MANILA, Aug 12 (Mabuhay) — Malacañang on Wednesday called for understanding over Thailand’s struggling tourism industry after a Thai newspaper branded the Philippines as “Land of Covid-19” (coronavirus disease 2019) in relation to the return of more than a hundred Filipino teachers there.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque acknowledged that there is no way to control what neighboring countries say but Filipinos should also take note of its “fierce” competition with Thailand in terms of tourism.

“That’s correct and I can’t deny it but there’s 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-19) is also motivated by the fact that they’re struggling to invite people to come to visit Thailand again and, of course, they’re worse of, in so far as they have a bigger tourism industry than us,” he said.

In 2019, the Philippines recorded eight million foreign tourists while Thailand recorded almost 40 million.

“That’s the context by which we should listen to these comments coming from our Asean neighbors. We are the closest of friends but we’re also the closest competitors as far as economic interests are concerned because we’re dealing with the exact same commodities and in the case of Thailand, it’s tourism in particular,” he added.

Roque, however, said it’s more important for people to know the “overall context” of the Covid-19 situation in the Philippines.

Earlier, the Department of Health (DOH) said the Philippines has the highest Covid-19 testing capacity in Southeast Asia.

As of August 4, the DOH said the country had an average of 28,938 tests per day in the past seven days, which is significantly higher than Indonesia’s 14,921 tests per day over the same period.

“I can’t really underscore how important testing is because it’s the only means by which we could detect those who are positive to enable us to trace, as well as to isolate them,” Roque said.

On Tuesday, he said the Thai headline should be considered as a part of the “free market of ideas,” especially because there is no freedom of press and expression in Thailand and their people could be easily sent to jail for criticizing their government.

“Sa tingin ko po, dahil marami silang hindi pupwedeng pulaan sa Thailand, pinulaan na lang nila tayo. Intindihin na lang po natin iyan. Tayo naman dito sa Pilipinas, alam natin ang kahalagahan ng malayang pananalita. Tanggapin na rin po natin iyan bilang input sa malayong merkado ng ideas (I think because there are many things they cannot criticize in Thailand, they opted to criticize us. Let’s try to understand the situation. Here in the Philippines, we know the value of free speech. Let’s accept this as an input on the free market of ideas),” Roque said.

The Philippine Embassy in Bangkok sent a letter to the editor of the newspaper to express dissatisfaction over the “inappropriate, insensitive, and unhelpful” headline at a time where Southeast Asian nations are cooperating to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The Philippines has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the Asean, with 139,638 confirmed infections, of which 2,293 are deaths as of Tuesday.

Thailand has reported no new Covid-19 cases since Tuesday. Its total number of cases remains at 3,351, of which 58 are deaths.(MNS)

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