MANILA – Denying that he was preventing the OCTA Research team from publicizing their recommendations on quarantine levels, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday said he is willing to invite the team’s members to Malacañang.
“Hindi ko po sila sinusupil. Salamat nga po sa kanilang mga ginagawa. Naimbita ko na sila rito (I am not suppressing them. Thank you for what they do. I have already invited them here), I will invite them again and if need be, I will invite them again to the Palace,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
He said he was thankful for their recommendations but urged them to instead send them to the government in private.
“Pero ang pakiusap ko lang po, dahil nga po sa mga recommendations naman nila ay tungkol sa classification, i-address nila doon sa tamang institusyon na gagawa ng desisyon – sa Presidente o sa mga lokal na pamahalaan (But I appeal to them that since the recommendations are about classification, they should address them to the correct institutions that will make the decision, the President or the concerned local government unit),” Roque said.
He noted that quarantine classifications are a “sensitive” matter due to their socioeconomic impact.
“It’s an issue of health versus poverty and we don’t want the decision-making process to be mired by politics because recommendations, when made public, can form opinions and can have (a) political effect. So, let’s spare the decision-making process from politics,” Roque said.
He reiterated that Duterte should be given leeway to make decisions based on national interest.
“It’s the President that makes the decision. So, you don’t really need to address your recommendations to anyone else but to the person who will make the decision,” Roque said.
He said that while he did not discount public discourse on data, policy-makers should be allowed to make decisions regardless of public opinion.
“While there is freedom to information, it’s not absolute because the President and policymakers must (be allowed) to make correct, even if unpopular, decisions,” Roque added.
He also said some local governments have complained of the OCTA Research team’s recommendation to raise quarantine classifications.
“Ganyan po ka-sensitibo iyan, kasi ‘pag sinabi mong mataas ang Covid sa isang lugar, nagiging political issue rin po iyan sa lugar na iyan. Para bagang lagot si mayor, lagot si governor. Eh hindi naman po ganoon ang pakay natin kung bakit tayo nagka-classification. Ang pakay naman natin eh para pa nga po mapabagal iyong pagkalat ng sakit (It’s that sensitive. Because if you say Covid cases are high in a place, it becomes a political issue. It is like the mayor or governor will be reprimanded. But that’s not our goal why we implement risk classification. Our goal is to slow down the spread of the illness),” Roque said.
The OCTA Research team earlier asked the government to reimpose a stricter quarantine classification or implement localized lockdowns in Bauan in Batangas, Calbayog in Western Samar, and General Trias in Cavite.
On Monday, Duterte’s Cabinet approved the recommendation to consider the escalation of quarantine levels only as a last resort.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases decides on quarantine classifications of highly urbanized cities but leaves it to local governments to decide on the classifications of municipalities.
On Wednesday, a member of the OCTA Research Team said his group would no longer publicize their recommendations for quarantine classifications.
UP Mathematics professor Guido David said he agreed with Roque that the government has more information on the ground.
However, he clarified that the research group would still be publishing data on Covid-19, which will be available to the public. (PNA)