Is the PH “winning” against COVID: Media debunks government’s spin on WHO report
DESPITE THE continued rise of cases across the country, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque claimed government is “winning” against COVID-19, and congratulated the Philippines for supposedly beating the University of the Philippines’ (UP) projection that the number of cases could shoot to 40,000 by the end of June.
This came in the heels of a Philippine Daily Inquirer report pointing out that the Philippines ranks first among countries with the fastest rate of infections in the Western Pacific region.
On June 28, the Inquirer cited data from WHO showing that since June 16, the Philippines had logged the highest number of cases among the 22 countries in the Western Pacific region. The report further noted that the Philippines had more than three times the number of cases than Singapore which is already battling a second wave of infection.
On the same day, the DOH countered this negative ranking, noting the population difference between the two countries: “Per 1 million people, Singapore has a higher case number at 7,393 compared with the Philippines at 318 cases per 1 million population.”
Malacañang echoed the health department’s observation and presented its own list to show the country’s performance in a better light; but the Palace list included countries outside the Western Pacific region without calling attention to the change.
Other media organizations also picked up the Inquirer’s angle on the WHO report and did well to point out the government’s defensive stance as well as to question the claim of “winning” against the pandemic. Reports carried calls for government to address the growing number of cases, instead of dismissing them. Some reports stood out for exposing how the government manipulates the interpretation of data to work in its favor.
CMFR monitored reports from the three major Manila broadsheets (Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star); four primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, CNN Philippines’ News Night, GMA-7’s 24 Oras and TV5’s One Balita); as well as selected news websites from June 28 to June 30.
CMFR cheers exceptional reports that pointedly disproved the government’s efforts to reject the negative ranking.
Roque claimed that the country was in the 6th spot in terms of number of cases, but he did not say that this was a different list which included countries outside the region cited by the WHO.
Rappler’s report on June 29 took note of the 5 countries on Malacañang’s list which were not part of the WHO Western Pacific region–India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, which have higher numbers of cases and were the top four in the list, along with Thailand which made it as ninth.
GMA 7’s late-night newscast Saksi’s report went into greater detail to debunk the government’s claims point by point. Reporter Dano Tingcungco noted that while it is true that Singapore has a higher proportion of infected individuals, the Philippines’ mortality rate far exceeds that of Singapore.
Following DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire’s statement that it would be more fair to compare the Philippines with its fellow ASEAN nations than with countries in the Western Pacific, Tingcungco’s report broke down COVID numbers in Southeast Asia all of which showed how poorly the country has done.
Tingcungco noted that in terms of infection rate, Brunei and the Philippines rank the next highest to Singapore. As for mortality rate, the Philippines closely follows Indonesia and in terms of case-doubling rate, or the period of time it takes for cases to double, the Philippines and Indonesia still rank highest. And, the country has more positive cases compared to Malaysia and Singapore.
Online news site Interaksyon also presented comparative data among Southeast Asian countries affected by the pandemic. The news site featured an infographic produced by science organization Earth Shaker PH, noting that the Philippines still has the highest rate of active cases and deaths per million, as well as the slowest recovery rate in the region, with Indonesia showing the highest number of confirmed cases.
The report also called attention to the “misleading graph” that Roque presented to the media in a press briefing. Interaksyon cited a Twitter user who pointed out the same issues raised by Rappler, saying that the government’s attempt to dismiss case numbers by using population proportions does not diminish the fact that the cases are rising at an alarming rate.
Facts checked. Context checked. It is what the press is supposed to do. It is in the interest of the public that journalism lay bare the bad news. Comparing the national situation to what other countries have done can help citizens prod the government to do better. In a crisis as grave as a pandemic, the government should be open with the people by providing a truthful assessment of the state of threat and danger. Officials should admit their difficulties in stemming the spread of the disease. Papering these problems over with propaganda does not save lives. On the contrary. It may even cost lives.