“Mag-mask ka kasi para tayong mga Lone Ranger dito.”
These were Duterte’s words to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana — the only one in a midnight Cabinet briefing not wearing a mask — to start off his report on the current state of the nation in the time of coronavirus (COVID-19).
In a departure from his recent press briefings, the chief executive presided over a meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force along with several Cabinet secretaries, including Lorenzana, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, and Carlito G. Galvez, chief implementer of the National Action Plan against COVID-19.
Cabinet secretaries stressed the good news in the briefing that was broadcast and livestreamed over social media early Thursday.
"Napakaganda po ang ating nagawa, na-ipush na ang curve toward a one month na delay,” said Galvez. “It gave us the capacity to improve our medical services.”
He reported that there are now 11 testing centers, with 8 more on the way to full accreditation.
Galvez acited the Philippines’ low death rate, especially compared to countries like the US. He also noted that it was only now that Japan and Singapore are implementing states of emergency.
Duque echoed Galvez’s remarks, and saluted the health workers at the frontlines.
“Ang atin pong mga healthcare workers, ang ating mga frontliners, sila po ang ating taga-salba. Ito po ang masasabi ko, walang katumbas ang inyong kabayanihan at inyo pong sakripisyo sa pagsalba ng buhay ng mga naapektuhan ng COVID-19,” he said.
Dominguez reassured the public about the fundamental soundness of the economy before the pandemic, but warned, “Ang katotohanan lang ang estimate natin is our GDP growth will be 0 or -1. Ang temporary unemployment natin will be 1.2 million workers.”
He added: “We will be spending more than we are collecting, but we are spending more in order to save the people and make sure they have food in the table during this time.” But, he added, “we have to realize na hindi endless ang money na ‘to.”
When it was his turn to speak, Duterte dwelled on the enormous financial muscle needed to keep the country afloat.
“‘Yang pera na ‘yan para sa COVID, hindi ‘yan pera na kukunin pa. ‘Yan ang pera na nireserba ni Secretary Dominguez,” he told the public.
He continued further: “Saan na ‘yung P300 billion? Wala pa po ‘yan, kokolektahin pa po ‘yan. Saan ‘yung P270 billion? Wala pa po ‘yan, kokolektahin pa po ‘yan.”
But, Duterte said, he would find that money.
“Balang araw, as we go along, we can generate funds. Marami ang nagpapautang sa’tin.” (Dominguez had earlier noted that the government is planning to borrow US$5.6 billion from the Asian Development Bank and World Bank.) If worst comes to worst, “‘pag wala na akong makuha and we're about to sink, I will sell all the assets of the government at itutulong ko sa tao.”
He said: “Ako magbigay ako sa inyo ng hope. For the time na andito ako, ako ang control, ibigay ko lahat. Do not worry about the money.”
Duterte also gave a stern warning to landlords who would not waive rental fees for tenants, and emphasized that only a vaccine would provide a definitive solution to COVID-19.
“COVID, anong sagot? Vaccine. Walang vaccine? COVID stays. Kaya mag-maskara tayo pag wala pang vaccine, mga Christmas time.”