"The clarification does not make the earlier statements palatable."
A senator drew flak for callous statements she had made after several associations of health professionals implored the government for a return to Enhanced Community Quarantine, at least until the middle of this month.
Due to the record number of COVID-19 positive patients, hospital systems are overburdened and health care workers are exhausted, endangered and demoralized.
Philippine Medical Association president Dr. Jose Santiago, in a press briefing held online, asked for a stricter lockdown due to “hospital workforce efficiency, failure of case finding and isolation, failure of contact tracing and quarantine, transportation safety, workplace safety, public compliance with self-protection, social amelioration.”
In reaction to this, Senator Cynthia Villar said in a radio interview: "Hindi na siguro. Pagbutihin nila trabaho nila. Hindi puwedeng isara ang ekonomiya kasi kung 'di naman mamamatay sa COVID, mamamatay naman sa gutom ang tao." (I don’t think so. They [health care workers] should do their jobs better. We cannot close the economy because if people don’t die of COVID, they will die of hunger.)
Villar’s reference to the professionals’ lack of passion angered health workers and their families, as well as the general public. They took to social media to denounce Villar’s insensitivity, ignorance and arrogance, and dared her to spend even a day at the hospital just to see what they have to deal with during their shifts and afterward.
The senator “clarified” her words the following day. “We have to work harder and better, but I am not referring in particular to the medical workers—our frontliners. We are referring to all of us and DOH and PhilHealth in particular,” she said. "There is so much room for improvement in the government’s response to curb the transmission of the disease."
This does not make her earlier statements more palatable.
Villar has a history of making callous pronouncements. Years ago, she derided nurses working abroad for wanting to be “only” room nurses, and that they did not need to have nursing degrees or be that good at their jobs.
She wanted to limit farmers' profits to P5 per kilo of palay, saying that anything higher would be too much.
She belittled the value of research during deliberations on the agriculture budget. “Aanhin nyo ba yung research?” she famously said.
This year, amid the coronavirus pandemic, she said middle-class workers should not receive cash assistance extended by the government.
As the Inter-Agency Task Force considers the plea of the medical professionals in a supposed meeting today, everybody is aware of the delicate balance that must be struck and of the difficult decisions that must be made.
Public officials who do not think before they open their mouths, or who are so detached from reality because of their privileged positions, are the ones who must be scolded and told to shape up.