Pangasinan tourism hurt by false disease report
Eva Visperas (The Philippine Star) - February 27, 2014 - 12:00am

LINGAYEN, Pangasinan, Philippines – The province’s tourism sector apparently took a beating, with cancellation of bookings, following a report on a supposed flesh-eating disease spreading in certain places – which turned out to be false.

“Their presentation of the report would really scare you,” Mike Sison, city tourism officer of Alaminos City, told The STAR, referring to a television news report about two persons in Sta. Barbara and Villasis towns supposedly suffering from such flesh-eating disease. 

Sison said his office received phone calls from hotel owners after they got booking cancellations from some groups that planned to visit Alaminos to see the world-famous Hundred Islands. 

In one hotel alone, Sison said five groups cancelled their bookings because of the false report. 

The Philippine Adventure Corp. that has scheduled some water sports activities in the Hundred Islands also reportedly backed out. 

There were inquiries, too, on the distance between Alaminos and Sta. Barbara, Sison said.

Other towns though kept mum about the issue because their places are not tourist destinations, he added. 

In its Facebook account, the Alaminos City government said Mayor Arthur Celeste acted swiftly to dispel the report, saying the city “is most prone to receive major negative blows, especially in our growing tourism industry.” 

“Thank God the issue is dying! No more viral status in the net, please help us to further cool it down. Friends from the media didn’t stop airing the truth,” the city posted in its Facebook page.

Also alarmed by the report, Pangasinan third district Rep. Rose Marie Arenas, whose jurisdiction includes Sta. Barbara, wrote Health Secretary Enrique Ona to seek his help.

“May I request your immediate action to investigate this matter of public health and safety. I am also requesting for immediate assistance by the concerned regional office of the Department of Health to be extended to these victims,” Arenas said in her letter to Ona. 

Dr. Anna Maria Teresa de Guzman, provincial health officer, said the report was “unfounded, not true, and baseless.” 

“There is no such thing as a mysterious skin disease nor a flesh-eating bacteria spreading in Pangasinan,” De Guzman said in a media briefing following the airing of the TV report Monday night.  

De Guzman said the report, which went viral on social media, caused panic not only among locals but also among Pangasinenses abroad, prompting Gov. Amado Espino Jr. to instruct her and her team to swiftly investigate this issue.  

In a report, the state-run Philippine Information Agency quoted De Guzman as saying that the Sta. Barbara patient is suffering from leprosy, a disease that causes skin sore, while the one from Villasis had a severe case of psoriasis, which causes peeling and red marks on the skin.

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