THE Philippines may have underreported the number of deaths caused by COVID-19, the Commission on Population and Development (Popcom) said. 

From the figures given by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released last August 13, the number of Filipinos who died in 2021 was the highest ever at almost 880,000 (879,429). 

This is higher than the deaths reported in 2020 at 613,936. 2020 is the year when COVID occurred in the country, and yet the difference in deaths between 2020 and 2021 was 265,493, or a staggering 43 percent of the total. 

In 2019, the PSA’s annual report on causes of death was even higher than in 2020 at 620,414. But this is within the annual death rate of the Philippines which is from one to five percent. 

But the number of deaths in 2021 was way above normal. If 1,700 Filipinos died daily in 2019, in 2021 there were 2,700 daily deaths reported, or an additional 1,000 a day. 

In the Cordillera, there were 8,478 deaths reported in 2020. But in 2021, the number of deaths in the region jumped to 13,241. 

This is a lofty jump of 36 percent or an increase of 4,763. 

Assuming that there is a five percent increase in deaths, that would just be 424 more deaths supposedly in 2021, not 4,763. And the “normal” number of deaths supposedly would be 8,902, not 13,241.

Benguet province has the biggest mortality increase, even higher than neighboring Baguio. 

In 2020, Benguet registered 1,756 deaths at the place of occurrence (where the person died) and 2,036 at the usual residence (the place where the person habitually or permanently resides). 

But in 2020, deaths at usual residences for Benguet increased by 3,326, or an increase of 38 percent. 

For Baguio, the number of deaths by usual occurrence in 2020 was 1,741 (it has a higher number of deaths by place of occurrence at 2,258 because most of the hospitals are located here). 

In 2021, it rose to 2,670, or an increase of 34.8 percent. 

Most of the deaths in Baguio occurred in September (365) and October (353). April, May, July, and August also registered deaths in the city at more than 200 in 2021. 

For Benguet, most of the deaths in 2021 also occurred in September (508) and October (496). The months of March, April, May, July, August, November, and December registered more than 200 deaths in 2021. 

POPCOM observed that regularly, “in normal years,” the rise in the number of deaths is only at around one to five percent.

For 2021, the crude death rate (CDR) – the ratio of the number of deaths occurring within one year to the mid-year population expressed per 1,000 population, as defined by the PSA – was estimated by POPCOM at 8.02 per thousand Filipinos, which is a sharp rise from the rate of 5.6 per thousand in 2020.

“It took 20 years for the CDR to go up by one per thousand from 2000 when it was 4.8, to 2019 when it climbed to 5.8,” noted Undersecretary for Population and Development Juan Antonio Perez III, MD, MPH, POPCOM’s executive director. 

“The last time the country had a CDR that high was in 1958 when it was at 8.4 per 1,000 population.” 

According to Perez, in September 2021, almost 4,000 Filipinos died every day. 

Not surprisingly, POPCOM points to COVID as the major cause of the increase. 

POPCOM adopted the US-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s use of excess mortalities or excess deaths to measure the impact of COVID on the country. 

Excess mortality is defined as the difference between expected numbers of deaths based on a mortality schedule in a given period and the actual deaths in the same period. 

As of May 21, 2022, registered deaths due to COVID-19 by the Department of Health accounted for a total of 10,226 deaths, or 6.5 percent of the total registered deaths from January to April 2022, according to the PSA. 

For almost 2.5 years since January 2020, there have been 146,137 COVID-associated mortalities all over the country, Perez said. 

In the Cordillera, the official total number of deaths caused by COVID as of September 8, 2022, was 2,691, according to the DOH-Cordillera. This is from March 2020 till September 2022. 

But if we go by the excess deaths in the Cordillera, it would be 4,339 (the actual difference in deaths minus the average or 4,763 minus 424). 

DOH-Cordillera said that the official number of deaths caused by COVID in Baguio is 887 while that of Benguet is 908. 

“Many of the diseases that caused increased mortality are preventable at the primary level of care, but the health system was not flexible enough to treat and care for both COVID and non-COVID patients,” Dr. Perez inferred.

 “On the other hand, the decrease in cancer-related deaths was most likely due to the lack of tertiary level of diagnostic and therapeutic care, as COVID cases crowded out actual and undiagnosed cancer patients.” – Frank Cimatu