By John Ezekiel Hirro
The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) on Wednesday confirmed a “leaked” order from President Rodrigo Duterte directing government media platforms to “convey to the public that the Philippines is faring better” than other countries with its Covid-19 response.
“Yes, there is a memo directing us to give updates on world data regarding Covid-19 and to convey that we are faring better than other countries,” Virginia Arcilla-Agtay of the PCOO Integrated News Team said in a statement.
Agtay was referring to a PCOO document, dated April 27, where Duterte was said to have ordered government media platforms not only to “carry regular updates about the world data on Covid-19” but also to “specifically convey to the public that the Philippines is faring better than many other countries in addressing the pandemic.”
The leaked order mentioned that the updates should be incorporated in television and radio newscasts and social media content of state media.
Agtay said Duterte’s order would only “amplify facts.”
“Well aware of these roles, especially with the Covid-19 situation, the president has given the instruction in order to provide adequate information and convey working policies, particularly those that aim to address the effects of the pandemic in the country. There is nothing wrong with this, nor is it a lie, it is simply amplifying facts,” she said.
Agtay claimed that the Philippines had achieved a “reputable and efficient response to the virus” compared to some developed, more advanced and less densely populated countries.
She cited data from Bloomberg showing that the Philippines was 4th among 10 Southeast Asian countries in vaccine rollout as of March 1.
Agtay said that as of April 27, the country had vaccinated more than one percent of its population, with 1,809,801 vaccine doses administered.
“Furthermore, we are on the 28th spot out of more than 200 countries and territories in the number of Covid-19 tests conducted, according to the statistical report of Worldometers,” she said.
Agtay added that the Philippines, being at the 116th spot for Covid-19 mortality per one million people, says “much about our health capabilities and commitment to ensure the recovery of those who have contracted the virus.”
“These are the sources that government media intend to include in its list of story references, aside from local Covid-19 data, to give Filipinos a better and wider perspective of the real Covid-19 situation in our country,” she said.
“These in themselves are fulfilling and rewarding, and are things that the people should know, that we are indeed faring better than other countries in responding to this global health crisis,” she added.
The government expects the vaccination drive to reach the general public by the third quarter of 2021.
Agtay said Duterte’s directive was to convey “these positive messages to the people and these favorable news as part of our good governance outcomes.”
“Rather than to proliferate fear, uncertainty, disinformation, and fake news, we want people to put their trust and to work with the government in fighting Covid-19,” she added.
The Philippines, with a population north of 100 million, has so far received only 3,525,600 Covid-19 vaccines, almost half of which were donations from China and the global Covax initiative.
It is also facing delays in vaccine procurement due to “logistical concerns.”
In a tweet, UP professor and journalist Danilo Arao said Duterte’s order would lead to more “spin-doctoring” by state-run media entities.
FARING WELL? Government media like PTV and PNA hardly practice journalism as they usually publish or air what may be called "praise" releases. What a PCOO official claims as amplifying facts is actually spin doctoring. Expect more "fake news" on COVID-19 response.
— Danilo Arao (@dannyarao) April 28, 2021
“Government media like PTV and PNA hardly practice journalism as they usually publish or air what may be called “praise” releases. What a PCOO official claims as amplifying facts is actually spin-doctoring. Expect more “fake news” on Covid-19 response,” he said.
The country has tallied 1,020,495 Covid-19 cases as of April 28. Of the number, 935,695 have recovered, according to Department of Health data.
The Philippines has the 26th highest number of Covid-19 cases among countries worldwide and the second highest in Southeast Asia, according to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine tracker.