Duterte draws flak after saying frontliners ‘lucky to die’ for PH

Sofia Tomacruz
'It would be an honor to die for your country, I assure you,' says President Duterte of medical personnel who are now part of the mounting coronavirus death toll. Netizens say they died because of lack of government preparation.

BATTLING CORONAVIRUS. The National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City installs triage at the hospital's compound to evaluate and categorizate patients on March 29, 2020. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines –  President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn strong criticism for romanticizing the deaths of medical personnel on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak in the country when he said they were “lucky” to die in the service of the Philippines.

Duterte made the remark close to midnight on Monday, March 30, during a pre-recorded televised speech where he laid out the government’s latest response to pandemic.  

May mga doktor na, mga nurses, attendants, namatay. Sila ‘yung nasawi ang buhay para lang makatulong sa kapwa. Napakasuwerte nila. Namatay sila para sa bayan. Iyon ang dapat ang rason na bakit tayo mamatay,” Duterte said. 

(There are doctors, nurses, attendants who died. They were the ones who died helping others. They are so lucky. They died for the country. That should be the reason why we die.)

“It would be an honor to die for your country, I assure you,” he added. 

The Philippine Medical Association earlier said at least 12 doctors had died as of Sunday, March 29, as hospitals were overwhelmed and medics complained about the lack of protection for those on the front lines.  

The country’s top medical association warned that health workers were not getting enough protection and that hundreds of medical staff were in quarantine after exposure to coronavirus patients.  

The President’s remark quickly drew backlash online, with many users pointing out doctor’s deaths could have been avoided if the government prepared earlier for the outbreak. (READ: Left in the dark: Little protection for government’s coronavirus frontliners)

Since the Philippines reported its first case of the novel coronavirus in late January, Duterte repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus and rejected calls to impose a ban on the entry of travelers from China early on. The President had instead threatened to slap the virus and insisted there was “nothing really to be extra scared off.”  

Netizens took to social media express their anger and disappointment over the President’s midnight remarks.

“Don’t romanticize their sacrifice. They died because of the government’s incompetence…. They died because they were neglected. Worse, they were collateral damage,” said Twitter user  Rhussel Famy.  

Suwerte din ba ‘yung pamilya nilang hindi sila nakita man lang or nabigyan ng maayos na paalam (Are families who did not get to see them or give them a proper goodbye also lucky)? These people died ALONE. A lot of these deaths were preventable kung umaksyon lang kayo ng maaga (if only you acted earlier). They fought for the country but this inept government didn’t fight for them,” another Twitter user added. 

Health workers have also faced discrimination despite their service, with reports saying landlords and other indviduals shunned them over fears they carried the coronavirus. The Department of Health condemned these actions and urged the public to remember they were responsible for caring for the sick. 

Atin pong bigyan ng tamang pagpapahalaga at respeto ang ating health care workers na taos-pusong naglilingkod at nagsasakripisyo para proteksyunan ang buhay ng mamamayang Pilipino,” DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing on Sunday, March 29. 

(Let us give due respect to our health workers who whole-heartedly serve and sacrifice to protect the lives of Filipinos.)

As of Monday, the Philippines recorded 1,546 coronavirus cases, including 78 deaths and 42 recoveries. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com


Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.