Anonymous group wants Ombudsman to indict City Hall officials over Acacia Tunnel event

The Balayong Fun Ride and Acacia Tunnel Lighting on March 7. | Palawan News photo

An anonymous letter-complaint has been filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against certain city government officials, including Mayor Lucilo Bayron, accusing them of being responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak in the city that was allegedly triggered by the holding of the Balayong Fun Ride and Acacia Tunnel Lighting on March 7.

The letter, dated June 2, was signed by “Concern (sic) residents of Palawan ” and addressed to Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires. A copy of the letter complaint made available to Palawan News by the online news platform Politiko that first ran the story indicated that the document was officially received by the Office of the Ombudsman on June 10.

“It is impossible not to attribute the current surge of COVID-19 cases in Puerto Princesa City and other parts of the province of Palawan to the irresponsible holding of the Acacia Tunnel event—it being a superspreading event,” the letter stated.

The complainants cited as responsible City mayor Lucilo Bayron, event head Judith Bayron, City Incident Management Team (IMT) commander Dr. Dean Palanca, and Games and Amusement Board (GAB) and former Palawan governor Baham Mitra. The latter had participated in the bike event and was later discovered to be infected with the pandemic virus.

The four officials were accused with gross neglect of duty, grave misconduct, violation of Bayanihan Act, and open disobedience under Article 231 of the Revised Penal Code.

Lawyer Arnel Pedrosa, the city administrator, and Atty. Norman Yap, the city legal officer, on Monday morning declined to issue a statement on the matter, saying the city government has yet to receive a copy of the complaint.

“I do not have a copy of the complaint. [I] only read about it in what appears to be a news article. It was allegedly filed against 4 individuals and not against the city government. I do not have authority from the mayor to speak for him on this matter,” read Atty. Yap’s text message to Palawan News when sought for a comment.

“Mayor Bayron, Ms. Raine Bayron, and Dr. [Dean] Palanca will formally answer the charges once each of them has received the official copy of the complaint,” Atty. Pedrosa said in a separate message Monday.

The Ombudsman, through the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), is expected to conduct an investigation—a process involving anonymous complaints—to check if it merits appropriate consideration, or contains sufficient leads or particulars to enable the taking of further action.

The anonymous complainants claimed that the Balayong Fun Ride and Acacia Tunnel Lighting on March 7, which was attended by at least 1,300 individuals, despite the increasing COVID-19 cases in the city, subsequently led to rapid spread of the virus in the island province.

“The activities were attended by thousands of participants by estimate and per the city IMT head, admittedly resulting in overcrowding and non-observance of social distancing protocols. Certainly, the activity was a superspreading event,” the six-page complaint read.

The Puerto Princesa City Inter-Agency Task Force Against COVID-19, on February 19 issued Resolution 26, placing identified critical zones within the city under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and the surrounding areas under Modified ECQ.

The complainants claimed that despite the existing local issuance, the Balayong Fun Ride and Acacia Tunnel Lighting were organized by Judith Bayron while the Puerto Princesa City Incident Management Team (IMT) headed by Dr. Dean Palanca allegedly recommended that the events be held on March 7, a day after the expiration of Resolution 26.

The complainants further claimed that after participating in Acacia Tunnel Lighting event, Mitra went to events making contact with other individuals between March 8 to 12.

“Inevitably, days after the event, the city of Puerto Princesa has suffered a surge of COVID-19 cases, even prompting City IATF to issue resolution No. 33 to implement stricter protocols to contain the spread of infection,” the complaint said.

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