Thai newspaper’s ‘Land of COVID-19’ tag vs. PH part of ‘free market of ideas’, says Roque

A Thai newspaper took a potshot at the Philippine' coronavirus situation since it cannot criticize its own due to restrictions in media freedom, according to a Palace official.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque tried to understand Thailand’s situation after one of its local newspaper headlines reportedly branded the Philippines as the "Land of COVID-19."

"Wala kasi talagang kalayaan ng malayang pamamahayag at pananalita diyan sa Thailand. Pag pinulaan mo yung hari, pupuwede kang makulong (There is no freedom of the press and expression in Thailand. If you criticize the King, you can be sent to jail)," he said in a televised press briefing Tuesday. 

"Sa tingin ko po, dahil marami silang hindi pupuwedeng pulaan sa Thailand, pinulaan na lang nila tayo (I think because there are many things they cannot criticize in Thailand, they opted to criticize us)," he said.

Instead of protesting the newspaper headline about the Philippines, Roque called for understanding over the situation in Thailand. Given the Philippines' vibrant democracy, Roque said the Thai headline should be simply be considered as part of the "free market of ideas."

"Intindihin na lang po natin ‘yan. Tayo naman dito sa Pilipinas, alam natin ang kahalagahan ng malayang pananalita. Tanggapin na lang po natin yan bilang input sa malayang merkado ng ideas (Let's just understand them. We in the Philippines know the importance of freedom of expression. Let's accept that as an input to the free market of ideas)," he said.

The Thai Rath newspaper recently published a story calling the Philippines as "land of COVID-19" in relation to the return of over a hundred Filipino teachers there.

An official of the Philippine embassy in Bangkok sent a letter to the editor of the newspaper to express "deep dissatisfaction" over the characterization of the Philippines in its headline.

In a letter posted on the embassy's Facebook page, Val Simon Roque, consul general, said the characterization was "inappropriate, insensitive and unhelpful" at a time when Southeast Asian nations are cooperating in the battle against the pandemic. He also gave an assurance that Filipinos returning to Thailand follow the health and quarantine protocols enforced by the royal government.

On Monday, the Philippines saw its highest single day surge in coronavirus cases with 6,958. The country's total cases of infections soared to 136,638, the highest among Southeast Asian nations.

Thailand, on the other hand, has recorded fewer cases compared to other nations. It currently has 3,351 cases with 58 deaths based on the global tracking made by Johns Hopkins University.