Experts urge Duterte gov't: Tap 'science spokesperson' for pandemic response
MANILA, Philippines – A group of experts say the Duterte administration needs a scientist or health expert to speak alongside its official spokesperson to more accurately explain the science behind coronavirus policies.
This was among the recommendations of the group as posted on the Facebook page of research firm OCTA Research on Tuesday, May 26.
The authors of the study include mathematics professor Guido David, political science expert Ranjit Singh Rye, public administration professor Erwin Alampay, University of the Philippines College of Medicine professor Michael Tee, and others.
In their 6th recommendation, focused on risk communication, the experts say "an expert on epidemiology or public health must be tapped in order to better explain difficult scientific concepts and complex big data."
"The expert will be able to help the government to articulate information better for public consumption," they said.
This "science spokesperson" would also give the official government spokesperson – in the case of the Duterte administration, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque – the chance to focus on announcements about legal and administrative matters.
"This should be done to avoid the burden to the official spokesperson to explain concepts that can be explained better by experts on public health issues, and vice versa," said the group.
Scientific advisory group. The team of experts went further, suggesting a long-term solution to miscommunication in crises that involve scientific approaches.
There should be a "science advisory group for emergencies" (SAGE), a group composed of scientists "whose function is to synthesize scientific information" which would then be explained publicly by the science spokesperson and used by government in formulating its policies.
The group suggested that the science spokesperson be pulled from the SAGE members.
The proposal is similar to the United Kingdom's system where a science spokesperson under the prime minister's office is tasked with explaining scientific concepts used in governance alongside the government ministers tasked with implementing the policies.
Some officials Rappler spoke to also wished for a health expert to explain government response, similar to Anthony Fauci, the well-respected longtime director of the United States' National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci has often been seen as a more credible voice than President Donald Trump when speaking about government's approach to fighting COVID-19.
In the case of the Philippines, Harry Roque functions as the spokesman of the national government coronavirus task force, alongside Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
Government public briefings on the pandemic sometimes feature members of the academe, doctors, and other experts, but this is not done regularly.
Duterte himself has been criticized for rambling, bluster-filled speeches and for making claims with little scientific basis. (READ: 56,000 words on the virus: Duterte's crisis messaging all bluster, little science)
The OCTA Research recommendations were made a week after the very public clash among government officials over the term "wave" in the pandemic. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III declared in a Senate hearing that the country was already on the "second wave" of coronavirus cases, only to be rebuffed by other officials and health experts who insisted the country is just in the first wave.
Duque later on clarified that the country is indeed in the first wave of "sustained community transmission." – Rappler.com