Sleeping on the job
"What is the IATF doing about officials violating health protocol?"
Last week, a group of concerned residents from Puerto Princesa in Palawan filed a series of complaints against their own mayor and three other public officials before the Office of the Ombudsman for violating COVID-19 health protocols.
Puerto Princesa’s concerned residents filed cases of gross neglect of duty, grave misconduct, violations of the Bayanihan Act, and open disobedience under Article 231 of the Revised Penal Code against Mayor Lucillo Bayron, Judith Bayron (chairman of the event’s executive committee), Dean Palanca (head of Puerto Princesa Incident Monitoring Team), and Games and Amusement Board chair Abraham Mitra, for approving the conduct of Balayong Fun Ride and Acacia Tunnel Lighting event last May 7.
Mitra was included in the charged sheet for violating minimum health protocols for not wearing a mask during the event. He eventually tested positive for COVID-19 a week after the event.
The complainants alleged the two events, which were attended by more than 1,300 participants, resulted in the surge of COVID-19 cases in Puerto Princesa and neighboring towns.
The event happened a few weeks earlier the Inter-Agency Task Force placed various critical zones in the city and neighboring areas under Enhanced Community Quarantine and Modified Enhance Community Quarantine on February 19.
“One year after the issuance of Proclamation No. 922 or the declaration of State of Public Health Emergency, while the COVID-19 infections had been on the rise, the city government of Puerto Princesa held the Balayong Fun Ride and Acacia Tunnel Lighting event on March 7, 2021, attended by not less than 1,300 bikers and hundreds of onlookers,” the complainants said.
The complaints further added that the Palawan officials violated the Omnibus Guidelines on the Implementation of Community Quarantine in the Philippines issued by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte.
According to OCTA Research, the capital city of Palawan has been grappling with the surge of COVID-19 cases since March, with as high as a 75 percent increase. The city was placed under the stricter Enhanced Community Quarantine from June 1 to June 15.
Now the question: If the allegations constitute violations of IATF health protocols, then isn’t it the IATF, particularly the Department of Interior and Local Government which should have filed the cases against these public officials?
Unfortunately, more than a year since the IATF was created to attend to concerns regarding the pandemic, we have yet to hear public officials having been made to answer for violations of the health protocols.
Around last week, three members of the House of Representatives called for an investigation into a COVID-19 “superspreader event” in Quezon City that involved over 6,000 residents who were “recklessly” asked to assemble for the handout of food packs.
In House Resolution 1884, Representatives Michael Defensor (Anakalusugan), Rodante Marcoleta (SAGIP), and Anthony Peter Crisologo (Quezon City) called on the appropriate House committee to probe the incident in Barangay Matandang Balara that sparked the rapid spread of new COVID-19 cases and the lockdown of whole neighborhoods.
“It was a mess. The event organizers did not even bother to get the names, addresses and contact details of the attendees, so the authorities are now at a loss as to how to carry out any contact tracing,” was how Defensor described the event.
The affair has since caused COVID-19 cases in the barangay to surge to 197 in less than a week, forcing officials to quarantine thousands of residents and shut down six streets.
Preliminary reports indicate that at least 73 residents who attended the event sponsored by a city councilor have since contracted the highly contagious respiratory disease.
While Defensor says they are supportive of the distribution of food supplies to residents, they should “preferably be given out to families door-to-door. Officials should avoid asking people to congregate all together in one place,” as unnecessary large gatherings are potential superspreading events.
Now, what has the DILG done so far? Just like what it has been doing before – Investigate the event.
Last year, at the height of the pandemic, pictures of a crowded Balintawak Market went viral, but none was made to answer. Senator Koko Pimentel accompanied his wife to the Makati Medical Center even as he was awaiting results of his swab test, which eventually turned out positive, endangering the lives of the doctors of said hospital, but no charges were filed by the IATF. It took a brave lawyer, Rico Quicho to initiate such, although unfortunately, it was dismissed.
About a few weeks ago, actress Angel Locsin hosted a superspreader event to mark her birthday. Reports say scores turned out COVID-19 positive and a senior citizen even died as he lined up for a bag of goodies as early as dawn. Except for reports that an investigation was being conducted, we haven’t heard anything about any charges being filed.
So, do we delegate such actions to some concerned residents, to courageous lawyers like Quicho and lawmakers like Defensor, Marcoleta, and Crisologo? What then is the use of formulating those health protocols if the IATF cannot effectively implement or prosecute those who violate them?
Tutulog-tulog sa pansitan.