MANILA - Malacañang said Tuesday it is "aghast at the insensitivity" of Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who criticized President Rodrigo Duterte's late-night report on his administration's handling of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Hontiveros earlier said Duterte’s televised report on late Monday had no concrete plans on how the Philippines will address the fast-spreading disease, adding the President “should act with a sense of urgency” following the stimulus law that gave him special powers to arrest the contagion.
In a statement, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo fired back at Hontiveros, asking what she has been doing since the time the Philippines witnessed the rapid rise of COVID-19 early March.
"Where was she all this time when PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) decisively acted on the national grave threat we face by undertaking aggressive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19? Was she perhaps hard on hearing when she was watching the televised message of the President as commented by one of her colleagues in the Senate? How could she have missed the program articulated by the Chief Executive?" Panelo said.
The Palace official also queried Hontiveros if she has been listening to the "almost-daily" briefings by the inter-agency focused on the coronavirus response.
"When the President signed Republic Act No. 11469 and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) was making a report to our people almost daily through its press briefings on how it was implementing the law, did she fail to catch any of these briefings on television and radio as well as read them in the newspapers?"
Panelo noted that Hontiveros opposed the enactment of Republic Act No. 11469 or the "Bayanihan to Heal as One Act", which gave Duterte additional powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When the proposed bill was being debated in the Senate, did she not oppose its passage? What was she then opposing in the proposed legislation?"
Duterte submitted to Congress on Monday his first weekly report on the government's COVID-19 response. It is part of the checks and balances measure under the Bayanihan Act, such as the authority to realign items under the 2020 national budget, particularly government savings, to respond to the pandemic.
Panelo insisted Hontiveros to "study" the report, "instead of courting a media hype."
"We urge her to engage in an intelligent and productive discourse and help in the battle against COVID-19 and not to contribute to the misinformation widely peddled in the social media by the purveyors of confusion and panic designed to put the President in a bad light," he said.
He also took a swipe at a "notoriously known biased media outlet" for reporting criticisms of various people against Duterte's public addresses.
"The latter reported a blog entry and tweets of a few entertainers and netizens criticising PRRD's televised address to the nation last night as allegedly lacking in transparency and a plan to fight the coronavirus disease," he said, calling for "an end to this nitpicking madness."
Aside from his supposed lack of sense of urgency and concrete plan to address the COVID-19 crisis, Duterte was also criticized for saying doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who died of COVID-19 "are lucky because they died for the country."
“It is very inappropriate for Duterte to romanticize the death of our health workers under current circumstances as some stroke of luck. In fact he should be alarmed: we are losing those who are supposed to save lives,” Gabriela Women’s Partylist said in a statement.
At least 12 doctors have lost their lives fighting the disease, an official of the Philippine Medical Association said earlier.