MANILA, Philippines (Updated 6:38 p.m.) — The Philippine National Police found that "only four" confirmed cases of the coronavirus were reported "before and after" the events attended by Sen. Manny Pacquiao in Agoncillo, Batangas and presidential spokesperson Harry Roque in Cebu which both spawned mass gatherings, the Department of the Interior and Local Government said Tuesday.
This comes as the main findings of the PNP's probe of Roque and Pacquiao, the first of whom was photographed addressing large crowds that gathered to participate in an island group tour in Cebu while the latter received backlash after his wife's Instagram stories showed the senator addressing a crowd at a gift-giving event in Batangas.
"The investigation conducted by Police Regional Office 7 revealed that only four confirmed COVID-19 cases were recorded in Bantayan Island, Cebu which was attended by the Presidential Spokesperson. After which, no increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was recorded," the DILG said in a statement.
Findings of the PNP's investigation said that neither Roque and Pacquiao caused the violation of distancing measures in the events they attended, adding that they were quick to respond to the situation to prevent the spread of the virus.
Whether the breaches in quarantine rules led to increases in coronavirus infections or not is beside the point, as both instances showed a clear disregard for physical distancing protocols that have landed others in jail over the past nine months of community quarantine in the world's longest lockdown.
It is not clear what the department is referring to when it says "no confirmed cases of the coronavirus were reported before and after the event" in Batangas. In the fourteen days after Pacquiao's visit, 419 cases of the coronavirus were recorded in the province, according to data from the Batangas public information office.
Social media users were irate once the images went viral, pointing out that some in the crowds were not even wearing masks, though the DILG referred to both incidents as "alleged" quarantine violations. Yet according to the PNP, the physical distancing protocol was "briefly disturbed when Pacquiao went down the stage while delivering his speech but he returned immediately to the stage."
"The PNP report says that the local government officials of Agoncillo, Batangas ensured that health protocols such as wearing of face mask and face shield and the adherence to social distancing requirements were strictly observed during Pacquiao’s distribution of relief goods to those affected by the Taal Volcano eruption and the pandemic. The seats in the activity were also arranged to ensure that social distancing was observed. The LGU also distributed face masks and face shields,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in a statement.
"The findings of the PNP are currently under review. We assure the public that the Department will continue to remind both national LGU officials to abide with the health protocols to prevent further transmission of the virus," he added.
Mass gatherings, like mañanita celebrations for example, are prohibited under the general community quarantine protocols. Roque himself has asserted these protocols when talking about protests and religious gatherings, reminding the public of the ten-person limit at these events.
The PNP in its report also recommended for organizers to determine the total number of participants prior to the event and to install a clear and robust public announcement system to constantly remind the crowd of the observance of minimum health standards.
“The PNP suggested the use of gymnasium and sports complexes for similar events and avoid crowding by advising those denied entry to the activity to go home as well as putting physical barriers to strictly observe social distancing,” the DILG chief said.
Roque—who once slammed Filipinos for being stubborn and at fault for the increases in coronavirus cases—washed his hands of responsibility shortly after the photos circulated, saying he could not have foreseen that large crowds would gather at an event that he had no part in organizing.
“I was totally taken aback by the huge crowd that came when I went to Cebu [to] grace the official opening of the Bantayan Island Airport,” he said then.
As of the health department's latest case bulletin issued Tuesday afternoon, exactly 462,815 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the Philippines since the pathogen first emerged in Wuhan, China last December.
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