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Duterte mistakes pandemics as ‘once in a century’ occurrences

President Duterte's June 30 address where he erroneously says pandemics occur once in a century

Like his acting economic planning secretary, President Rodrigo Duterte wrongly thinks that pandemics happen only “once in a century.”

The president made the flawed claim in his June 30 late-night televised public address on the coronavirus disease COVID-19.

He said:

Eh itong COVID na ito kaya nga pandemic eh nobody but nobody dito sa mundong ito was really or were prepared for it. Iyang pandemic it comes about once in a century. Kaya walang hospital na maggawa ka ng limang hospital in anticipation of the next. Hindi ganoon ‘yan eh
(That’s why this COVID is a pandemic. Nobody but nobody in this world was really or were really prepared for it. That pandemic, it comes about once in a century. That’s why you can’t build a hospital, five hospitals, in anticipation of the next. It isn’t like that).

Acting Economic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua on April 22 used the same phrase, “once in a century,” to describe the coronavirus infection. He said the last pandemic was the 1920 Spanish flu.

FactRakers reported April 24 that there have been seven pandemics in the last century, including two in the 21st century.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2, there were four influenza or flu pandemics: the 1918-20 Spanish flu transmitted by the H1N1 virus, 1957-58 Asian flu (H2N2), 1968-69 Hong Kong flu (H3N2) and the 2009-10 swine flu (H1N1pdm09).

The other pandemics are the HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) epidemic that started in 1981 and reached pandemic proportions years ago, and the “longest running” pandemic since 1961: cholera.

A total 10,185,374 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 503,862 deaths were recorded globally as of June 30, data from the World Health Organization suggest.

On the day of Duterte’s latest address, the Philippines reported 37,514 infections and 1,266 deaths.

The president was right when said in his June 30 recorded address that he immediately convened the Interagency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID):

Me, here, I immediately convened the IATF. Right there and then we organized ourselves into a body, a working body, to deal with the problem.

The task force met on Jan. 28, a day after WHO officials urged countries to focus on their readiness on detecting cases and preventing the further spread of the virus.

In early February, however, Duterte was still downplaying the seriousness of the situation. On Feb. 3, he told journalists after a briefing on SARS-CoV-2, then still known as the 2019 novel coronavirus:

There is nothing really to be extra scared of that coronavirus thing although it has affected a lot of countries but in… You know one or two in any country is not really that fearsome.

Duterte also incorrectly predicted at the time that the virus would “die a natural death” even without vaccines:

Kagaya ng (Like) SARS, I assure you even without the vaccines it will just die a natural death… May mga ganun (Some viruses are like that) but it will die a natural death. Ito matatapos rin ito (This will also end).

Duterte imposed a community quarantine in Metro Manila and Luzon in mid-March and asked Congress to grant him for emergency powers to address the pandemic. He signed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act on March 24.


FactRakers. (2020, April 24). Coronavirus pandemic is not a ‘once-in-a-century problem.’ Retrieved from

Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolutions. (2020, January 28). Resolution No. 01, s 2020. Recommendations for the management of novel coronavirus situation. Retrieved from

Media interview of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte following the briefing on the 2019 novel coronavirus – acute respiratory disease. (2020, February 3). Retrieved from

Talk to the people of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2020, June 30). Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2020, June 30). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation report 162. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2020, June 29). Timeline of WHO’s response to COVID-19. Retrieved from


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