Malacañang said competing for tourists was what drove a newspaper from Thailand to brand the Philippines as the “Land of COVID-19.”

According to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, the Philippines and Thailand are “fierce” competitors in the tourism sector, with the latter struggling to attract tourists due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“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 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,” Roque said on Thursday, August 13 in an interview over CNN Philippines’ The Source.

Last year, the Philippines attracted eight million foreign tourists, while Thailand attracted almost 40 million foreign tourists.

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

Roque earlier called for understanding over the newspaper’s headline, pointing out Thailand’s lack of press freedom.

“Wala po kasing kalayaan ng malayang pamamahayag at pananalita dyan sa Thailand. ‘Pag pinulaan mo yung hari, pupuwede kang makulong. Sa tingin ko po, dahil marami silang hindi pupuwedeng pulaan sa Thailand, pinulaan na lang nila tayo (There’s no freedom of the press and of speech in Thailand. If you criticize their king, you may be put in jail. In my opinion, since they cannot criticize Thailand, they just opted to criticize us),” Roque said.

“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 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),” he added.

The headline calling the Philippines “Land of COVID-19” was in relation to the return of more than a hundred Filipino teachers there.

As of writing, there are 147,526 COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, with 2,426 fatalities and 70,387 recoveries. Meanwhile, Thailand currently has 3,359 cases, with 58 deaths.

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