Interview

Interview with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque by Karen Davila (ANC – Headstart)


DAVILA: Secretary Harry Roque, good morning to you.

SEC. ROQUE: Good morning Karen and good morning Philippines.

DAVILA: All right, it’s nice to see you again, Secretary. Thank you for joining us this morning after this big announcement. Is this another lockdown? The business community, I have been hearing comments, they have been saying, it seems to be another lockdown, but termed just in a different way?

SEC. ROQUE: It’s not, because the economy remains open. We have, of course, imposed restrictions on physical mobility to avoid the gathering of individuals, because we all know that these gatherings serve as super spreaders of the virus. But economy remains open and despite the fact that there is a travel bubble imposed in Metro Manila and in the adjoining provinces, amongst the individuals allowed to go in and out of the bubble are those who are employed for as long as they can at least show their work ID. So the intention really is to limit mobility one at the same time to keep the economy open because we know that as a consequence of lockdown, more and more people are going hungry.

DAVILA: Now, Secretary, how was this decision made? Did the IATF make it? Did the OCTA research groups, did the experts, the DOH for example, made an assessment of some kind? And why until April 4? What was the science of until April 4?

SEC. ROQUE: We are always guided by science. In the emergency IATF meeting that we had, we had three doctors advise us – Dr. Salvaña, another physician from the Department of Health and Dr. Wong, the Epidemiologist, the consultant Epidemiologist of the IATF and they basically told us that the numbers have really increased, most likely it is because of increase mobility and the new variants of COVID and unless we do something, the numbers will increase further. We have to balance it at the same time with the fact that more people have gone hungry as a result of lockdowns and came up with the solution right now which is to really restrict the movement of individuals but allow them to work. For the first time, we are also asking individuals to avoid visiting other people’s homes, to wear face mask even at home, especially where there is an elderly or someone vulnerable in the household. And in addition to that, we have also strictly prohibited elderly, the vulnerable and the youth, the minors from leaving their homes.

DAVILA: Okay, there have been questions already. I know that it’s the same rules for NCR, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and the Rizal area. But for example, can people from Manila go to Batangas, will that be allowed, Secretary?

SEC. ROQUE: No, because that would be leaving the bubble ‘no. That’s the most asked question now, because….

DAVILA: Holy week.

SEC. ROQUE: Unfortunately they made plans for Holy Week and Batangas is of course coastal. Unfortunately, you cannot go to Batangas now, because we have limited travel outside and into the bubble area to necessary travel and tourism for now is not considered as necessary or essential.

DAVILA: I see. So what if, and I’m sure people watching you, these are the questions. Let say they have a home in the province and starting this week, given it’s two weeks they want to go home to their province, they have a residence there. Would that still be allowed, Secretary?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, that would be, that’s a tricky question because we have a concept of domicile and residents. But I think, right now is place of residents. But if one can really prove that he is or she is a resident of an area outside the bubble area, the right to travel is provided in the Constitution and cannot be restricted. It’s just that I have to answer questions, because as I said, there’s two distinct concepts – actual residents and domicile, and right now restricting movement of individuals to their residents.

DAVILA: Oo, so paano po iyon, pasensiya na po kayo sa tanong na ito. So you do have Filipinos, let’s say with a small house in the province where they can drive to. Under this new rule, Secretary, is it right to say that technically they cannot even go there or with some kind of permit, is that allowed?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, a second home is not really your primary residence and the intention is to limit only movement if you are going back to your primary residence. And the rationale behind it is not only that we want to lessen the numbers of COVID in the bubble area. We also want to prevent the spread of new variants in areas outside of Metro Manila. So, I hope they understand that we are doing this for the public good, because right now, the numbers that we are seeing, I’m sure is partly due to the variants and if we are going to spread these variants all over the Philippines, can you imagine, what will happen. Remember that it is in Metro Manila where we have the best health care utilization available and that as you go outside of Manila, you have less and less capacity to care for those who may get sick.

DAVILA: Secretary, were the experts able to give you some kind of information that if we do this essential travel, only bubble – it’s sort of a semi-lockdown really for tourism and movement – were they able to give you an idea, how much the numbers would drop?

SEC. ROQUE: We are estimating that with this measures and at the end of the two week period that the numbers would drop by at least 25%. But we are hoping for more because despite the fact that we have basically allowed people to work, we are also appealing to everyone it is Holy Week, where traditionally we have a long holiday anyway. So, if you are not going out because of an essential activity such as to get the basics of food and water or to work, you might as well stay home. Because we all know that the tried and tested formula for preventing the increase in the cases of COVID is to stay home, be a homeliner.

