By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE PRESIDENTIAL Palace on Monday touted its “excellent” response to the coronavirus pandemic, a year after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic.

Presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said the government had managed to control the virus compared with richer nations such as the United States, where half-a-million people have died.

“We were excellent,” he told a televised news briefing. “We controlled the spread of the disease unlike richer nations that have more and advanced hospitals,” he said in Filipino.

The coronavirus has killed more than 12,000 Filipinos. It also forced the government to lock down many areas, leading to the shutdown of many companies that had to lay off some of its workers.

Last year, the Philippines fell to its worst recession since World War II as economic output shrank by 9.5%.

“The fact that we are still under a general community quarantine shows the failed pandemic response,” Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“We have the longest quarantine. We have the longest school closures. We have the worst drop in gross domestic product. We are the last ASEAN country to receive a vaccine. How is that excellent?”

Former Social Welfare Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo said the Duterte administration “excelled” in militarizing a public health issue.

More than 120,000 violators of quarantine protocols were arrested in the Philippines amid what was considered as the strictest and longest lockdown in Southeast Asia, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last year.

The list included aid distributors, jeepney drivers, rallyists and other sectors critical of the slow delivery of social services during the pandemic.

Several countries including the Philippines have used the pandemic to harass journalists, opposition activists, health workers and “anyone else who dares to criticize the official response to the coronavirus,” according to Human Rights Watch.

Ms. Taguiwalo said the government had also delayed and limited assistance to the poor.

Based on the survey involving 1,032 people living in Southeast Asia, 53.7% of Filipino respondents thumbed down the government’s handling of the health crisis, making them the most dissatisfied of their government’s pandemic response.

The government was also “excellent” in prioritizing “VIPs in mass testing and vaccination and in describing the prolonged lockdown as vacation time for the people,” Ms. Taguiwalo said.

Ramon T. Tulfo, Jr., the country’s special envoy to China, earlier said he and other high-ranking government officials had been injected last year with an unapproved vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm Biotech Group.

“We were excellent in managing it,” Mr. Roque said. “Unfortunately, in the absence of a vaccine, many will really get infected and some will die,” he added in Filipino.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte earlier said Manila was having difficulty getting more vaccine supplies, citing problems in the global supply chain. Countries that can pay more were being prioritized by drug makers, he said.

With a GDP (gross domestic product) per capita of $9,471, the Philippines ranked 76th in the list of poorest countries in the world in 2020.

But poorer nations such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Còte d’Ivoire, with a GDP per capita of  $5,028, $4,664 and $4,457, respectively, got their vaccines before the Philippines, according to the website Our World in Data.