Roque draws flak for likening COVID lockdown to 'vacation', clarifies statement is for Filipinos who lost jobs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 3) — Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque has likened the coronavirus lockdown to a "prolonged vacation" — a remark which instantly drew the ire of Filipinos still grappling with the effects of the pandemic.

In his briefing on Tuesday, Roque defended President Rodrigo Duterte's earlier decision to lessen non-working days as part of the administration's efforts to spur economic recovery. He said the country "has long been on a vacation" due to the pandemic.

"Napakatagal na po nating nakabakasyon. Halos isang taon na tayong nagbakasyon dahil sa COVID-19," Roque said, noting that it was the government's economic team that advised to add Nov. 2, and Dec. 24 and 31 to the list of "special working holidays" in the country.

[Translation: We have been on a vacation for so long. For almost a year we have been on a vacation because of COVID-19.]

But in a statement sent to reporters on Wednesday, Roque clarified that he was only describing the situation of Filipinos who need to regain their sources of income as the economy slowly reopens.

"Ang konteksto lang nito, talagang maraming tao ang hindi nakapaghanapbuhay dahil dito sa pandemiyang ito. Kaya nga ninanais ng economic team na makahabol naman tayo," he said.

[Translation: The context of this is that, there are really a lot of people who lost their means of income because of the pandemic. That's why the economic team wants us to catch up.]

"Hindi naman po talaga bakasyon 'yan, kung hindi, hindi nakapagtatrabaho (It's not really a vacation, but rather not being able to work)," he added.

But Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said such statement was "insensitive and downright offensive."

"Para sa Malacañang, ang isang taong pandemya ay isang bakasyon lamang habang para sa mahihirap, ito ay isang walang hanggang bangungot dulot ng kawalan ng ayuda at kabuhayan," Brosas said in a statement.

[Translation: For Malacañang, the year-long pandemic is only a vacation while for the poor, it is a never-ending nightmare without any aid or means of income.]

Brosas also recalled Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's public sigh of relief at the early end of a Senate hybrid session last year that was shown live on television, which netizens also called at the time as insensitive in the middle of the raging pandemic.

"Tama nga siguro ang sinabi ni Senator Bato dela Rosa: masarap nga talaga ang buhay ng mga malalapit sa Presidente," Brosas said.

[Translation: Maybe what Senator Bato dela Rosa said was right: Those who are close to the President are living a comfortable life.]

RELATED: 'Mahirap na ang buhay:' Senators tell Dela Rosa to attend session physically 

Frankie Pangilinan, the daughter of opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan, also slammed Roque's remark.

"Lockdown, school and work at home, and forced isolation [is not equal to] a vacation. People have died. How heartbreaking," she tweeted.

As early as October 2020, Malacañang had dropped its months-old "stay at home" campaign and started calling on Filipinos to go on vacations after the government loosened quarantine restrictions. Roque has also been showcasing popular tourist spots in his out-of-town briefings as his "personal advocacy" to help the country's tourism sector. However, he denied that these were being done out of leisure.

READ: Roque on Boracay opening: 'Panahon na para magbakasyon' 

CNN Philippines' Triciah Terada contributed to this report.