The Philippines cried foul on Monday, August 10, over a Thai newspaper headline saying Filipino teachers had arrived in Bangkok from "the land of COVID-19."
The Thai headline on Sunday, August 9, came as the Philippines overtook Indonesia on Thursday, August 6, as the country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia. Thailand is one of the countries touted as models in handling COVID-19.
"The Philippine embassy wishes to express its deep dissatisfaction over the characterization in the headline of the Philippines in relation to the return of the teachers," Philippine Consul General to Bangkok Val Simon Roque said in an open letter to the newspaper's editor in chief.
"The characterization is inappropriate, insensitive, and unhelpful at a time when all of us, brothers and sisters in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), are closely cooperating to deal with the new and unforeseen challenges brought about by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic," Consul General Roque added.
The Philippine embassy was reacting to the headline of Thai Rath, a local newspaper, that reportedly branded the Philippines as the land of COVID-19.
The newspaper's original headline was in Thai, but Rappler consulted a Thai journalist who confirmed that the headline refers to 165 Filipino teachers who arrived in Thailand from "the land of COVID-19." Richard Barrow, a British expat living in Thailand for the past two decades, also said on his verified Twitter account, "Why do they need to insinuate that they come from the 'land of COVID-19'?"
Human rights advocates have warned against the rise of xenophobia, or racial discrimination, against people of countries with rising cases of COVID-19.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.