‘President not downplaying virus hardship’

President Rodrigo Duterte is not downplaying the suffering of Filipinos as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malacañang said Tuesday.

In a virtual presser, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this clarification after a lawmaker criticized the President for seemingly undermining the challenges posed by the health crisis.

Duterte, in a pre-recorded speech aired Monday night, said: ”I will just say to my countrymen that do not despair. We can beat COVID. This is a small thing in our lives. We’ve been through a lot worse,  lot more difficult, and made us cry more.”

Roque explained that Duterte was simply expressing confidence that Filipinos would be able to rise to the challenge of COVID-19, especially now that vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. announced the bulk of OVID-19 vaccines were expected to arrive by April or May.

“The President is not downplaying our suffering but he’s saying that we will be able to rise from this, we will heal as one and that time will come soon because Secretary Galvez is handling the arrival of more vaccines,” he said.

He noted the President was trying to assure the public that the pandemic wastemporary” and would eventually be resolved.

“The President is saying it’s only temporary. It is not forever. It will pass and when vaccines come, we will have a solution to our problem, we will have a new normal,” he added.

Roque said Duterte also meant to tell the public that the Philippines continued to respond to the pandemic better than wealthier nations.

“The President is saying that the Philippines continues to live despite COVID-19. Of course, we are saddened that there were those who suffered from job losses and deaths. But by and large, the President is saying that compared to other countries, we have a low fatality rate at 2.05 percent. So, we have been spared from even more deaths compared to wealthier, more developed countries with more funds for healthcare,” he said.

In a statement, Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro slammed Duterte’s “maliit na bagay” remark on COVID-19, saying millions lost their jobs and thousands died due to the pandemic.

“Thousands lost their lives from COVID-19, millions more lost their jobs as unemployment reached 4 million. The youth’s right to accessible and quality education continues to suffer with the

Department of Education’s failed blended learning program. The whole nation is suffering from the incompetent and militaristic policies of the Duterte administration that does little to nothing in addressing the pandemic,” Castro said.

Instead of declaring “empty words”, Castro said the Duterte administration must enhance mass testing, contract tracing, giving of aid, and provide an effective vaccine rollout for all Filipinos.

On Monday, health authorities recorded 5,404 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total active cases to 53,479.

The country’s recoveries reached 560,577 after 71 people got well while eight new deaths brought the death toll up to 12,837.

Around 4 million Filipinos were left jobless in January this year with the unemployment rate hitting a 16-year high, according to preliminary results of the Philippine Statistics Authority’s labor force survey.

The survey showed that the unemployment rate worsened to 8.7 percent from 5.3 percent a year ago.

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