I WAS not there, so I cannot entirely figure out what really happened to that hundreds of Bantayanons, especially the Madridejos folks, who gathered in Kota Park over the weekend to witness and see the delegation of the inaugural flight from Mactan airport to the newly opened mini-airport in Bantayan Island as part of the Suroy-Suroy sa Sugbo in connection with the re-opening of the tourism industry in that tourist destination island.
Heading the delegation were Gov. Gwen Garcia, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque and Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (Opav) Secretary Mike Dino. The presence of the candidates of Miss Universe Philippines also highlighted the event.
But based on the photos that were posted on social media, the “mass gathering” was a flagrant violation of the health protocol on physical distancing even though the province has been placed under the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ). What was ironic was that Opav Secretary Dino and Secretary Roque delivered their respective speeches, urging the people to observe the minimum health guidelines to avoid getting infected with the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) and yet their audience violated the protocol.
Well, of course, they knew that, but they just chose to ignore it. “Don’t just remove your face mask, anyway we are in an open space,” Roque was quoted as saying. Kota Park is locateed on the beachfront. There was no photo of Governor Garcia delivering her speech, but there were pictures that she danced with a Sinulog contingent.
It is unfair to point an accusing finger at Governor Gwen that she organized and was responsible for the entire affair. Maybe the local government unit of Madridejos headed by Mayor Salvador “Sally” Dela Fuente organized it to impress his visitors. But it went out of his and the authorities’ control.
In a Facebook post of the Municipality of Madridejos, Mayor Dela Fuente urged people who attended the affair to practice the traditional “tuob” (steam inhalation) so that they would not be infected with Covid-19 in case there was one positive with the virus who attended the event. He asked those who will manifest symptoms to consult their municipal health officer for a possible swab test. Just simple as that.
It is also unfair if we just accuse Dela Fuente of organizing that affair that jeopardized the health and safety of the people in his town. Maybe we can just ask him why he and the authorities failed to control the crowd and implement physical distancing? Why did he not ask for police augmentation from other towns or from the provincial police for crowd control?
I was born and grew up in the province. I am a real probinsyano. I know the attitude and character of the people in the province. They are eager to see prominent personalities who arrive and visit their place. If they know in advance the people who will visit their place, they will line up on the street and converge in a town or barangay plaza without being invited. That is why movie artists, politicians, known entertainers and even radio personalities, especially drama talents, are very popular and are treated like “kings and queens” in the province. I myself experienced that every time I go to the province. Ihawan pa ko’g manok Bisaya unya ug naay kumbira, front seat pa ko kauban sa pari (They’d cook native chicken for me if there’s a party and I’m made to sit with the priest).
That Madridejos affair was already posted on social media in advance. That is why island folks were already excited and eager to witness the affair. “Ah, bahala nag naay virus basta makakita mig gobernador ug ang mga ‘mamords’ nga mga kandidata sa Miss Universe Philippines.” That’s what others said. I am not saying that they are undisciplined people. They are just eager and excited.
That’s what I am afraid of in future activities on mass gatherings like the Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo or the shopping malls holding Christmas promotion sales if the crowd will become uncontrollable. I hope the Bantayan Island experience is a reminder and an eyeopener to everybody that the virus is pretty much active. Don’t be too complacent and lower your guard.