In Asean, Pinoys least satisfied with gov’t response to COVID-19 crisis
A survey of Southeast Asians has found that the threat from COVID-19 is their most “pressing concern” and that of the 10 countries polled on how the pandemic has been managed, the Philippines has gotten the lowest approval from its citizens.
Of all governments in the member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the Philippines also ranked last in satisfaction of its citizens with the official response to COVID-19, according to the poll taken by the Asean Studies Centre in Singapore.
Results of “The State of Southeast Asia: 2021” survey showed that 53.7 percent of Filipino respondents “disapproved” of and “strongly disapproved” the Duterte administration’s handling of the pandemic.
Most pressing concern
“Southeast Asia is preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery process,” said the Feb. 10 survey report. “The threat to health from COVID-19 (76.0 percent) is currently the region’s most pressing concern, followed by unemployment and economic recession (63.0 percent) and the socioeconomic gaps and income disparity (40.7 percent).”
“Terrorism is ranked last (5.2 percent), after deteriorating human rights conditions (12.6 percent),” it said.
The study polled 1,032 respondents from all Asean member-states through an online survey conducted from Nov. 18, 2020, to Jan. 10, 2021. The regional bloc groups the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said he was unaware of the regional survey, but was quick to point out that local polls gave high ratings to President Duterte’s COVID-19 response.
“What I do know are surveys conducted by Pulse Asia and [Philippine Survey and Research Center] and … in one survey, nine out of 10 support the COVID initiatives of the President. In another study, it’s eight out of 10—and that’s a fact,” Roque said in a press briefing.
He said Malacañang could not publicly disclose details of those surveys because it did not have proprietary rights to them.
In the Asean survey, 17.9 percent of Filipinos “strongly disapproved” and 35.8 percent “disapproved” of the government’s pandemic response. Only 6 percent “strongly approved” and 19.4 percent “approved” of it.
Vietnam had the highest approval rating (“approve” plus “strongly approve”) with 96.6 percent, followed by Brunei with 93.9 percent, and Singapore, 92.4 percent.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, an ally of the President, on Thursday dismissed the poll, saying it was “not a scientific survey” and that its respondents were a preselected group of people.
“It does not reflect the sentiment of the man and woman on the street. So, the way it is portrayed as if it were similar to say, surveys for overall public approval ratings, mischaracterizes what the survey tries to do,” he said in a statement.
“In other words, when you politicize something that isn’t meant to be so, you’re going to get it wrong,” he added.
According to Salceda, “there is no point in fixating on approval ratings,” saying that “outcomes are better than perceptions.”
“COVID-19 is a health problem with economic consequences. It’s not a public relations problem,” he said.
The Asean Studies Centre said the survey, its third consecutive poll, was intended “to capture the views and perspectives of opinion-makers, policymakers and thought-leaders in the region,” referring to its respondents from academia, business and finance, government, civil society and media, and regional and international organizations.
“While it is not meant to present the definitive Southeast Asian view of current affairs, the survey acts as a barometer of the general attitudes and perceptions of interested stakeholders on important regional developments,” it said.
The Filipinos were also polled on “what should your government do to better address COVID-19.”
A majority, or 72.2 percent, said the Duterte administration must “encourage more scientists and medical doctors to contribute to public policy discussions and heed their advice.”
Also, 58.3 percent of Filipinos believed that the government should “invest in early warning systems for pandemic outbreak and on research and development for virus testing and vaccine development.”
The survey said 33.3 percent of the Filipino respondents thought that the government should “offer better financial relief and subsidies to citizens impacted economically by COVID-19.”
The response that got the lowest votes from Filipinos (5.6 percent) was the implementation of public health measures, such as social distancing and mask wearing.
This was in contrast to an earlier study by the local OCTA Research Group, which found that Filipinos were highly compliant with the minimum public health and safety measures to avoid spreading the virus.
Reacting to the poll, the Department of Health (DOH) said in a statement that it recognized “the sentiments expressed in the findings of the survey and values the voice of the Filipinos.”
It, however, stressed that the response to the pandemic is not dependent on the government measures alone.
“The government’s response is only as good as the institutions [that] implement it, and the people who comply with it—every Filipino, every family, and every community has the ability and responsibility to contribute [to] national healing,” it said.
“The DOH, together with the rest of the government, continues to take steps [to improve] our health system and [ensure] its responsiveness to the health needs of every Filipino,” it said, adding that the department’s policies are guided by many experts and advisory panels.
Dr. Anthony Leachon, a former adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, said the survey respondents had a “holistic view of the situation” and their opinions showed that the pandemic was “mismanaged.”
“We have [the] longest lockdown in the world, our vaccination program is delayed and we are stuck at 1,700 [infections] a day for the past months with an increasing case fatality rate on a daily basis,” he said. —WITH A REPORT FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA
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