President Rodrigo Duterte changed tune and claimed that the pre-pandemic “normalcy” may return in 2023.
Duterte’s term will end in 2022.
The president made this statement during the turnover ceremony of 600,000 doses of China’s Sinovac vaccines at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City last Sunday.
“In about maybe early year 2023, not 2022. Ito ngayon hanggang katapusan ng buwan, paspasan tayo,” Duterte said.
“Early in the first, maybe the first or second quarter of year 2023, baka, sa tulong ng Diyos,” he added.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr, chief implementer of the National Task Force against COVID-19, also previously made the same view in a separate briefing.
“It is only through this that we can implement a sustainable immunization program to recover the economy and restore normalcy in the lives of the Filipino people by 2023 through our bayanihan spirit,” Galvez said last January.
In a national address on July 31, 2020, Duterte made two promises—that the Philippines will return to “normal” by December 2020. He then cited that a vaccine from China, a country he had been courting since the start of his presidency, will help resolve it.
“I promise you, by the grace of God, I hope by December we will be back to normal,” he said back then.
In the same speech, Duterte added: “Let’s just wait for a vaccine. Let’s wait till December, if we can just be patient… We are not going back to a ‘new normal’. It’s going to be normal again.”
During that month, however, the national government is still in negotiations with various vaccine manufacturers including China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm.
How the public reacted
Critics panned Duterte over his previous remarks in public addresses. Some of them cited the promises he made since the start of his presidency.
“This time he changed his tune. No more three to six months. We will return to normalcy when you’re gone by 2022 or earlier if you’re literally gone. Your presence is what prevents this country us going back to normalcy,” a Facebook user said.
“I will ride a jet ski and plant the Philippine flag… Anyone remember this boastful remark? Only God knows. (Sad emoji),” another wrote.
“‘The veerus will die in its natural death’ – Duterte 2020,” another Facebook user commented.
Another user said that Duterte should aim for “herd immunity” in the near future instead.
“What does he know? Everything he says makes no sense at all! Once he stops delaying vaccine procurements, we hope to reach herd immunity this year and start our normal life early next year,” the user said.
John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health explained that herd immunity is achieved when “most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, this provides indirect protection—or herd immunity (also called herd protection)—to those who are not immune to the disease.”
On herd immunity
Duterte did mention herd immunity in his speech. However, he admitted he lacked knowledge about how to achieve this goal.
He cited the country’s geography, the public’s need to travel and hesitancy to take COVID-19 shots as among the main problems faced by the COVID-19 vaccination program.
“Para sa akin personally mas maganda kung contiguous ang territory because you only have to do a circle, paliit nang paliit, paliit nang paliit hanggang — towards the center of gravity. Eh ito island per island eh. And we cannot stop travel. And we cannot expect all people to agree to be vaccinated. That is the problem,” he said.
“We have to take into account the freedom of an individual of what happens to his body. Nobody but nobody can tinker with his — the human life kung hindi siya. Kung ayaw niya, that makes it doubly hard for us,” Duterte added.