Makabayan bloc to Duterte: Enough with 'photo ops' to prove you're healthy, address pandemic issues

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 8) — For some progressive lawmakers, concrete improvements in the COVID-19 response, not just mere "photo ops," would give people the assurance that the government is indeed addressing the health crisis.

The Makabayan bloc said on Thursday that the recent photo of President Rodrigo Duterte seated on a table cluttered with various documents, as seen in a recent Facebook post of his former aide Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, should not make up for his absence from the public eye amid the raging pandemic.

Speculations about Duterte's health condition came up again after he canceled his weekly national address twice this week. The hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo (Where is the President?) also trended online as netizens started asking about his whereabouts amid the crisis.

READ: Duterte skips his weekly public address 

"Ang daming problema ng Pilipinas ngayon. Ano ba man lang 'yung magresponde sa mga pinakamaiinit na issue na binabato sa kasalukuyan?" said Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas in a briefing.

[Translation: The Philippines is facing a lot of problems right now. Why can't he at least respond to the most pressing issues that we're facing right now?]

She added that the "photo ops" which suggested that Duterte was "swamped" with paperwork did not even provide a clue as to what he was actually working on.

"Malaki ang problema natin lalo sa surge ng cases ng COVID, 'yung ayuda na kailangan, na hindi pa sapat, kailangang pag-usapan ng mabuti at papaano, saan kukuha ng pera," she added.

[Translation: We are facing a big problem brought about by the surge in COVID cases, the people who need aid which remain insufficient, we need to tackle how and where we will get the funds.]

ACT-Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro said this was not the first time that Go and Duterte have done such "gimmicks," during times when the public desperately needs concrete action.

"Gumigimik na naman si Sen. Bong Go at si President Duterte. Ilang beses na itong nangyayari na kung may mga masisidhing mga issue na kinakailangan ng intervention ng Pangulo ay nagkakaroon ng ganitong mga gimik, mga photo ops," she said.

[Translation: Sen. Bong Go and President Duterte are doing their gimmick once again. How many times has this happened, whenever there are critical issues that need the President's intervention, they resort to gimmicks, photo ops.]

Go previously said several members of Duterte's security group have caught the virus, prompting the President to postpone his engagements this week. He also revealed that Duterte tested negative for COVID-19 when he took his last swab test during the Holy Week.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement that Duterte remains "fit and healthy for his age" and continues to "discharge his functions as head of the government."

Meanwhile, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar expressed dismay over comments that leadership is lacking in the government's pandemic response.

“To say that the Duterte administration’s response is on ‘autopilot’ is to belittle the expertise of those in the recommendatory and implementary bodies who have put in hard work and dedication to address the health issue since day one," he said in a separate statement.

He added that any "unnecessary form" of politiciking only disregards the work of medical frontliners and government officials during this time.

Duterte was last seen by the public on March 29, during a meeting with government officials on the country's pandemic response. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was among those who attended the meeting. He then confirmed on April 6 that he tested positive for COVID-19.