Duterte coronavirus effort undermined by simplification, drama - expert

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 07 2020 11:21 AM | Updated as of Oct 07 2020 11:46 AM

President Rodrigo Duterte presides over a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members in Davao City on Sept. 21, 2020. Presidential Photo/File

MANILA— Efforts to curb the novel coronavirus in the Philippines are undermined by President Rodrigo Duterte's simplification and dramatization of the crisis, an expert said Wednesday.

Discussing his study on Duterte's pandemic response, Dr. Gideon Lasco, senior lecturer at the University of the Philippines Diliman's department of anthropology, said Duterte employed a political style called medical populism often used in health emergencies.

"Leaders tend to dramatize their responses to the pandemic to show they are in command, to show they are doing something about it," he told ANC's "Matters of Fact."

To illustrate his point, he said the septuagenarian president offered "common sense" solutions or quick fixes to a complex problem.

In his study published in the international journal "Global Public Health," Lasco wrote that Duterte was quick to simplify and downplay the pandemic, imposing a delayed ban on Hubei province in China where the virus originated.

Lasco also noted that the President and his allies dramatized their response to the crisis by using colorful language and imagery of war, threatening to use force and deploying police and military against the virus.

In response to Lasco's study, the Palace earlier said Duterte and the pandemic task force were guided by science and data.

"The Duterte administration has put in place concrete interventions to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which includes ramping up the country’s testing capacity, enhancing contact tracing efforts, and scaling up of local health system capacity, especially for community isolation and critical care," his spokesman Harry Roque had said.

Lasco, also a physician, said Duterte had made unscientific claims about the pandemic and touted a potential vaccine against COVID-19.

Duterte earlier told Filipinos that they could use gasoline to disinfect face masks, which prompted the Department of Health (DOH) to say the President was being playful.

In a time where all hands should be on deck, the President had forged division, pitting the public against others deemed as a public health threat, Lasco said.

Duterte had criticized his political opponents and mostly-poor pasaway while his allies blamed leftist groups and street protesters.

"When you focus on shutting down a network or going after critics in a time when you need input from different sectors of society for a common response, it's not useful. It's not helping our country," he said.

As Duterte continues to enjoy high approval ratings from the public despite criticism on his handling of the pandemic, Lasco urged the President to use his political capital to build a response based on consensus from different experts.

"We can't be a country where these very important decisions involving life and death is done at the caprice of one man," he said.

"We have so many experts who can contribute to a much better response. It's time to tap them."

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