DAVILA: Now, also another clarification, is this correct, under what you announced yesterday. Leisure travel is allowed only within the area but not including below 18 and 65 can you expound on this, Secretary?

SEC. ROQUE: Correct, in fact staycation in Metro Manila is still allowed. So we are not prohibiting that but it is a subject to age restriction. We are prohibiting minors, the elderly and the vulnerable from leaving their homes and again the science behind it is particularly for the senior citizens and the vulnerable, we are trying to avoid deaths, simply put. I am not scaring people, but it’s already a fact that this virus attacks particularly the seniors and the vulnerable and it could lead to death. So, we are trying to limit the number of deaths and that is why we have asked the most vulnerable to the disease to stay home.

DAVILA: Okay, but what if, it’s a family. You may have families, wherein, let’s say, they have one child who is 15 years old and they want to do a staycation within the same area. That’s still not allowed, Secretary?

SEC. ROQUE: Allowed for now. This is a revision of the rules, because staycations now are also subject to age restrictions.
DAVILA: And then, there is another part of yesterday’s presscon, leisure travel outside the area is not allowed. But when you return to an area it is allowed. Can you expound on that?

SEC. ROQUE: Because again, that has to do with the right to travel, you have a right to return to your primary place of residence, to your home or residents. That’s already case law. So, if you happened to be outside of Metro Manila already as of today and the prohibitions take effect today, then of course you can come back during the next two weeks.

DAVILA: Okay, Secretary another question here. What about international travel?

SEC. ROQUE: We have not restricted international travel, so there is no restriction so far. But I would think that the restriction would also cover travel for leisure, but [unclear] OFWs and all those who are basically pursuing livelihood also from travelling. We are limited, as far as international travel is concern, because obviously their intention is to prevent the virus from spreading within the territory of the country and knowing that, other countries have a very stringent measures in place for arriving international passengers anyway.

DAVILA: Now, in terms of working capacity. You are allowing 30 to 50% in this two week period. Is that correct, Sec?

SEC. ROQUE: Where applicable, because we realized that work from home is impossible for factories for instance. So, when you are talking of a factory where they may have to go 100% operation, but in which case, there are specific prohibitions. We know already what are the super spreaders are in the work place. These are common eating places, so we discouraged now eating together – that is a super spreader event. Of course we will insist on compliance already with existing DOLE, DTI guidelines including minimum health standards, checking everyone for their temperatures and for symptoms and providing for isolation facilities within the work place.

DAVILA: Okay, when it comes to food, you are still allowing, will the IATF is still allowing delivery and take out. But can you talk about restaurants who just started to reopen and are starting to recover?

SEC. ROQUE: We know that is going to be painful for the restaurant industry. But indoor dining of course has been proving to be super spreaders as well ‘no. So at least for two weeks, we want them to desist from indoor dining, but we are allowing Al Fresco or outdoor dining. Of course delivery and take outs will continue as usual.
DAVILA: And pagdating po sa mall corridors, is that still indoor?

SEC. ROQUE: Basta po bukas, basta open. Because alam ko may mga malls na may mga open areas, so iyong mga ganoon po na hindi talaga enclosed, allowed naman po iyan.

DAVILA: Okay, and you are still allowing weddings, baptisms, but very limited.

SEC. ROQUE: KBL is still allowed, but up to ten persons only.

DAVILA: Ah, up to ten persons only. I’m curious Secretary, what about gyms, swimming pools and the like, what happens?

SEC. ROQUE: Close, because this was subject already of an earlier IATF resolutions. So all those that were already ordered closed will remain close and these includes gyms, computer shops, driving schools, museums, libraries, spas. So we know that these are also places where you have very close physical contact and which could act also as super spreaders.

DAVILA: Okay, what about beauty salons. May tanong dito, Secretary, they just started to reopen and have losing a lot of money, what happens to salons?

SEC. ROQUE: Not the spas, but the barbers and the basic salon are open. They can operate, but not the spas.

DAVILA: Ah okay, so still no spas. Pero iyong mga home service, they started to reopen, not spas but home service in terms of masahista’s etcetera. I’m curious if that is covered in anyway?

SEC. ROQUE: That’s discouraged, because that is actually visiting someone’s home. A person who is not part of the immediate family entering someone’s home and that is what we are trying to prevent now and avoid.

So we had to frame it in such a way that it’s directory and not mandatory because we know that if we make it compulsory, that gives the license, the police ‘no to enter for the purpose of apprehending individuals. And we wanted to avoid that kind of a scenario where you have families complaining of state agents breaching the privacy of their homes.

