BFP personnel in Batangas ‘get-together’ relieved, ordered to explain
MANILA, Philippines — All Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) personnel involved in the controversial “get-together” in Batangas City while a strict COVID-19 community quarantine was in effect have been relieved.
This as the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) conducts an investigation on the alleged August 21 incident for supposed breach of quarantine rules, Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said.
In a statement on Tuesday, the DILG official said the relief of the involved BFP personnel is meant to ensure an impartial investigation on the reported send-off party for outgoing Batangas Fire Department chief Fire C/Insp. Elaine Evangelista.
“The BFP has also issued a show-cause order against all the BFP personnel involved in the alleged mass gathering in violation of IATF guidelines. The BFP IAS and RO4A [have] also been directed to conduct a thorough investigation and submit its findings immediately to the DILG,” Malaya said.
“Finally, the BFP Chief likewise ordered BFP RD 4A to relieve all involved personnel from their current assignments, pending investigation, so that they could not interfere with the conduct of the probe,” he added.
Evangelista recently found herself in hot water after photos of her showing an alleged breach of quarantine protocols, specifically rules against mass gathering to prevent COVID-19 transmissions, were sent to media organizations.
She, however, claimed they observed physical distancing and other minimum health standards and insisted they all have tested negative for SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes severe respiratory ailment COVID-19.
The purported send-off party — which Evangelista dismissed — was for her transfer to the Biñan Fire Department. But this has been put on hold by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, according to Malaya.
“Upon the directive of Secretary Eduardo M. Año, BFP Chief Jose Embang Jr. has withdrawn the new assignment of F/CInsp Elaine Evangelista as chief, Biñan Fire Station,” he said.
In the photos sent to INQUIRER.net, Evangelista and other members of the Batangas City Fire Department were seen standing close to each other and not wearing their face masks. But, according to Evangelista, it would be impossible to wear their face masks all the time since they would be eating during the event.
She also claimed they sought permission from the local government to hold the small gathering.
During that time, the whole Batangas province was under a general community quarantine, which means non-essential mass gatherings are prohibited.
“At saka alam namin na kami ay na-swab at lahat kami ay negative. Meron kami, lahat, ‘yon ay provided ng LGU at nagpaalam ako sa LGU na may kaunti kaming salo-salo,” Evangelista said in a phone interview with INQUIRER.net last August 24.
(And we all know that we have tested negative for the virus. All of us were tested, provided by the local government. I also sought permission from the LGU.)
“May face mask kami, kaya lang paano kapag kakain kami? Kakain kami, alangan naka-face mask pa rin kami. Saka ano ‘yon, nag-observe kami ng social distancing dahil hanggang pool area ay meron namang mga upuan talagang pinaghiwa-hiwalay kami,” she added.
(We wore face masks, but how would we eat? Would we still wear face masks while eating? But we observed social distancing even up to the pool area we had chairs set up to separate us.)
Malaya nevertheless said DILG does not tolerate any quarantine violations committed by their personnel.
“The DILG will not tolerate any violation of IATF guidelines among its uniformed personnel and will impose the appropriate penalties on all erring individuals if warranted by the evidence gathered and presented,” he noted.
This was not the first time that an official under a DILG-attached agency was put on the spotlight for allegedly breaking quarantine rules.
Previously, netizens condemned a supposed birthday party thrown for National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas. However, Sinas insisted that he was not aware of the surprise, and noted that it was a “mañanita” and not a party.
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