Criminal charges would be filed against 14 persons who sneaked into the island recently in violation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) imposed by the national government to control the spread of the coronavirus infectious disease.
Acting Governor Shirley A. Abundo has reportedly given the green light to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to file appropriate charges against the quarantine violators.
The series of incidents of traveling to the island on board frail sea vessels or hidden inside cargo trucks began the other Sunday (April 5, 2020) when a truck driver of Ocean Coast Shipping Corporation smuggled in his wife under the noses of Coast Guard personnel at San Andres port.
According to the reports of the Virac police station and the PCG in Virac, the woman, who was a displaced domestic helper at the Batasan Hills, Quezon City residence of a Virac family, decided to go to the company’s warehouse in Kaingin where her husband was working.
When the driver, his helper and the truck loaded with cargo left the metropolis on April 4, his wife was already in the cabin behind the seat of the driver and his helper. Hidden inside a wooden box, she managed to avoid detection at the so-called Dedicated Control Points along the route from Manila to Bicol.
The Coast Guard said she was then covered with cardboard, personal items and backpacks so no one would be able to notice that there was an unauthorized person on board.
The police also ascertained during the investigation that the woman, who was not declared in the ferry manifest during the trip, never left the truck which arrived in the morning of April 5 at San Andres port.
After exiting the port, the truck first went to the couple’s residence in the Palta area where the woman alighted from the truck and entered their house occupied by her six children.
The truck then proceeded to the Ocean Coast warehouse in San Andres town where the driver and his helper went on self-quarantine.
Upon learning of her arrival, the barangay chairman immediately coordinated with the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT) for appropriate intervention as well as the Rural Health Unit (RHU).
RHU personnel visited the family and had them placed on continuous monitoring since April 7, two days after the woman’s arrival.
The Tribune report in its Facebook page initially claimed there were eight people who were smuggled on board the truck but this was corrected in the update following a clarification from the source.
That same Tuesday, officers from the Virac police station went to the residence of the Tribune publisher to ask him to disclose the identity of the source but he refused, citing the possibility that the source would be harassed. According to the law enforcers, the chief of police wanted the newspaper’s source investigated.
In its own social media post, the Catanduanes police appealed for the full support and cooperation of the community by following the health protocols and in reporting related violations for immediate and appropriate action.
“We further encourage everyone to stop spreading unverified information that may cause undue panic to the public,” the post stated.
The incident is not the only one reported on social media, with the provincial government, the Provincial Task Force on Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases (PTF-EREID) or the Provincial Health Office not issuing official reports on the matter.
During the same week, 13 more persons arrived from the mainland despite the travel ban, not including the pregnant woman from Caramoan, Camarines Sur who was brought by banca to Codon and was taken to the Eastern Bicol Medical Center to deliver her baby. Her companions were ordered to go back to the mainland.
Shortly after the incident at San Andres port, a source told the Tribune, an owner of a big business establishment in Viga and his wife who were caught by the ECQ in Legazpi City hitched a ride on board their own truck which had been allowed to go to the mainland to purchase goods.
The couple hitched a ride on their own truck, evading detection until they arrived in Viga poblacion. The woman was arrested by the police but the businessman escaped before he was ultimately placed in custody.
On April 9, 2020, alert police officers in Bato town learned that at 1 P.M., three men from Cabugao left the coastal village on board a motorized banca to fetch a resident of Cabugao and another man from Virac who had been staying in Rapu-Rapu island in Albay.
When the motorized banca “James Yuan” neared the shore at 7:30 P.M. with its navigation lights deliberately covered to hide their approach, the police and Coast Guard personnel were already waiting for them
The five men on board the vessel were not allowed to go ashore until the RHU personnel from Bato and Virac arrived.
The four residents of Bato and the lone resident of Virac have been placed under 14-day quarantine.
Checking the passengers’ claim that they were allowed to set sail by the PCG Rapu-Rapu as they were considered Authorized Person Outside of Residence (APOR), the local Coast Guard said this information was misleading since they left Catanduanes without informing the PCG, the local government of Catanduanes and the LGU in Rapu-Rapu for the return trip.
Aside from the unauthorized trip, the other violations committed by the banca’s operator were inadequate life-saving devices, covered running lights, and absence of communication and navigational equipment.
The motorized banca has been impounded by the Coast Guard, while the Bato police is preparing to file charges against its passengers and crew.
Another man reportedly undertook an eight-hour trip to fetch his child from the mainland and docked at Tambongon where he was met by BHERT personnel and placed in the quarantine area. The unconfirmed report did not state whether he was accompanied by his child.
On Good Friday, April 10, a restaurant owner from Virac used forged documents and posed as a driver while hitching a ride on board a cargo truck that arrived at the capital town’s port from Metro Manila. He is now being monitored by BHERT members at his establishment.
On the same day, four persons arrived separately from the mainland at Palumbanes island, Toytoy, Caramoran.
Three of them, all residents of Palumbanes, had traveled from Tabaco City while the fourth was a native of Camarines Sur who had settled in the Caramoran islet. His companion, a native of Palumbanes who has a family in Camarines Sur, was told to go back to the mainland.
Authorities are also verifying the arrival of a fisherman from Garchitorena, Camarines Sur, who had docked at barangay Napo, Pandan on the same day, to find out whether he had ferried a passenger across the sea since the boat did not have fish in it according to residents.
The reports about the surreptitious boat and truck arrivals prompted Acting Gov. Abundo to issue an appeal to barangay officials and residents of coastal villages to closely monitor their shores and ensure that only authorized local fishermen are allowed to dock.
“Nakakaalarma ang mga nairi-report na pagdating ng mga taong hindi natin alam kung saan nanggaling at kung anong kapahamakan ang pwede nilang dalhin para sa ating lahat,” she said.
“Bagaman gusto kong makauwi sila, tayo po ay may sinusundang mga polisiya at mahahalagang tagubilin upang mapanatili po natin ang kaligtasan sa loob ng ating lalawigan. Sa tamang panahon, makakasama rin natin ang ating mga mahal sa buhay. Kaunting tiis pa. Kaunting pasensiya. Kaunting sakripisyo pa,” the acting governor added.
She said that with the limited personnel of the Coast Guard is having difficulty guarding the entire length of the island’s coastline, she has talked with the municipal mayors of 10 coastal towns to harness barangay officials and residents in the effort to keep COVID-19 at bay.
Abundo disclosed that she had discussed the matter with the mayor of Caramoan, Camarines Sur, who promised to appeal to the town’s residents to temporarily stop going to Catanduanes.
As of April 10, 2020, the province had seven (7) PUIs, with five (5) lab results turning out negative and two more still pending release at the Bicol Regional Diagnostic and Reference Laboratory (BRDRL).
A source claimed that the results of three (3) swabs sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) a month ago have yet to be released.
There were a total of 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the region as of Friday, with 13 of them coming from Albay and five (5) from Camarines Sur, with one death. Only 10 have recovered from the disease.