Sagada says no
As of the latest count, Mountain Province is the lone province in the Cordillera Administrative Region with no active COVID-19 case, with one recovery and no death.
That’s an exemplary record that should have given Malacañang pause when it made plans to send a film crew to Sagada, the popular tourist destination in the Cordillera highlands, to shoot footage to be used for President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address later this month. Was the trip even necessary? Wouldn’t it put a province that has so far been successful in keeping the virus at bay at possible risk? Might the project, at minimum, be bad optics—Palace gofers running around and skipping travel and health protocols while the government itself is imposing extraordinary restrictions on the populace?
But the administration’s spin doctors apparently thought nothing of the sort. It prepared all the necessary papers exempting the film crew led by director Joyce Bernal from quarantine restrictions, but the basic yet all-important matter of coordinating with the local government seemed to have gotten short shrift. According to the municipality of Sagada, Bernal’s team sent an official request to them through email—after office hours on July 3, a Friday, informing Sagada Mayor James Pooten that the team was arriving on Sunday, July 5, with authorization signed by Dennis Wilfred Pabalan, executive director of the Malacañang Presidential Broadcast Staff-RTVM.
The email was officially received only on July 5, and the request was denied outright by Pooten and the Municipal Disaster Risk and Management Officer, citing the overriding need to insulate the community from the COVID-19 pandemic. But by that time, Bernal’s team had already proceeded to Sagada. LGU officials immediately held an emergency meeting when they learned that the party was at their doorstep. At the end of the meeting, the Sagada COVID-19 Task Force led by Sagada Vice Mayor Felicito O. Dula informed Bernal’s team that they could not allow their entry to Sagada, citing the resolution suspending tourism activities in the town and barring the entry of all persons coming from outside Mountain Province to keep the municipality COVID-19-free.
“Sagada, being a fifth-class municipality, is not ready, specifically our health facilities, to accommodate the presence of a COVID-19 positive case in the locality,” said Dula in the letter to Bernal’s team. Still, the visitors were allowed to stay overnight for humanitarian reasons, with the hostel they stayed in now subject to mandatory 14-day quarantine because of their presence.
Pooten emphasized that protecting Sagada’s health and safety is paramount, and that the LGU is resolute in keeping out visitors for now, even those brandishing authorization papers from Malacañang. His words of rebuke should sting national government factotums who expect exemption from the local ordinances: “We hope to keep Sagada COVID-free. Hindi nakukuha sa palakasan ito, health kasi ng mga tao ang kailangan [pangalagaan].”
Bernal’s team, however, just can’t seem to take no for an answer. The next day, it traveled to Banaue, Ifugao—and promptly met the same welcome.
Like Sagada, Banaue—home of the famed Batad rice terraces—denied the team entry and escorted it out, citing an executive order of Mayor John Wesley Dulawan prohibiting travel to and from Banaue for a week until July 10, because of the detection of one positive case in the town and the observance of strict health protocols that included barring the entry of nonresidents from areas with high COVID-19 cases, such as the National Capital Region. Spurned by the two towns, Bernal’s team returned to Baguio City empty-handed.
The Luzon Regional Filmmakers Assembly denounced the “reckless decisions and actions” of the RTVM production team, noting how the whole incident smacked of privilege, as the Malacañang party sent the official communication to Sagada only after office hours and went there without waiting for approval. “May this be a wake-up call not only to entitled media people connected to positions of power, but also to media and film practitioners from Imperial Manila, who would—more often than not—come into peripheral and indigenous territories ill-prepared regarding knowledge of local protocols, ordinances, customs and traditions,” the LRFA said in a statement.
“Please keep in mind that we need to protect our communities, especially our elders who are mostly Indigenous Knowledge Holders. Compromise their health by any reckless move, and we compromise an entire generation of important people who hold the key to our national identity,” the LRFA added.
In the wake of the missteps in the Hatid/Balik Probinsya programs, the national government ought to know better by now than to undermine, by carelessness and disrespect, the herculean efforts of LGUs to keep their communities safe from COVID-19.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.