So we made it directory but it’s actually an urgent appeal to everyone, please remain home and don’t allow other people to enter the premises of your home because we want to limit increase in the number of COVID cases.

DAVILA: Okay. Now those watching us right now in the Visayas, an important thing to remember is this is really just for NCR.

SEC. ROQUE: NCR and the adjoining provinces ‘no. This does not affect the quarantine classification all over the country. [Garbled] GCQ of course, even tourism is allowed. Although we know this will have a tremendous impact because bulk of the visitors, for instance to Boracay, would be coming from Metro Manila ‘no. But it’s a necessity that we need to do when you have daily cases hitting 8,000 a day. People [garbled]…

DAVILA: Okay. What happens, Secretary, if there’s an emergency and someone from Metro Manila, for example, has to visit a parent or attend to a family member who lives in Cebu? I’m just giving a situation ‘no. What do they do? Where do they go? Who do they approach?

SEC. ROQUE: Again, that’s covered by essential because humanitarian is always essential ‘no. So in case of doubt, then we can always ask the NTF for exemption ‘no. But I don’t think it is necessary if you can show proof already. For instance if there’s someone who is acute or gravely ill ‘no, then show the medical certificate. If someone has died, then show the death certificate ‘no.

DAVILA: Oo. Dapat okay na iyon, Secretary?

SEC. ROQUE: [Garbled] ‘no because as I said nga ‘no, even for movement in and out of the bubble, proof of employment would suffice. And I need to emphasize again ‘no – although we now have checkpoints again in place, please allow the unimpeded entry and exit of cargos because if we prevent cargo movement, we are preventing the movement of essential goods including food items.

DAVILA: Okay. So after your announcement, are we expecting more checkpoints per city starting today?

SEC. ROQUE: Well to enforce the rule that people should remain in their homes and to prevent minors, senior citizens and vulnerable from going out. So this is a combination of an appeal to the people because we’ve had experience with this disease and also increase visibility of law enforcers to remind people that we are still in a pandemic and that life should not be as usual ‘no especially with COVID cases reaching 7,999 per day ‘no. So this is of course, again, an exercise of police power and with people knowing how many cases we have per day, I think the people will cooperate.

DAVILA: Oo. There are many questions coming in, for you, but quickly, if let’s say from Manila to Cavite, alam naman natin Secretary that’s such a fast trip right? Are you saying now for example kapag may checkpoint po papasok ng Cavite, let’s say a police officer will be checking each car to see if they work in Cavite? Ganoon ba iyon, Sec.?

SEC. ROQUE: I doubt if there will be a checkpoint between Metro Manila and Cavite because Cavite and Metro Manila forms a single bubble. The checkpoint will be in the border of Cavite and Batangas. So to those who may bear the risk of going to Batangas for the Holy Week, be assured that there will be checkpoints there and that they will be strict in enforcing that leisure travel will not be allowed for the time being.

DAVILA: Okay. All right. Another question. Somebody asked what about those jogging in the streets? Jogging has been allowed, we’ve seen a lot of people walking, jogging in Metro Manila. Will they be arrested, Secretary?

SEC. ROQUE: No, because you know we also need to exercise at the time of pandemic. In fact seniors are allowed to go out for exercise as well ‘no, but only for the purpose of exercise and for essentials. We are trying to protect their lives knowing that they are the most vulnerable to this disease.

DAVILA: Okay. So ang senior puwede maglakad at mag-jog pero hindi po lang puwede pumasok sa restaurant at sa mall?

SEC. ROQUE: Hindi po.

DAVILA: Okay. All right. Several questions here also, asking: Is this really just till April 4?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, for now it is. The decision of the IATF na it will only be until for this next two weeks ‘no. But we want to see a dramatic reduction in the cases after the two-week period. We realize of course, that we will not see the results immediately, but we’re hoping that because it takes two weeks to see the results that at the end of two weeks after April 4, then the numbers would have gone down for everyone’s sake.

DAVILA: Okay. Did you speak to the airline industry for example, I’m curious if they were prepared for such a big shift?

SEC. ROQUE: Well the notice have been given to them by CAAP ‘no. Normally of course, we give them advance notice that there may be restrictions, at least I did ‘no. But now the CAAP has already come up with instructions to the airlines to check on the nature of travel of the individual. Of course essential travel for employment would require simply proof of employment.

DAVILA: Okay. A question here from a businessman, Secretary. This businessman said many are very upset. What is the deal with private companies being given a hard time when applying to purchase their own vaccines? They saw you on TV and you said you’re still talking about the matter. So he’s asking who are ‘they’ and why are there still no guidelines regarding this particular issue?

