Roque taps private crew for press briefing after Malacañang's communications staff catch COVID-19

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Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 28) Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque was forced to postpone a session with Cabinet officials and grapple with numerous technical issues during his Tuesday media briefing with a new crew, as communications staff in Malacañang grapple with COVID-19 infections.

Roque, who was supposed to host a Post-State of the Nation Address forum with the economic team to provide more details about President Rodrigo Duterte's Monday speech, had to face delays in airing as technical difficulties stood in the way of his usual noontime broadcast.

He thanked a friend for lending a team of cameramen for the day.

"Tingin ko, ang mensahe na pinaparating natin... Hindi tayo natatakot kay COVID-19, mag-iingat po tayo pero ipagpapatuloy po natin ang ating hanapbuhay, ang ating mga katungkulan [I think what we're trying to send across is... we won't fear COVID-19. We will take precaution but we will carry on with our jobs and fulfilling our duties]," he said. His office once rolled out an information campaign with the line "Takot ako sa COVID [I am afraid of COVID]."

Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Rachel Queenie Rodulfo told reporters that no RTVM employee helped in the afternoon briefing, saying they were sent to take rapid tests "but did not come back on time."

According to state-run PTV, PCOO currently has 22 active cases, while one died back in April due to the disease. There are also two confirmed cases in RTVM, while the TV network had one active case and one recovered patient.

There appears to be some issues between RTVM and Roque, which exchanged official statements through the media.

​In a statement, RTVM Executive Director Demic Pabalan said their Manila office will be on lockdown starting Tuesday until August 11 after four more workers were positive in rapid tests.

Pabalan added that 15 staff members showed up for work Tuesday morning to undergo rapid testing supposedly provided by the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson — Roque's office — but it didn't push through. Instead, the team had to arrange testing through the Presidential Security Group, which was why they were late to the noontime briefing.

​However, Rodulfo responded to say that it was actually Roque's office which coordinated with the PSG Hospital for the testing of RTVM employees.

Roque clarified that there are no confirmed cases in his office, but noted that the New Executive Building where press briefings are done was earlier shut down.

"I am one of the most tested individuals using PCR at wala pong makakalapit kay Presidente nang walang rapid test. Lahat po kami na nakikipagkita sa kanya ng regular, regular din po ang PCR [No one can approach the President without taking a rapid test. Everyone who needs to see him regularly are subject to regular PCR testing," he added to ensure that Duterte stays COVID-free.

Prior to this, it was reported that several members of the Presidential Security Group assigned to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea also tested positive for the disease. This nearly triggered a change of plans in President Rodrigo Duterte's fifth State of the Nation Address yesterday, but authorities stuck with the plan to let Duterte physically deliver his speech at the Batasan Complex.

Roque was supposed to have Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato Dela Peña, and Agriculture Secretary William Dar as guests through remote video interviews, but could not pull it off due to limited manpower. The forum will be reset likely on Thursday, or three days after the SONA.