MANILA, Philippines – It was fake news but probably unintended and either a result of carelessness or misunderstanding.
Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial on Monday, June 19, belied news reports that 59 displaced Marawi residents affected by the ongoing war in the Lanao del Sur capital had died in evacuation centers.
The DOH chief said she was misheard by a journalist who asked her during a press conference in Legazpi City in Albay last June 15 about the death toll among Marawi evacuees.
At first, the DOJ chief was asked by reporters on how many had died among the displaced residents. Ubial replied that there had been 19.
Then she said another journalist asked her if it was true that there were four who had died because of dehydration. Ubial confirmed the figure but the DOH chief said the journalist misheard her and thought that an additional 40 had died.
Thus, when the news about the fatalities of Marawi evacuees came out last week based on the said interview with Ubial, many reported that 59 died because the journalists added the 19 and the supposedly 40 deaths.
“I was attending the Asean Dengue Day. Nagkaroon po ng presscon at nagtanong po ang mga taga media kung ilan na po ang casualty or death sa ating mga evacuation centers. Sinabi ko po, 19, one, nine,” Ubial said in an interview with dzMM radio.
“Tapos may isang taga media, di ko na ho sasabihin kung sino, nagtanong, ‘Ma’am, meron pong nababalitang apat na namatay dahil sa dehydration?’…Sabi ko, ‘Opo, may apat na po,'” said Ubial.
“Akala n’ya apatnapu, forty. So dinagdag ‘yong 19 tsaka ‘yong 40, naging 59. Pero hindi ‘yon nanggaling sa akin, ‘yong apatnapu,” the DOH chief added.
She clarified that as of June 15, only 19 and not 59 Marawi evacuees had died.
Most of them were already sick, including those suffering from cancer and undergoing dialysis, even before they fled war-torn Marawi, Ubial said. “Karamihan po do’n…eh may sakit na…katulad ng cancer, ‘yong mga dina-dialysis.”
The death toll increased to 24 as of Sunday, June 18, according to the DOH chief.
“‘(Y)ong karagdagang lima ngayon iniinmbestigan pa ho. Kasi may narinig kaming isang prematurity, isang pneumonia at ilang dehydration ulit,” said Ubial.
[We are still finding out the cause of death of the additional five fatalities. We received reports than an infant died because of prematurity, another one died due to pneumonia, and again, some cases of dehydration.]
The DOH chief further clarified that all 24 displaced Marawi residents died — not in evacuation centers — but in hospitals. “Pero lahat po ito, ‘yong 24 na sinasabi namin ay namatay po sa ospital, hindi po sa evacuation center.”
“Kasi meron pong standing order po ‘yong ating mga health personnel na pag may sakit na, huwag nang antaying lalala at iderecho na agad sa mga ospital [Because there’s a standing order among our health personnel that they should immediately bring sick persons to hospitals and no longer wait for their illnesses to worsen.]