Manila – Many anxious Filipinos are questioning their President’s sense of urgency in addressing the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) situation in the country. It took Mr Rodrigo Duterte four days after the country’s first confirmed case to make an official statement on the epidemic, according to a report in straitstimes.com on Sunday (Feb 9).
The delay may be due to the close diplomatic ties between China and the Philippines. Furthermore, his response was not what the nation expected. He advised everyone not to be “hysterical” because the outbreak would surely pass.
Filipinos have called on the government to ban all Chinese from entering the country. “If the question is, if I will bar Chinese from entering, the answer, of course, is no. That is an utter disrespect to a human being … This mentioning (of) the Chinese and blaming them is xenophobia,” said Mr Duterte at a press conference on Feb 3. “Stop this xenophobia thing,” he added.
Mr Duterte took office in 2016 and since then China has become the most significant trading partner of the Philippines. Most of the support for his US$180 billion (S$250 billion) infrastructure building programme has come from Beijing.
There are at least 200,000 Chinese nationals currently employed in the major cities of Metro Manila. Mr Duterte loosened visa restrictions in 2018. The increase of Chinese tourists and investors, alongside those entering the country to work, is the main reason for the calls being made to the government to bar all Chinese entries at this time.
In addition, there is a shortage of face masks in the country. So the announcement by a Philippine senator that US$1.4 million (S$1.9 million) worth of face masks would be sent to Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, did not help the situation.
The anxiety of Filipinos, fuelled by their leader’s response, could be felt online with the #oustduterte quickly gaining popularity in Twitter.
Twitter user @C35dgs even used Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Feb 8 statement on the novel coronavirus as an example of how a leader should handle the situation.
“This is how you talk to your people,” wrote the netizen. “Educate and alleviate fear. Walang pagyayabang, walang pagmumura (No showing off, no curses). We all need this kind of leader but do we deserve one?” questioned the netizen. “That depends on who you vote for.”
To date, there has been one confirmed death linked to the novel coronavirus in the Philippines, while another has recovered from the same. The patients involved were Chinese tourists who travelled together, a 44-year-old man from Wuhan and a 38-year-old woman, respectively. There is another case reported in the country of a 60-year-old woman also from Wuhan who tested positive for the virus before leaving the country.
Over 200 more cases are being monitored for possible exposure to the virus due to contact with confirmed cases. /TISG