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Cebuano leaders not spared from COVID-19

(The Freeman) - January 1, 2021 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  True to its form, the deadly and contagious coronavirus spares no one – sadly not even some of Cebu’s most respected politicians.

Former congressman and Cebu City councilor Antonio Cuenco died of COVID-19 on June 27.

Cuenco’s passing came faster than expected for a patient with COVID-19. He was still attending the City Council’s session online two days before his death.

Before that, Pardo, Cebu City barangay captain Manolita “Litang” Abarquez also passed away. It was said to be due to pneumonia, hypertension and septic shock. She died before her swab test was released, the result of which had not been disclosed publicly.

Abarquez’ death, though, sparked Cebuanos’ search for the truth behind the real status of hospitals in Cebu City and Metro Cebu after her family and supporters disclosed that she and her partner were rejected by Cebu City hospitals and ended up in Lapu-Lapu City for confinement.

It was later exposed that, contrary to official pronouncements, hospitals in Cebu, both government and private, were already overwhelmed by COVID-19 admissions.

With Cebu City tagged as the epicenter of COVID-19 in the country mid-year, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to oversee the efforts to contain the virus’ spread here. He was helped by key officials of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Retired Major General Melquiades Feliciano later joined Cimatu as the IATF deputy chief implementer for the Visayas and, together, they established the Emergency Operations Center, which later became the standard EOC for other LGUs.

By August, Cebu City had succeeded in flattening the curve. Central Visayas followed by September.

As the situation in Cebu City stabilized, Feliciano was then assigned to Bacolod and other areas in the Visayas and Mindanao. Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera took charge as EOC’s deputy chief implementer.

Garganera himself is a COVID-19 survivor. Some months later after recovery, he said he got the virus following a dinner with four other friends.

Garganera said they were busy talking while eating, unmindful that the virus was very much around. All of them at the table got COVID-19 but he was only asymptomatic and went on self-isolation while the rest got hospitalized.

Meanwhile, two other local officials in Cebu province, the Garcia brothers, Marlon and Nelson, were also reported to have been infected with the virus last August and died the following month.

Up to this point, the Garcia family is still seeking answers to questions in relation to the deaths of Marlon and Nelson.

Unlike Cuenco, the former Dumanjug mayor Nelson and Barili mayor Marlon stayed in a private hospital for quite a while.

The Garcia brothers were reportedly admitted in the hospital in the early part of August, but Nelson died on September 1, followed by Marlon on September 6.

Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and her other brother, Rep. Pablo John, announced in a press conference a week after their brothers’ funeral that Marlon’s death certificate indicated that the latter died of “septic shock due to catheter-related bloodstream infection and ventilator-associated pneumonia” while Nelson died of “cardio-pulmonary arrest secondary to probable massive pulmonary embolism.”

In the same conference, PJ also admitted that he, too, had also tested positive for COVID-19 but was asymptomatic and opted to do home quarantine. Now, home quarantine is no longer allowed by the National Task Force.

The Garcias have announced lately that they intended to pursue charges against the hospital’s doctors, even as the hospital earlier said it was open to a dialogue with the family while maintaining that it did the best it could to save the Garcia brothers.

Meanwhile, the vice mayor of Barili that time, Julie Flores, also got the virus, although asymptomatic. Flores survived and eventually took the reins as mayor after the demise of Marlon.

Other Survivors

Six other mayors in Cebu also got infected and thankfully survived. They include Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard “Ahong” Chan, Daanbantayan Mayor Sun Shimura, San Fernando Mayor Lakambini Neneth Reluya, Tuburan Mayor Danilo Diamante, Asturias Mayor Jose Antonio Pintor, and Alcoy Mayor Michael Angelo Sestoso.

On June 12, Chan skipped the traditional flag-raising and sent his Independence Day message virtually. He was already in isolation after his swab test found him to be positive.

Chan had been in home quarantine for being asymptomatic.

Then on June 21, Shimura announced that he was also positive for the virus and had been hospitalized following some symptoms. The announcement was made just a week after Shimura received a negative result in the rapid antibody test. Rapid antibody tests are not for detection but for measuring the antibodies of recovered patients from COVID-19.

Reluya, for her part, got the virus at the end of July, and went to a hospital for treatment.

After surviving the ordeal, Reluya felt she’s now on her third lease on life, having survived an ambush in 2019.

Last August 14, Diamante was also reported to have contracted the virus. Even before getting his test result, he was already i1n self-isolation after showing some symptoms.

Five days after Diamante, Pintor, the mayor of Asturias, was also announced to have the virus but was already in self-isolation even before the swab test results were released to him.

Sestoso of Alcoy was the seventh mayor from Cebu to have been ill with COVID-19 but also recovered.

Other Deaths

The time of the pandemic has not been good for Cebu politics in general as four other Cebuano politicians also died, though from different ailments.

Former Cebu City mayor Dr. Florentino Solon was reported to have died on June 17. He was 88. Solon was the 20th mayor of Cebu City and served from 1978 to 1983.

On the other hand, Rep. Raul Del Mar died last November 16. He was 79 years old.

The cause of Del Mar’s death has not been disclosed, though Councilor Augustus “Joy” Young, who is close to the family of the late Del Mar, said it was not because of COVID-19.

On December 21, 88-year-old Samboan Mayor Emerito Sy Calderon Sr. passed away due to heart failure.

Three days after Calderon’s death, Rep. Benhur Salimbangon of Cebu’s fourth district died of lung cancer.

COVID-19 or not, those who died will be missed for the things they have done for the betterment of Cebu.

As for those who survived, the public expects no less than for them to continue fighting the virus, not only for their own sake but for the sake of their constituents.

The public hopes that together with all other officials, they will try their best to revive the economy and make Cebu better than it was in 2020. — JMD (FREEMAN)

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