What we know so far: Food poisoning at Imelda Marcos party

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What we know so far: Food poisoning at Imelda Marcos party
An attendee rests on a stretcher after she fell ill with suspected food poisoning from meals served during a birthday celebration in honour of former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, at a sports arena in Manila on July 3, 2019. Over 200 guests fell ill with suspected food poisoning on July 3 after a meal at a birthday party for 90-year-old Imelda Marcos, the notorious former first lady of the Philippines.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — Supporters of the country's flamboyant former first lady Imelda Marcos threw a party for the family matriarch in an indoor sports arena Wednesday to celebrate her 90th birth anniversary.

The party—which featured singing, speeches and even cakes bearing structures built during the two-decade rule of her husband, late strongman Ferdinand Marcos Sr.—turned into a nasty affair when hundreds of the attendees fell ill due to an apparent food poisoning.

As of Thursday morning, 306 are still under observation in hospitals, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told CNN Philippines. Those who have been discharged were pegged at 149.

Here’s what we know so far:

What is the culprit?

Packed meals of chicken adobo, boiled egg and rice were served to around 2,500 guests who filled Ynares Sports Complex in Pasig City.

After they consumed the packed lunches, the guests started to vomit and suffered diarrhea and dizziness.

An attendee told Agence France-Presse she believed the illness was caused by the party food.

“I wasn’t that hungry so I only ate the egg and a little steamed rice. I vomited and an ambulance took me to the Rizal Medical Center where I was given an IV drip,” the woman told AFP.

Duque said the food poisoning could be due to toxin from staphylococcus aureus—bacteria found on people’s skin. The bacteria are usually harmless but can cause serious infections, which may lead to sepsis or death.

“It could have come from the eggs. Reports said that the guests tasted the eggs, which could be contaminated,” he said.

The results of the laboratory test that examined the food sample may be released by Friday.

Where did the packed lunches come from?

According to a dzBB report, there were two caterers that served food during the party: one for VIP guests and another one for regular attendees, most of which were the ones rushed to nearby hospitals.

Duque said identifying the caterer of the event will be part of the investigation by the Food and Drug Administration, DOH Disease Prevention and Control Bureau and other regulatory units of the department.

Lawyer Larry Gadon, who attended the event, claimed the packed meals were “brought by a group of supporters which they shared among the loyalist who came early.”

“It was not a catered food… The event itself was organized by loyalists,” Gadon added.

Who will shoulder the hospital bills?

Imelda’s son, Bongbong, issued an apology Wednesday, as he pledged the family would help those who were sick.

“Sa kasalukuyan ay inaalam ng mga nag-organisa ang naging dahilan nito at nagpahayag ng kahandaang makipagtulungan sa mga kinauukulan,” Bongbong said.

(The organizers are looking into the bottom of the incident and expressed willingness to cooperate with the authorities.)

He added: “Kami po ay nakikipag-ugnayan sa mga naapektuhan at patuloy na umaasikaso sa kanila. Ako po ay humihingi ng paumanhin at lubos na pag-unawa sa nangyaring ito. Makakaasa po kayo sa aming tulong hanggang sa lahat ay tuluyang gumaling.”

(We are coordinating to those who were affected and continuously looking after them. I offer my apologies and ask for your understanding. Rest assured that we will continue to help until everyone is fully healed.)

“Asikasuhin na lang natin ‘yung mga nasa ospital at asahan ninyo na bibisitahin natin ang bawat isa,” Imelda’s daughter, Sen. Imee Marcos, said in a video posted on her Facebook page.

(Let’s just take care of those who are in the hospital and expect that we will visit each one of them.)

What happened to the guest of honor?

Imelda was spared from the sickness that struck her supporters and the celebration continued for the former first lady and some of the guests.

“Napanis man ‘yung pagkain, ganunpaman solid na solid pa rin,” Imee said, as she thanked the attendees.

(The food may have been spoiled, but we remain solid.)

Gadon also said Imelda was initially unaware of what happened to some of her guests.

Despite the dozens of controversies that surround the Marcoses, the family is still revered by many in the Philippines and has made a comeback in the political scene in recent years—Imelda just finished her term as a congresswoman, her eldest Imee won a Senate seat, and her grandson Matthew Manotoc was elected as the governor of Ilocos Norte.

Last November, Imelda—known for her extravagant lifestyle—was found guilty of seven counts of graft. She is sentenced to imprisonment of six years and one month to 11 years for each count of graft or a total of 42 years and seven months to 77 years.

But the family matriarch is currently free on bail pending an appeal. — with report from Agence France-Presse



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