MANILA -- A 25-year-old man died after he allegedly stepped on a poisonous sea creature, possibly a stone fish, while on vacation in Coron, Palawan last Friday.
The victim, Miguel Ruiz, was on vacation with his boyfriend, Travis Millard, in Palawan last week when the incident occurred.
Millard, 24, said he and Ruiz booked a guided tour of the island, where they were supposed to visit several destinations.
"When we got on the boat, they offered us life jackets but didn't mandate them. They offered us some snorkeling gear but they told us, you know, it would really be a necessary thing for us. We really didn't know what we were getting into because we just expected that we were just gonna go from place to place and just really observe the beauty of Coron and do a couple of activities," he said.
"At no point was any risk or dangers mentioned to us concerning anything we will be exposed to, except for a casual mention of jelly fish. But outside of that, there was no precaution given to us with regards to where we should avoid, or what we should do or not do," Millard added.
They were on their last destination in Siete Pecados, where they were informed that they can go snorkeling, when Ruiz suddenly shouted in alarm.
"At some point, me and Miguel separated, about maybe five meters or so, and out of nowhere, he gasped, 'Travis!" and then I turned back and he removed his mask and said, 'I stepped on something and I'm having trouble breathing.' Those were his exact words," Millard said.
Millard said he immediately went over to where Ruiz was, and asked their tour guide for assistance. He was then told that they were probably just tired from snorkeling the whole day.
"We called the tour guide over to us, and we asked for some assistance, and he told us, 'Oh, you're just exhausted, you know, we've been snorkeling all day. Just lay down.'," he added.
A "frothy" substance started coming out of Ruiz' mouth, and Millard then insisted to their tour guide that they need to go back.
"I can no longer hear the deep breaths. It seemed as if he was kind of being quiet, and then I noticed that his face was starting to change colors. At this point, the tour guides distanced themselves from us."
It was also Millard himself who performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Ruiz, as the tour guides and other members of the group watched.
"At that point I was furious because there was nobody assisting us, and I screamed, "Help me! Help me, don't just watch, help me!' Finally, the tour guide came and helped his head, and every time I would blow air, he would be the one to help expel the vomit from his mouth," Millard said.
He added that there was no one in the group who had enough phone credits to make a call.
"There was no assistance at all. It was my phone they used to call, it was me that was doing what little training I remember from health class in 7th grade... I was in a total shock that it was like they were just watching this horrific scene with no assistance at all," Millard said.
Ruiz was taken away on an ambulance as soon as they arrived on shore.
"In my experience, ambulance with paramedics, when you get the victim to the vehicle, they should immediately administer aid, but at this point, it was like a taxi of his death, because they just put him on the back, and they didn't do anything. They just began to drive," Millard said.
The door of the ambulance was also jammed, making it difficult for them to get out of the vehicle as soon as they arrived at the hospital.
"I banged, almost broke the glass. They didn't know what to do. They tried opening it from the inside, from the outside. It was me, then I said, 'Just take him from the front," Millard narrated, adding that Ruiz was carried out of the ambulance on a cushion, as there was no stretcher.
Ruiz was declared dead on arrival at the hospital, with the doctor informing Millard that he has been dead for several minutes.
"I had never... bedside manner, the lack of care. It was like the person who I loved, he saved all his money to invest into the tourism of Coron so we can enjoy this time together. I took time off work to come here to the Philippines to enjoy this beautiful scenery, this place that people claim as one of the most beautiful places in the world, yet they don't have those basic things as hospital, or protocol to react to something like this," Millard lamented, adding that Ruiz did not drown.
ABS-CBN tried to get the statement from the hotel where Ruiz and Millard stayed but the management refused to comment on the incident.
Based on the official report from the local police station in Palawan, Ruiz drowned. However, they are also looking at other possible reasons, including that of the victim stepping on a stone fish.
"Lahat naman po pag nag-iimbestiga tayo, tinitingnan ang lahat ng posibilidad. Kung totoo man na stone fish ang dahilan hindi po natin tini-take for granted po yun," said Police Senior Insp. Aldrin Atienza, spokesperson of Palawan Provincial Police Office.
TRAINING FOR TOUR GUIDES
Meanwhile, Chin Fernandez, president of Calamian Association of Tourism Establishments, tour guides should also know how to perform basic first aid as it is part of their training.
Due to the incident, Fernandez said they will conduct a first aid refresher course for all their tour guides.
"We are doing our best to standardize and make sure that the stays of our tourists pleasant. I'm sure no one wanted this to happen. We will continue to improve our services," she added.
The Tourism Office of Coron, Palawan, in a text message, said they are still waiting for the results of the autopsy on Ruiz before they can release an official statement.
The autopsy results are expected to come out in two weeks. A copy of the result will also be given to the local government of Coron for appropriate action.