Argumentum ad Lazarum

“Hindi tayo mayaman.”

So goes the argument of President Rodrigo Duterte in defending the government’s lackluster response to COVID-19 during his recorded message to the Filipino people last February 1, 2021. According to Mr. Duterte, the Philippines can only do as much because the country is poor. But should poverty be an excuse?

Based on 2017 data, the nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of the Philippines is $314 billion. It is almost the same as Malaysia with $315 B and close to a $100 B higher than Bangladesh. Both the Philippines and Malaysia are considered to be Developing Economies while Bangladesh is considered as a Least Developed Country. In a sense, the Philippines is not dirt-poor but is a middle class country courtesy of the economic fundamentals set by the administrations of Gloria Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino.

There is not much difference between Bangladesh and the Philippines in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases. The Philippines has 557,058 cases while Bangladesh has 543,351. Malaysia has 277,811. The only difference is that Bangladesh, the poorest of the three countries, has started inoculation has started vaccination. As of this writing, Bangladesh was already able to roll out 2.08 Million doses.

Bangladesh is not the only poor country that was able to control COVID-19. Below are the 15 countries considered to be COVID-19 free as of January 2021 almost all of which are poorer than the Philippines if the GDP is considered as the indicator of development. Three of these countries — Saint Helena, Palau and Micronesia — even started inoculating their citizens.

  • Tuvalu (GDP = $40 M)
  • Turkmenistan (GDP = $37.93 B)
  • Tonga (GDP = $428 M)
  • Tokelau
  • Saint Helena
  • Samoa (GDP = $841 M)
  • Pitcairn Islands
  • Palau (GDP = $290 M)
  • North Korea
  • Niue
  • Nauru
  • Kiribati (GDP = $186 M)
  • Micronesia (GDP = $336M)
  • Cook Islands
  • American Samoa (GDP = $634M)

So why would Mr. Duterte resort to the fallacy of argumentum ad lazarum? Two words — “Interests”, and “incompetency”.

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