Duterte order meant to save gov’t face, not solve pandemic -UP doc

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Physician and academic Gene Nisperos of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine criticized the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte for prioritizing its public image over improving the country’s pandemic response.

This comes after the Presidential Communications Operations Office confirmed the existence of a memorandum directing them “to give updates on world data regarding COVID-19 and to convey that we are faring better than other countries.”

“What does it say about the adequacy of our COVID-19 response if government leaders prefer to compare us to countries doing worse than us rather than those doing better?” Nisperos said.

The doctor said that pushing for a media slant that compares the Philippines with other countries to show how much better we are doing is a “deceptive move.”

“Of course there will be countries that are behind us in vaccine rollout, but does that mean we are better? No,” Nisperos said.

“Taiwan, for instance, is not rushing because they have already controlled COVID-19 transmission even without vaccines. Similarly, Vietnam is behind us in vaccine rollout because they have not only successfully controlled disease spread, they are also developing their own vaccine.”

The PCOO Integrated News Team in a statement said that Duterte gave the instruction to convey working policies, particularly the Philippines’ pandemic response.

“There is nothing wrong with this, nor is it a lie, it is simply amplifying facts,” read the statement.

The leaked memorandum directed all government media platforms to carry regular updates about world data on COVID-19 through TV and radio newscasts and daily social media posts, “specifically to convey to the public that the Philippines is faring better than many other countries in addressing the pandemic.”

According to the Southeast Asia COVID-19 Tracker of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Philippines has the second most coronavirus cases in the region at 1,020,495, only behind Indonesia at 1,657,035. Moreover, the Philippines recorded the most cases in the last 24 hours in Southeast Asia.

The PCOO Integrated News Team even made claims that have since been debunked or tagged as misleading. For instance, it claimed that the COVID-19 reproduction number in the National Capital Region decreased to 0.85 without contextualizing that the figure exceeded 2 in March during the observed surge of cases.

It also said that the positivity rate dropped to 18 percent from 22 percent but failed to mention that the World Health Organization recommends a positivity rate of 5 percent or lower.

PCOO also cited Worldometers to claim that the Philippines placed 28th out of more than 200 countries and territories in the total number of COVID-19 tests conducted. Although this is accurate, the country actually ranked 140th in terms of tests per 1 million people based on the same data source.

Nisperos said the memo is only meant to stall, but cannot hide the fact that the government has done very little to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“What we need are definitive measures that address the problem, not data manipulation and misinformation. What we need are health solutions, not false narratives. What we need is real leadership against this pandemic, not a consistent refusal to acknowledge failures,” the doctor said.

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