Health workers on Friday tore into presidential spokesman Harry Roque and demanded he resign after he berated a group of doctors who warned that relaxing lockdowns could lead to a further spike of COVID-19 infections.
In a video that has been widely circulated online, Roque was seen shouting and wagging his finger at a group of doctors during an online meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) on Tuesday.
Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) president Dr. Maricar Limpin, who was one of the targets of Roque’s ire, said she was shocked and insulted by his outburst and called for his removal, saying his actions were a disservice to President Rodrigo Duterte.
"It is not an action that is expected from a government official. Secretary Roque has to realize that, as the spokesperson of the President, he is basically representing the President. Therefore, any actions he makes, it is reflective of the President," Limpin said in an online interview with reporters.
"As far as I’m concerned, the President should remove him from office.”
The other doctor at the meeting was Dr. Antonio Dans, convener of the Healthcare Professional Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC).
"We were there as representatives of the health care workforce. He has to apologize to the whole of the health care workforce, not just to us. What he did is against all of us in the health care sector," he said.
Dr. Leni Jara of the Shape Up to Defeat COVID-19 group demanded that Roque apologize to medical professionals for his outburst.
“Stop it. You've gone overboard. You disrespected those working and saving patients. You disrespected them,” Jara said in Filipino during an online media forum.
Jara said that even if Roque was feeling stressed, there is no excuse for ranting against health professionals.
In the video, Roque scolded Limpin during a Zoom meeting.
“Do not sit there as if you’re the only ones right. We’re trying to achieve total health. Who wants COVID to kill people?”
“Are you saying that only medical frontliners are concerned about the health of the people? We all want to save lives. For crying out loud, no one in the government wants a single life lost. No one!” Roque said.
“How dare you think that we are not considering steps to prevent the loss of lives!” he added.
He chided Limpin's group for always criticizing the government's pandemic response.
"And let me point out to everyone, this group, they have never said anything good about the government response,” said Roque as he raised his voice anew and jabbed a finger at the computer screen.
Roque only stopped scolding Limpin and Hans, after Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles told him to cool off, saying, “Relax, partner, relax.”
After that, the meeting then went into a recess and the doctors were asked to leave, Limpin said.
Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) president Robert Mendoza said Roque should step down for insulting medical professionals at the frontlines of the pandemic.
“Maybe it's time for Cabinet members to resign who are rude to the Filipino public,” Mendoza said in Filipino.
Mendoza said doctors were only giving suggestions on how to improve the government's COVID-19 response, which many have criticized as inadequate.
Filipino Nurses United president Maristela Abenojar said Roque should have listened to the sentiments of health workers, who are mentally and physically exhausted from the still-raging pandemic.
She said Roque was unworthy of votes if he seeks a seat at the Senate in the 2022 elections.
Limpin, who lost her mother to COVID-19, said she could not think of anything she said at the meeting that would appear arrogant.
Dans said they were appealing against the implementation of the proposed granular lockdown since it is not yet clear to the public what that is and how it will be implemented.
"It seems difficult to experiment in a situation like this where the emergency department is overflowing," Dans said.
When sought for an explanation of his behavior, Roque only said in a text message, "IATF meets are secret." But later in an interview over radio dzBB, he apologized.
In a press briefing, Roque admitted that he got emotional after hearing Limpin and Dan's recommendation to impose a two-week hard lockdown.
"I confirm that I got emotional. I am sorry. I’m just human. That’s the first time that I lost my bearing in an IATF meeting, but as I said I may apologize and I have in fact apologized for the manner but never for the message," Roque said.
He maintained the government should do away with hard lockdowns as people need to earn a living. He also said the government is ramping up vaccination efforts so that it can reopen the economy safely.
Roque said he got mad because he thinks it’s time for the IATF to hear the voice of the people.
"Let’s stop this lockdown. COVID-19 is here for the long haul, not just in the Philippines, but also across the globe," he said in Filipino.
In his official Facebook account, Roque also posted a message.
"We employed the ‘entire government approach’ thinking about economic ramifications, thinking about the people (who) will go hungry. It does not mean that we care any less,” he said.