BAGUIO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora earned the ire of Baguio’s netizens after word spread that he and his entourage ignored the city’s strict border control and triage system and proceeded to the Baguio Country Club (BCC).
The border control and triage are part of health measures implemented by the Baguio city government to control the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong confirmed on Sunday, June 7, the breach of protocol. (READ: Baguio mayor seeks reclassification of city’s community quarantine)
“There is utmost need to re-assert the policy position of the City Government, that no one, regardless of rank and position, is exempted from the established and long-held health and safety protocols when entering the city,” Magalong said in a statement released late Sunday afternoon.
“This policy is strongly iterated in view of the apparent violation of existing health protocols by a group of visiting officials led by San Juan, Metro Manila Mayor Francis Zamora– ignoring the border control checkpoint at Kennon Road, and proceeding to their place of destination (Baguio Country Club) without their having to undergo the mandatory triage health examination,” Magalong said.
The blame fell largely on the lead escort of Zamora’s 6-vehicle convoy. Magalong said that Zamora told him that he was asleep in the vehicle when his police escort ignored the border control.
“It is clear that the San Juan City-based police officer who served as lead escort of his City Mayor’s convoy has committed a serious breach of standing quarantine protocols,” Magalong said.
A former intelligence police chief, Magalong said complaints have also been filed with PNP Deputy Chief for Administration Police General Camilo “Picoy” Cascolan, San Juan City Police City Director Jimmy Santos, and Baguio PNP city director Col. Allen Rae Co “to call their collective attention on this incident that put Baguio at serious health risk by the simple act of ignoring health and safety protocols.”
Magalong, who was in Manila when the incident happened, said that he asked his staff to set up an emergency triage at the BCC since Zamora’s entourage was already there to minimize possible infection.
“I reiterate this as an uncompromising measure for everyone, whether public or private status, to comply with the city’s border control checkpoints upon entry in Baguio boundaries, to ensure that no one is put to undue health risk while in the city,” he said.
As of Sunday, Baguio City has 36 confirmed COVID-19 patients, 5 of whom are active cases, with 30 recovered, and one death.
It listed 105 suspect cases, with more than 3,000 recovered suspect cases.
Magalong said that according to reports he received, Zamora’s entourage arrived at the Kennon Road quarantine checkpoint at around 2:30 pm of Friday, June 5.
“When his group was flagged down for inspection, the driver of the lead vehicle just slowed down a bit, and merely told the checkpoint personnel that he was part of a convoy, pointing out the vehicles tailing his police car, then forthwith sped off with the Mayor’s entourage in tow,” he said.
“Accordingly, checkpoint personnel radioed the BCPO traffic operations center about the incident and followed the Zamora vehicles en route to the Baguio Country Club. Upon arrival, the group was asked for the required medical health clearance, but since none was presented, was politely told to undergo triage examination. Considering that they were already at their destination, medical personnel from the City Health Service Office were dispatched to BCC to set up the triage facility, purposely to ensure that containment and isolation, if needed, were done,” Magalong added.
“From this narration of facts, it can be reasonably sensed that Baguio’s health and safety protocols have been violated and the regulatory mechanism of quarantine check and triage examination at the Naguillan facility was not followed,” he said.
“To his credit, Mayor Zamora took the effort to inform me about this incident and apologized for the serious lapse on the part of his police escorting officer. He profusely expressed deep regrets that while asleep in his car at the time, the PNP escort leading his convoy mindlessly took it on his own to ignore what has long been a standard border protection measure prescribed not only in his but our own city,” he said.
BCC, one of the upscale vacation spots in Baguio City, recently had a “soft re-opening” to accommodate bookings for work and leisure after receiving a certification from the Department of Tourism- Cordillera Autonomous Region (DOT-CAR) on June 1. However, the club only operates at a 50 percent capacity.
Social media posts
The breach of protocol by Zamora’s entourage has made the rounds of social media hours before Magalong confirmed the incident. Netizens were angry and dismayed that a government official and his entourage have ignored rules, endangering the health and safety of their community.
On Saturday afternoon, June 6, a Baguio lawyer posted on Facebook that some Manila mayors entered the city and went to Baguio Country Club without passing through the triage.
However, a doctor corrected that post to say that it was only one mayor with an entourage of 30 and they did immediately proceed to BCC without passing through the triage of the Baguio General Hospital.
The doctor said that the BCC tipped off the hospital and Magalong. The entourage was forced to go to the medical triage. It was not immediately known if Zamora still went back to BCC.
The doctor’s post, made at 8pm, was shared 600 times.
The social media posts compelled Co, the Baguio PNP city director, to issue a warning on Saturday night, with approval from Magalong, about the strict enforcement of the entry of visitors.
Co had said that in the absence of a travel authority from the PNP, persons who want to enter Baguio must present a medical certificate indicating that they are COVID-19 free.
Co said initial triage are set up at checkpoints stationed at the various entry points to the city, namely: Kennon View Deck; Marcos Highway; Naguilian Road; Magsaysay Road; and TipTop Ambuklao.
“We stress that the same rule applies to all VIPs and PNP members whether they are entering Baguio on their own or serving as an escort or security to somebody,” Co added in the statement, hourse before he himself was included in the complaint.
In a statement released on Sunday night, Zamora extended his “sincere apologies” to Magalong and the people of Baguio City, saying that the incident was a case of miscommunication.
“We had no intention of breaking any checkpoint or quarantine protocols of the LGU,” he said, adding that he already personally talked to Magalong.
Zamora said he went to Baguio City to bring his wife, a breast cancer patient, to her old house. – Rappler.com