wala pa pong ganyang programa, at iniiwan natin sa pribadong sector.’ That was the sound bite, Sir.”
(But in terms of mass testing the way Wuhan is doing for 11 million – your quote – there is no program like that yet, and we leave it to the private sector.)
Roque then said that he “very clearly, literally” talked about “mass testing” in the context of Wuhan, China, where the novel coronavirus originated, and which now plans to test all its citizens.
CNN Philippines released a statement on this issue Tuesday night, May 19, saying it was standing by its report that said the government had no mass testing program for COVID-19. It was, after all, based on Roque's quote.
Furthermore, the network said the online article Roque referred to was not written by Terada, who is a TV reporter tasked primarily to produce video reports.
“We find unfortunate the manner by which the Secretary treated our Malacañang correspondent Triciah Terada in today's televised press conference....For the record, Ms. Terada did not write the digital story,” the statement read.
“It is likewise regrettable that Ms Terada was not given a chance to challenge the allegations made against her and defend herself from the public attack that could harm her reputation as a journalist and a professional,” it added.
Because Roque’s briefings are aired and streamed live, designated writers – and not just the assigned Palace reporters – are able to report and write about them.
Like CNN Philippines, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also called out Roque for singling out Terada, when “multiple news organizations” also published or aired reports based on the same quote.
In saying the government is doing “expanded targeted mass testing” and not “mass testing,” Roque “unwittingly proved Terada right,” NUJP said in a statement, adding that officials should not blame journalists if their work results in people criticizing the government.
This is not the first time government officials have vented their ire at reporters during a live broadcast. Rappler’s Malacañang reporter Pia Ranada, for one, was berated by President Rodrigo Duterte, and was barred from entering the Palace grounds and from physically covering his events starting February 2018.
This followed Rappler’s report on the alleged involvement of Senator Bong Go in a deal on the Philippine Navy’s new frigates – which Ranada didn't write.
We're beginning to see a pattern here. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.