I told you so? Duterte says he warned public about COVID-19, calls gov’t ‘desperate’

President Rodrigo Duterte. Screenshot from Radio Television Malacañang
President Rodrigo Duterte. Screenshot from Radio Television Malacañang

President Rodrigo Duterte admitted last night in a publicly broadcast speech that his government is running out of money, and that the PHP270 billion (US$5.329 billion) aid which he secured through emergency powers was not enough to provide for Filipinos’ needs through the COVID-19 crisis.

Duterte said this shortly before he formally declared the extension of the Luzon lockdown to April 30 today, which could sink even more people into poverty after the closure of most workplaces all over the island.

“The PHP100 billion (US$1.94 billion) for one month or the PHP270 billion for two months which is earlier estimated, is not enough. I’m calling on the Secretary of Finance to generate [money],” Duterte said in English and Filipino in his meandering speech. “You can steal, you can borrow, I don’t care. Just produce money.”

Duterte also claimed that he warned the public about the negative impact of COVID-19, despite initially dismissing the dangers of the disease.

“At this time I told you, watch out for this. This COVID will kill us…It might not really cripple a country, but it will cause sadness and fear when we try to figure out how we could rise above it,” he said.

Read: Duterte on the lookout for that ‘f**king coronavirus,’ vows to ‘slap the idiot’

The president’s current statement is a marked departure from his remarks in February, when he slammed the public for being “hysterical” over the disease’s emergence back when there were few COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. He said everything was “well” in the country, and even joked that he was going to “slap” the virus.

At present, Duterte said his team is trying to find ways to ensure that people will get the aid that they need, and admitted that a failure to do so will lead to social unrest.

“We are finding ways to adjust the budget… We will prioritize the people, the stomach. If they have nothing to eat, a human being can become violent,” he said. “Don’t test the government because even the government is getting desperate. I am also desperate.”

“PHP270 billion won’t last long. When I spend that, it will just run out. We’re not earning anything; [we’re] just giving away everything,” he said.

It was just last week when Duterte confidently told the public that he could fix the problems that arose from the pandemic and that his government had enough funds to help poor Filipinos. Last night, however, the president’s bravado appeared to have vanished and he even admitted that he didn’t know how long the lockdown will last.

“I don’t know how long I’m going to tell you to stay at home. I don’t know how long I’m going to bring relief goods to everyone. I don’t know where to find the money. I don’t know what I would sell,” he said.

Read: ‘Why do you have to be hysterical?’: Duterte slams rising xenophobia, plays down gravity of Wuhan virus epidemic

Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles announced today that the lockdown on Luzon will last up to April 30, and not April 12 as initially planned.

“The president has the discretion to relax [the lockdown] in some areas and exempt certain sectors, depending on public health consideration and food security,” Nograles said.

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