THE Duterte government must be getting desperate for it to order all its government media platforms to promote the idea that we are performing a lot better in handling the pandemic compared to other countries. The idea that we are not faring that well must have terribly bruised the ego of our leaders that they have to resort to spinning the pandemic numbers.
What is funny is that the diehard Duterte political base was parroting the mantra that it is not fair to compare the Philippines with other countries. And yet, here we have our president ordering his communication people precisely to compare; only that there should be a deliberate attempt to make the Philippines look better.
And one of the countries which is now the favorite point of comparison is India, where a staggering number of daily cases, going by hundreds of thousands, are being reported. India is now turning to be the epicenter of horror in the global fight against the coronavirus disease of 2019 (Covid-19). It is indeed true that India has an edge over us on the number of tests conducted and the number of vaccinations, both on a per capita basis of 100,000. But while the mortality rate per 100,000 for India at 1.1 on April 28 is lower than that of the Philippines at 1.7, the situation in India is getting worse by the day.
Plainly said, and on a per capita basis, we can say that the Philippines and India are both in the same boat, with India edging us on testing and vaccinations, while we have a slight advantage when it comes to lower number of cases and higher recovery per capita. Certainly then, we cannot say with confidence that we are better than India. It doesn’t even help to justify India’s edge over us on per capita vaccinations as simply due to the fact that it manufactures its own vaccines. This is because saying so only begs the glaring reality that India is technologically superior to us in that regard.
Since the President is ordering his communications team to compare, but the diehard Duterte supporters bristle at comparing our situation to India’s rate of vaccination, saying that it is unfair considering India’s status as a technological powerhouse, it may do well for them to consider Indonesia that has its own vaccine manufacturing capacity. Or that of Vietnam that has its own homegrown capacity to develop its own vaccine, which it announced to be ready by the end of the year. Both Indonesia and Vietnam are in Southeast Asia, just like the Philippines.
Indeed, as of Sunday, May 2, at 9:24 a.m. Manila Time, based on the World Health Organization data published in The New York Times, the Philippines, just like the United States, is being rated as one of the countries where the cases are high but there are signs that these are going down. While there are indications that the number of cases in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are going up, the total number of cases are incomparably low relative to the Philippines. Thailand had 67,044 cases as of May 2, Cambodia had 13,790 and Laos had 821, while the Philippines had 1,046,653.
Other countries in the region, except for Indonesia, have much lower numbers as of May 2. Malaysia had 411,594 cases; Myanmar had 142,831; Singapore had 61,179; Vietnam had 2,942 cases; Timor Lester had 2,276 cases; and Brunei had 224 cases. While Indonesia has the highest number of cases at 1,672,880, we have a higher number of cases per 100,000 at 968 compared to Indonesia’s 618. In addition, the Philippines has the highest daily average of new cases in Southeast Asia for the last seven days as of May 2 at 8,182, earning it the spot of the 13th in the world.
In terms of number of deaths, in aggregate numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, Indonesia has a higher mortality at 45,652 to the Philippines’ 17,354. However, when converted to per capita, we are practically even with Indonesia having 17 deaths per 100,000 and the Philippines has 16. As for deaths in the last seven days until May 2, while Indonesia has a higher mortality at 164.6 compared to 97.1 for the Philippines, when expressed on a per capita basis, the Philippines reported a slightly higher number of 0.09 deaths per 100,000 compared to Indonesia’s 0.06.
Devoid of any massaging, and untainted by any partisan spin, the real numbers reveal that the Philippines is not in any way better compared to the rest of Southeast Asia.
If there is a political spin that can be applied to compare the Philippines with other countries, it would have to be in terms of governance. The United States was one of the worst performing countries in 2020 during the term of Donald Trump. But that has changed dramatically since Joseph Biden became president. What happened in the United States is a clear support to the argument that leadership matters in times such as a pandemic.
The horror stories of India and Brazil are very instructive relative to the case of the Philippines. India and Brazil are at the top in terms of the total number of cases and deaths. Both their healthcare systems are at the brink of collapsing. And if there is something common between them, it is in the fact that India’s Narendra Modi and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro are both being blamed for their country’s Covid-19 debacle. They are both right-wing conservatives just like Donald Trump.
When you juxtapose this with the fact that President Duterte is seen by many as one who gradually drifted toward the right, then it is fair to make a comparison among four men as they all led their countries to become worst performers when compared to the rest of the world. This is the kind of spin that would definitely not be done by the President’s communication team, even if it is the truth.