Pictures of a watch party by the provincial government of Zamboanga del Sur of President Rodrigo Duterte‘s fifth State of the Nation Address earned criticisms for the failure to implement some minimum health protocols as mandated in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pictures were posted by someone working in the local government unit (LGU), the official page of the LGU itself and a restaurant that provided some performers for the viewing party held in their Provincial Capitol Compound.
The official page of the LGU said the participants had their face masks at that time and only had it removed “during photo ops.” This could be seen in some pictures where face masks were seen on a table in front of the attendees.
Face masks are mandated in public places to avoid the spread of respiratory droplets produced when talking, sneezing and coughing as prevention for the transmission of the pathogen that primarily causes the respiratory disease.
The government has made it mandatory for people to wear face masks since April.
Meanwhile, most pictures in the social media posts showed the failure to stringently observe the physical distancing measures as recommended by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) amid the pandemic.
IATF’s omnibus guidelines as of July 16 likewise states that in areas where mass gathering is allowed under certain conditions, physical distancing must be observed at all times.
Zamboanga del Sur is currently under modified general community quarantine, the lowest level of quarantine status.
The guidelines allow mass gatherings in MGCQ like movie screenings, concerts, sporting events, other entertainment activities, religious services, and work conferences provided that attendees are only limited to 50% of the seating or venue capacity.
Meanwhile, pictures of the SONA watch party on July 27 showed people as they sat close to each other in tables.
Last month, The Washington Post reported that group singing has been linked to outbreaks of COVID-19.
William Ristenpart, a chemical engineer at the University of California, Davis, had advised against the activity and said that it was a “terrible idea right now,” particularly in enclosed indoor spaces.
Meanwhile, some Filipinos were not amused with the pictures of the event in light of a public health crisis.
“Hindi naman kelangan ang mga ganitong pag titipon tapos wala pang mask at walang physical distancing lol,” a Facebook user wrote.
Another online user expressed her skepticism that the attendees’ face masks were only removed during the photo ops and recalled her experience during a wedding she attended.
“Syempre hindi totoo to na they only removed masks during photo op. Nung kasal ng kuya ko hirap na hirap kami magmask the whole time,” she wrote.
“Tsaka (medyo) ang weird nito ha kasi sa protocol ng mass gatherings and weddings, walang program after church, kain lang together tapos na. Walang slicing of cake, walang program. Sila may pa-concert pa. uwu,” the online user added.
“A party during a major crisis. Quarantine protocol who?” commented another online user.
There were others who questioned the party’s flamboyance while some speculated that “public funds” were supposedly used for the event.
“Sa ako lang… isn’t this too bongacious for a watch party? Hehehehe sorry this is just my view,” wrote a Facebook user.
“Pustahan tayo public funds pa ginamit diyan,” another online user said.
As of July 27, Zamboanga del Sur has 43 cases of COVID-19, in which 17 are currently infected with the viral disease.
Party in the time of COVID
This was not the first time that such a party took place amid a pandemic and with the failure to implement some minimum health protocols.
Last May, several law enforcers of Metro Manila held a birthday “salubong” or a mañanita for Metro Manila Police chief Debold Sinas.
The photos, which had since gone viral, showed attendees standing close to each other, crowding at a buffet table and eating meals without being distant for at least one meter.
The incident made it to international news reports but that didn’t stop Sinas from continuously pursuing his duties as Metro Manila’s top cop, especially after Duterte had expressed his disagreement over firing him.
Last Wednesday, Philippine National Police chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said that the incident was already a “closed issue” but singer Saab Magalona dissented and urged the public to express their disapproval by resharing one of her Twitter posts.
‼️RETWEET IF IT'S STILL AN ISSUE‼️ https://t.co/iTa6P0uRwH
— Saab (@saabmagalona) July 30, 2020
It has since gained more than 20,000 shares or retweets in the microblogging platform.