Philippine Daily Inquirer

‘Unchristia­n’

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How did Harry Roque manage to snag a room at the state-run Philippine General Hospital (PGH) when scores of other COVID-19 patients were desperatel­y waiting in line for one for days on end? Asked that question, the presidenti­al spokespers­on turned snarky and gave an astonishin­g answer: “That is an unchristia­n question.” Is it? An expert on Christian matters was quick with a rejoinder: “There (is) nothing unchristia­n about the question. Government officials should be transparen­t to the public,” said Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administra­tor of the Archdioces­e of Manila.

Roque’s refusal to explain the apparently preferenti­al treatment accorded him, even as reports of COVID-19 patients dying or being ministered to in the parking lots of swamped hospitals were all over the news, is the height of privileged, callous behavior. But he was “in bad shape,” with his oxygen level dipping to 90 or below normal, Roque protested; he didn’t jump the line or pull rank to get a bed that could have gone to a more serious case. Then, quickly demolishin­g his own argument, he admitted that his PGH doctors were his longtime health providers even before he joined government.

Roque’s breezy entry into a hospital that was otherwise refusing further COVID-19 admissions isn’t the only anomaly needing accountabi­lity and explanatio­n. Take his supposed two consecutiv­e bouts with the virus in less than a month. Could one be reinfected so soon after recovery? Roque had declined to show to the public his first COVID-19 test result, invoking his right to privacy. Now, just weeks later, he claimed he was sick again. But, despite being supposedly in such “bad shape” that he had to be admitted ahead of everyone else, he was evidently strong and well-composed enough to host two briefings on the same day from his hospital bed.

In dismissing the public’s right to know the truth about his claimed COVID-19 positive status, Roque had demanded: “Why can’t public officials such as the presidenti­al spokespers­on be entitled to the presumptio­n of regularity of pronouncem­ent?”

His arrogant “unchristia­n” answer answers his own question. A public that is lied to as a matter of course, that is made the subject of ritual dissemblin­g, deception, and gaslightin­g by its public officials, has no obligation to reciprocat­e with any measure of trust or “presumptio­n of regularity.” In particular, this administra­tion’s unpreceden­ted penchant for secrecy and smoke and mirrors, its inability to talk straight with the public, sets the tone for an environmen­t of mistrust, speculatio­n, and cynicism, further fraying the social fabric and rending confidence in institutio­ns at a time when the country is facing its gravest crisis since the war.

Before Roque’s caper, there was the mystery of the Presidenti­al Security Group (PSG), 45 of whom were said to have been struck down by the virus, leading to the cancellati­on of the President’s address a week ago as a precaution­ary measure. At least that was the official story, except that: Weren’t the presidenti­al guards already inoculated last year with the China-made Sinopharm vaccine? The vaccine had yet to get approval from the Food and Drug Administra­tion (FDA) and were then unavailabl­e locally, so they were essentiall­y smuggled goods. The PSG broke the law, but the administra­tion staunchly defended the unauthoriz­ed, surreptiti­ous jabs as “compassion­ate use.” But if, as Malacañang announced last week, PSG members had come down again with COVID-19, is Sinopharm effective at all?

Alas, who would know at this time, when President Duterte had forbidden his men from cooperatin­g with authoritie­s, and the announced probes by the FDA, the health department, and the Senate into the vaccine smuggling have all but fizzled out? Just how efficaciou­s—or dangerous—this vaccine is, which Mr. Duterte himself had expressed preference for? That is crucial, perhaps life-saving informatio­n that may never see the light of day, simply because the administra­tion will not come clean on yet another irregulari­ty under its watch.

The latest flap involving the state of health of Mr. Duterte, whose two-week absence from public view amid a raging pandemic stoked rumors of severe illness and possible death, hewed along the same murky lines. On Monday night, Mr. Duterte resurfaced and blithely admitted to staging his disappeari­ng act. “Sinadya ko (I did it on purpose)” to tick off his critics, the President said—and in the administra­tion’s eyes, the boss’ curt words are explanatio­n enough.

No, they’re not. The sheer disregard for a distraught citizenry’s right to informatio­n, redress, and fair treatment, in the middle of a national life-anddeath struggle that has afflicted so many and left millions more twisted in hunger, is deliberate, casual cruelty.

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