‘False alarm’: Palace causes confusion on Leyte blast ‘death toll’

Pia Ranada
‘False alarm’: Palace causes confusion on Leyte blast ‘death toll’
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella quotes Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo in claiming 10 died at the Leyte blast. Taguiwalo says the information she forwarded to the Cabinet official 'was unofficial.'

MANILA, Philippines – Another case of miscommunication in the midst of a crisis?

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella apparently used unverified figures in an official Palace statement on the number of reported deaths from the explosion that rocked Hilongos town in Leyte on Wednesday night, December 29.

In a message sent to reporters at 1 am on Thursday, Abella claimed 10 died in the blast, quoting Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.

The claim even came in the form of an erratum included at the end of his message, which was also posted on the PTV4 Facebook page on Thursday morning but taken down later.

The full message is as follows: “Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella on Leyte bombing: 

As of the moment, initial but unofficial news feed state that there were no intel reports of bomb threats, nor has anybody claimed responsibility for the bombing. 

While 27 have been reported injured, no deaths have been reported.

An IED has been reportedly discovered and attempts are under way to diffuse it. 

ERRATUM: 10 HAVE BEEN REPORTED DEAD

 20 reported injured. 

According to Sec Judy T.”

But later Thursday morning, Rappler learned from Taguiwalo that her information was prematurely given and incorrect.

“The info sent to me last night and forwarded to Spox Abella was unofficial,” said Taguiwalo through a text message. Taguiwalo also apologized for the error during a briefing at the Palace on Thursday. 

The report on 10 deaths, which came from Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Region 8 office, turned out to be a “false alarm.”

Update po sa bombing incident sa Hilongos Plaza. False alarm po ang earlier reported na 10 persons (An update on the bombing incident in Hilongos Plaza. The earlier reported deaths of 10 persons is a false alarm),” read a text message to Taguiwalo from DSWD Region 8 personnel.

According to DSWD Region 8, there have been no deaths from the blast so far though 33 were injured. Twenty-three of the wounded are at Hilongos Hospital while 10 are at the Baptist Hospital.

The PNP Regional Command identified 32 of the injured. They are:

  1. John Reynal Lamo, 15
  2. Vicente Nunez, 24
  3. Jessica Geli, 19
  4. Ricardo Regaton , 53
  5. Jun Rey Lumbre, 20
  6. Aldrin Goltiano, 19
  7. Joseph Ryan Bohol, 24
  8. Domingo Oliva, 60
  9. Kevin Manicar, 13
  10. Cristita Ano-Os, 47
  11. Jay Miguel Liba, 15
  12. Christian Lelis, 14
  13. Letecia Liba, 55
  14. Erwin Liba, 33
  15. Rudy Bulfa, 33
  16. Giselle Managbanag, 25
  17. Elmer Rebullos, 27
  18. King Michael Melgazo, 15
  19. Leonilo Villaro, 28
  20. Doroteo Libres, 50
  21. Roselyn Lasmarias, 42
  22. Wilbert Fornis Alingasa, 14
  23. Guillermo Solera
  24. Rogelio Managbanag, 26
  25. Idinio Abes, 31
  26. Marnilo Macarat Lusuegro
  27. Marcelina Abina, 67
  28. Joel Mamalak, 14
  29. Mary Grace Judias, 20
  30. Christian Prado Liba, 12
  31. Chris Angel Abina, 7
  32. Jessie Abina, 32

Rappler called 3 Palace spokespersons for their statement on the use of unverified figures in an official statement. However, none of the spokespersons could be reached as of posting.

Palace statements, and the statistics they cite, are taken as official government statements. It is not clear how unverified reports were included in Abella’s statement on the Leyte explosion.

This is not the first time misinformation bungled Palace communications during an emergency situation.

In the hours right after the Davao City bombing last September, Palace officials gave contradicting information on the coverage of the state of lawlessness declared by President Rodrigo Duterte, whether it covered Mindanao or the whole country. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.