Since returning to Malacañang last year to help communicate the government’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic response to the public better, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has been at the center of controversy for many his remarks that did not sit well with the public or Duterte administration critics.
Despite criticisms that most of the time lead to below-the-belt, personal attacks, the ever-jolly Roque does not seem to mind, and even rides these waves of controversy by creating memes of his own that people can enjoy and criticize to their hearts’ content.
In an interview with GMA’s “Stand For Truth,” Roque acknowledged that there were people who did not like him, but said he just ignores them.
“Marami diyan talaga mga haters. Wala naman akong pakialam sa kanila (Many of those people are just haters. I don’t care about them),” he said.
“I don’t care for them. I don’t read them. Bahala sila sa mga buhay nila (They can do whatever they want),” he added.
Here are some of Roque’s controversial comments that have made him fodder for critics and political rivals.
1. Manila as a living experiment
In July last year, Roque was criticized for saying in an interview with CNN Philippines that Metro Manila will be a living experiment in the government’s COVID-19 response.
“Metro Manila will be a living experiment and it’s an experiment that we believe we can be successful at, and it will be something that we can be proud of,” he said.
This, however, did not amuse Filipinos who argued that lives were at stake due to the global health crisis. Filipinos online said that the public needed a “sound plan”, and not treat the people as “lab rats.”
2. 70,000 COVID-19 cases not alarming
Filipinos online likewise told Roque not to “downplay” the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country after he said in July last year that the Philippines, in breaching 70,000 cases, was not alarming, although it should concern everyone.
“I wouldn’t really say it’s something alarming but it should concern all of us,” Roque said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
In a separate press briefing, Roque explained that the number of cases was not alarming because 90 percent of the cases at the time was mild.
He also credited the government’s intensified testing, isolation, tracing, and treatment efforts.
“I’m confident we will prevail,” he added.
3. ‘Congratulations, Philippines!’
Roque came under fire anew when he congratulated the Philippines for beating the projection of the University of the Philippines (UP) OCTA Research Team that the Philippines will reach 40,000 cases by the end of June last year. The Philippines recorded 36,438 cases by the end of that month.
“Panalo na tayo (We won)! We beat the UP prediction. Congratulations, Philippines! Let’s do it again in July,” said Roque, punching the air in jubilation.
One of the personalities that responded to Roque’s remark was Vice President Leni Robredo, who chided the administration for being in a “state of denial” based on how it has been responding to the pandemic.
Roque, however, defended his remark amid the backlash, saying he will not hesitate to praise the people if this will encourage them, and remind them that the war against COVID-19 could be won.
4. ‘Dance along’ with COVID-19
Filipinos also did not like it when Roque said that the public must learn to “dance” or live with the COVID-19 pandemic as the government started to reopen the economy in July last year.
“Sa Pilipino, when you have to live with something, sayawan mo na lang pero… iyan po ang gagawin natin. Sasayawan po natin, we have to deal with COVID-19 (In Filipino, when you have to live with something, you say just dance along. That’s what we will do. We will dance to it, we have to deal with COVID-19),” he said.
Following criticisms, Roque explained that his remark was not meant to be taken literally because he was referring to the “hammer and dance theory” by health writer Thomas Pueyo.
Under the theory, the hammer is a relatively short period with rather extreme measures like the lockdowns, while the dance is a period of stabilization where many restrictions are lifted as possible.
5. ‘Walang pilitan, walang pilian’
Roque was once again criticized after he said last month that Filipinos will not be forced to vaccinated against COVID-19, but they cannot also be “choosy” once a vaccine becomes available in the country.
Filipinos online argued that if people can choose which brand of detergent to use for their laundry, they also have the right to choose a vaccine brand because their health will be at stake.
Some also pointed out how members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) were able to pick their own vaccines. The government recently issued a compassionate use license for Sinopharm vaccines for PSG members.
According to Roque, the PSG cannot be linked to his statement because they were not going to use the people’s money to procure their shots.
“Wala talagang pilitan o pilian, para po ‘yan sa mga mamamayan na bibigyan ng libreng bakuna (My statement was for the people who will be receiving the vaccines for free),” he said in his recent interview with GMA’s “Stand For Truth.”
“Yung PSG, hindi naman po ‘yan galing sa pondo ng taumbayan. So hindi po ‘yan kasama sa konteksto na walang pilian, walang pilitan (For the PSG, they will not be using the people’s money so they are not part of that context),” he added.
6. ‘Manigas kayong lahat!’
Some Filipinos online recently slammed Roque when he told critics of President Duterte to ‘”drop dead”, saying the Duterte administration will be making another mark in Philippine history with the country’s first-ever subway on February 5.
“As you know, the President has many critics and they will not stop until they regain power,” he said Friday.
“Let today’s event be recorded in the annals of Philippine history as another first of the Duterte administration. And to his critics, I have only this to say: Manigas kayong lahat (Drop dead)!” he added.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, himself, did not appreciate Roque’s remarks, saying it reeked of arrogance and ignorance.
“Arrogance and ignorance do not only rhyme. They are roommates in one brain cell,” he said.
‘There’s always a reason’
In his interview with GMA’s “Stand For Truth” on Friday evening, Roque said there was always a reason whenever he uttered something controversial.
“Asahan niyo naman po (Please be assured that) I do things for a reason,” he said.
“Ang aking pagiging tagapagsalita ay dahil naniniwala ako sa karapatan ng taumbayan na makakalap ng impormasyon sa mga bagay-bagay na makakaapekto sa kanila (I chose to be the spokesman because I believe in the people’s right to get information about the things that can affect them),” he added.