Palace claims Thai paper's 'Land of COVID' jab linked to competition for tourism

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Palace claims Thai paper's 'Land of COVID' jab linked to competition for tourism
In this undated file photo, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque gives a media briefing.
PCOO, file

MANILA, Philippines — After commenting on press freedom in Thailand, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Wednesday claimed without proof that a Thai newspaper article calling the Philippines 'land of COVID' may be related to "fierce" competition on tourism.

According to Thailand's Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the country had 39.7 million tourist arrivals in 2019. In contrast, 8.26 million tourists visited the Philippines last year, according to government data. 

The negative label, which has drawn the displeasure of the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok was in the headline of a report by newspaper Thai Rath on the arrival of 165 Filipino teachers in Thailand.

Last Monday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Filipinos should just understand the headline as Thai journalists are barred from criticizing a lot of people in their country.

Roque, however, thinks another factor may have motivated the release of the report.

"There is also no way we can control what our neighbors say. But do not forget that we are fierce competitors with Thailand when it comes to tourism. So I’m sure their statement that we are the 'Land of COVID' is also motivated by the fact that they are struggling to invite people to come visit Thailand again," the Palace spokesman told CNN Philippines.  

"And of course, they're worse off in so far as they have a bigger tourism industry than us. So that's the context by which we should listen to this comment coming from our ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors," he added.

According to an InterAksyon report the Thai Rath article was about the arrival of the Filipino teachers at Suvarnabhumi Airport on August 8 and was not health-related.

"The characterization is inappropriate, insensitive and unhelpful at a time when all of us, brothers and sisters in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), are closely cooperating to deal with the new and unforeseen challenges brought about by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic,' Consul General Val Simon Roque said in a letter to the Thai newspaper.

In a report on the arrival of foreign teachers, Khaosod English quotes Attapon Truektrong of the Private Education Commission as reassuring the public that "although the outbreak situation in the Philippines is severe, everyone will be thoroughly screened."

The Palace spokesman on Wednesday said ASEAN members are "the closest of friends" but are also "the closest competitors as far as economic interests are concerned."

"We're dealing with the exact same commodities and in the case of Thailand, it's tourism in particular," presidential spokesperson Roque said.

Despite the rising number of infections, he said insisted that the Philippines' situation is "still not bad."

"We’re still number 22 (in terms of pandemic cases), which is still not bad given that we don’t have the same resources available as the United States has. And we now have the highest testing being conducted in Southeast Asia," Roque said. 

The Philippines already has more than 143,000 coronavius disease cases, the highest in Southeast Asia.  

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