Galvez defends Magalong amid public backlash; DOH supports his retention as contact tracing czar

Published January 29, 2021, 2:55 PM

by Manila Bulletin

By Martin Sadongdong and Analou De Vera

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. on Friday came to the defense of tracing czar and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong who offered to resign after being criticized for attending a party that was organized by celebrity and event producer Tim Yap.

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19 (NTF AGAINST COVID-19 / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

The Department of Health (DOH) also expressed its support to Mayor Magalong, saying that he should stay as the country’s contact tracing czar. 

“Kami rin po sa Kagawaran ng Kalusugan [We in the Department of Health], we believe that he should remain in that position. He has helped the contact tracing efforts of the country a lot,” said DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire. 

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque also disclosed that Magalong tendered his resignation as the government’s contact tracing czar but that his resignation“has not been accepted.”

Galvez confirmed that the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19, which he also serves as its chief implementer, rejected Magalong’s resignation as he admitted that he was “hurt” by the latter’s decision to quit.

“Napakasakit sa amin noong pinasa nga niya ‘yung kanyang resignation paper pero hindi po namin matatanggap dahil napakalaki po ng ginawa ni Mayor Magalong sa amin (We were really hurt when he submitted his resignation paper but we cannot accept it because Mayor Magalong has done so much for us),” Galvez said in an interview during the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic (CODE) Team visit at the Sta. Ana Hospital in Manila.

Galvez said Magalong only attended the party with his wife to promote the tourism of Baguio City, which has already suffered due to the quarantine restrictions imposed by the national government.

“That one incident happened because Sir Benjie only wanted to [promote] the economy of Baguio because it’s hurting already. Billions of pesos ang nawawala sa economy ng Baguio (Billions of pesos are lost in the economy of Baguio),” he said.

Vergeire said that Magalong has helped the DOH in the contact tracing efforts. 

“Kapag kailangan talaga ay tumatawag tayo sa kanya kasi he can really assist us. Dito sa Bontoc and sa buong CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region), siya po ang nagpatakbo ng contact tracing natin for this specific variant [When we need something, we call him because he can really assist us. In Bontoc and throughout the CAR, he led our contact tracing (efforts) for this specific variant],” said Vergeire. 

Vergeire was referring to the 12 cases of the United Kingdom variant of COVID-19 virus that were recently detected in Bontoc, Mountain Province. 

“Tignan na lang po natin ang ulterior motive ni (Let’s just look at the ulterior motive of) Sir Benjie, on why he is there. We give him the benefit of the doubt,”  Galvez added.

Instead of bashing, Galvez further advised the media to look at all the good things that Magalong has done to contain the COVID-19 situation in the country.

“We support the decision of Sir Benjie but maybe dapat ang ipaano sa media ‘yung magandang ginawa ni Sir Benjie (what the media should highlight is the good deeds done by Sir Benjie),” he noted.

Reports about Magalong’s resignation surfaced after he confirmed attending a birthday party of Yap at Camp John Hay in Baguio City nearly two weeks ago. Several videos of the party surfaced on social media last Tuesday showing some of the attendees not wearing their masks and failing to observe social distancing while dancing and eating.

Magalong confirmed that some health protocols were indeed violated although Yap issued a separate statement saying it was an event to promote Baguio’s tourism.

Magalong has since vowed to impose penalties and other punishments on all individuals who will be proven to have violated the health protocols, even his wife.

Magalong was designated as the tracing czar at the height of the pandemic last year due to his effective tracing strategy, owing to his background as a former head of the Crimimal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police.