ILOILO CITY—Amid the COVID-19 pandemic when unnecessary travel is being discouraged to help prevent coronavirus transmission, officials and employees of the local government of Caluya, a town in Antique province, went on a two-day “stress management conference” in Boracay last weekend.
The trip of at least 51 officials and employees cost at least P200,000 in public funds, according to a proposed budget submitted to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in Western Visayas.
The travel plan for members of the town’s inter-agency task force on COVID-19 (IATF) included Caluya Mayor Rigil Kent Lim, municipal councilors and other members of the task force.
Lim did not respond to a call and text message from INQUIRER. An assistant sent a text message to say the mayor was “busy”.
Sources in Boracay said the number of Caluya officials and employees reached 60 to include spouses of some of the officials. They stayed in three hotels or inns, including La Carmela De Boracay, and another high-end resort.
Juan Jovian Ingenerio, DILG Western Visayas director, said the regional office gave “guidance” to a request of the Caluya local government unit (LGU) to hold a “stress management conference.”
“We cannot approve or disapprove the activity but advised the LGU to observe general and local health protocols,” Ingenerio said in a phone interview. He said the Caluya LGU was also advised to heed guidelines from the DILG, Commission on Audit and Department of Budget and Management.
He said the LGU will be liable if it violated or failed to observe the guidelines and protocols.
Ingeniero said he stopped the municipal local government operations officer under him to take part in the Caluya LGU’s trip as the DILG has its own stress management activity.
According to the proposal submitted to the DILG Western Visayas, the Caluya LGU conference was set from Sept. 4 to 7, including two days of travel to and from the Boracay venue. Sessions were set Sept. 5 to 6, which included those with speakers from the provincial health office.
The budget for 51 participants included:
- P91,800 for accommodation for two days
- P100,980 for 11 meals
- P7,650 in travel allowance or a total of P200,430.
Antique is among areas placed on modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) but a curfew from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. is being implemented.
Under MGCQ, travel is generally allowed and mass gatherings, including meetings, are permitted provided that venues are only 50 percent full. Minimum health protocols included wearing of masks and keeping distance.
Boracay Island in Malay town, Aklan province is some 59 kilometers by boat from Caluya. An alternative route is to travel to the Antique mainland by boat and proceed to the Caticlan jetty port by land and cross to Boracay from there.
Caluya, a first class municipality (average annual income of P55 million or more), is composed of nine islands, including Semirara, which hosts one of the biggest coal mines in Asia.
The town has white beaches similar to Boracay and is a popular diving destination.
The first COVID-19 case in Antique was on Semirara Island. At least three cases have been reported in Caluya with all the infected among those who have recovered from the disease.
As of Sept. 5, 48 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in Antique, according to a report of the provincial health office. These included 38 recoveries.
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