SEC. ROQUE: Let me be very clear already ‘no. There already a law passed by Congress allowing the private sector to buy. Unfortunately because no vaccine is covered by a certificate of product registration or no vaccine is commercially available, companies would only sell on the basis of an Emergency Use Authorization and they required governments to purchase because these manufacturers of vaccines are protecting themselves from lawsuits arising from possible side effects of the vaccines which are still technically experimental. So there’s no way out, the law allows the private sector to buy but currently there’s nothing available which is classified already as for general use.

Since everything is still covered by EUA, they need to do it through a tripartite agreement. Now if you’re referring to a draft, administrative order prohibiting tobacco companies, milk companies from buying vaccines for their workers, that hasn’t been finalized. And I think given the public uproar, whoever the proponent is, would think twice about it because after all we are in a pandemic and the more vaccines that we have would be better for the country.

DAVILA: Okay. All right. There is another message here asking: “Karen, Secretary, have you seen the trending tweets? But the NTF called Greater Manila Area, NCR Plus to reiterate the new restrictions under the two-week GCQ.” Is this a good idea, Sir? I mean, I guess the question is to say its “NCR Plus?” Is it really NCR Plus?

SEC. ROQUE: Well it is, because it’s NCR Plus the four provinces.

DAVILA: Oo. Okay. So to use NCR Plus is accurate for you, that they use that?

SEC. ROQUE: Well I think it’s a shortcut for Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite so that we wouldn’t have to repeat the provinces again.

DAVILA: Okay. Another question right now before we go is, I wanted to ask you because we still have a second half. Secretary, you tested COVID positive and how are you today and how many days have you been quarantined?

SEC. ROQUE: This is my 8th day and I’m dying to reach the 10th day because being asymptomatic I’m required to undergo to 10 days of quarantine. I’m going bonkers [laughs].

DAVILA: Okay. All right. So you have to forgive me for asking you this but I need to ask you this. Number one is, you have people doubting if you really have COVID and they’re asking, why won’t you show the test?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, that’s covered by privacy ‘no. And number two, why can’t public officials such as me, Presidential Spokesperson, be entitled to presumption of regularity of pronouncements? [Garbled] you know and this is, you know, being positive is not a badge of honor. I stayed in an isolation facility, would I do that if I was not positive?

DAVILA: Okay. The other question is what was spreading all over social media that you were staying in a luxury hotel, the Conrad Hotel in Manila.

SEC. ROQUE: I wish. I stayed in a 2-star hotel along Annapolis with very well-known personalities but I will [garbled] that they are in the isolation facility. But I’m in a company of broadcaster, a director from the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson, two members of MARO which is the media agency that arranges media relations and the President ‘no. [Garbled] 75% full.

DAVILA: Okay. So that’s an isolation facility. My last question is, moving on to a whole other issue of over 200 Chinese vessels suspected to be within the West Philippine Sea or the Philippine area, will the President be issuing a statement on this? I know we’ve filed a diplomatic protest, that’s the latest already that I’ve already said. But, is the President going to issue a statement on this?

SEC. ROQUE: The diplomatic protest was filed for and in behalf of the President, a chief architect of foreign policy in the Philippines. So that by itself speaks for the President.

DAVILA: Okay. On that note Secretary Roque, thank you so much. Is there anything you’d like to add, Sir, before we go?

SEC. ROQUE: Well other than to ask for people’s cooperation because 8,000 a day of COVID is not a joke. I hope people will understand that we are resorting to this state’s exercise of police power for the good of everyone. And that we’re hoping that as soon as the numbers go down again, then we can go back to more or less what we had before this bubble ‘no – which is to allow individuals even to leave Metro Manila plus even more travel [garbled]. Will not be [garbled] two weeks is all that we ask for.

DAVILA: Yeah. Can people be arrested, Secretary, for this, if they violate?

SEC. ROQUE: There’s still no ordinance as far as I know, in place ‘no. They can be prevented, they can be reminded but I don’t think there is a criminal punishment for it because this travel bubble is new ‘no and that LGUs would have to enact ordinances to provide for penalties.

DAVILA: All right. On that note Secretary Harry Roque, thank you Sir, for joining us this morning. God bless you. You stay safe and stay strong. Thank you, Sir.

SEC. ROQUE: Thank you, it’s always a pleasure. Bye-bye.

DAVILA: Thank you.

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SOURCE: PCOO-NIB (News and Information Bureau-Data Processing Center)