'Not leisure,' says Roque about swim with dolphins at Ocean Adventure

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque tried to convince the public that his visit to a marine park on Wednesday, July 1, was not for leisure and thus not in violation of quarantine measures.

"Hindi po siya leisure kasi first trip ko doon, as APOR (It's not for leisure because it's my first trip there, as an authorized person out of residence)," he said in response to questions during a virtual Malacañang briefing on Thursday, July 2. 

An APOR is a person allowed to leave home for essential errands or for work. Roque said his visit to Ocean Adventure Park in Subic, Bataan, was just a "sidetrip" of an authorized trip to check on his family's swine business and to distribute personal protective equipment to a nearby hospital.

He further rationalized that he hails from Bataan, and that it was Bataan's first day under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) when partial operations of leisure establishments like theme parks and resorts are allowed.

But Roque resides in Quezon City in Metro Manila which is still under the stricter general community quarantine (GCQ). Residents in Metro Manila are told not to leave their homes for leisure purposes.

"I asked if they (Ocean Adventure) were open. I said, 'Why not?' because they were near where I was going. As far as my trip there is concerned, I was an APOR even before because food was my business," said Roque in a mix of English and Filipino.

He said he stayed at Ocean Park for an hour, partly because he wanted to check out its famous "Dolphin encounter" activity.

Photos posted by Ocean Adventure but later deleted showed Roque in a rash guard and swimming cap, posing beside dolphins on a beach.

Photo from Daily Guardian and Ocean Adventure Facebook pages
Photo from Daily Guardian and Ocean Adventure Facebook pages

Two other photos showed him speaking with park staff. Though there was some distance between them, Roque did not wear a mask.

But he denied violating social distancing measures while at the theme park.

"Kung may linabag na social distancing, ang katabi ko mga dolphin (If there was any social distancing rule violated, I was only beside dolphins)," he said.

The Duterte spokesman then apologized if his visit to the park "offended" people.

"For those I offended I'm sorry, tao lang po (I'm only human)," he said.

Spokesman for coronavirus efforts

What Roque termed as a "sidetrip" was a deviation from the government's messaging of avoiding trips for leisure among Metro Manila residents.

Roque, as Presidential Spokesman, is responsible for setting the tone and messaging of Malacañang and the policies it implements through departments of the executive branch.

But other than that, Roque is also the spokesman of the Duterte government's coronavirus task force.

He even leads the Strategic Communications Task Group of the National Task Force COVID-19 which means he is specifically responsible for ensuring Filipinos understand quarantine restrictions and other health policies designed to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The dolphin gaffe follows in the heels of another faux pas – when Roque did a fist pump to "celebrate" the supposed lower number of coronavirus cases in the country compared to the prediction of University of the Philippines experts.

He was derided by many for appearing to paint the UP researchers as "competition" and for citing inaccurate figures.

At the time he made the remark, the Department of Health reported 46,000 positive cases and over 36,000 confirmed cases. Confirmed cases mean cases that have been validated while positive cases are positive results that have not yet been validated and may include duplicates.

This means the actual number of cases could have been 40,000 or more, as UP experts projected.

Roque, on Thursday, said he did not mean to portray UP as the enemy.

"Hindi po natin kalaban or kakompetensya ang UP.... Sa mga taga-UP, pwede ba ho, taga-UP ako (UP is not our enemy or competitor.... To those from UP, please, I'm from UP)," he said. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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