Palace can't stop Magalong; contact tracing czar says resignation 'irrevocable'

Jeff Canoy and Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 29 2021 10:51 AM | Updated as of Jan 29 2021 08:40 PM

Palace can't stop Magalong; contact tracing czar says resignation 'irrevocable' 1
Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong attends a Senate hearing Oct. 1, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong said on Friday his resignation as the country's coronavirus contact tracing czar was "irrevocable," even after Malacañang said it "has not been accepted," following his attendance at a party where COVID-19 protocols were violated. 

Magalong told ABS-CBN News his "resignation is irrevocable." 

Pandemic authorities should practice "leadership by example," he said.

"Tingnan natin 'yung accountability ng isang ranking official na dapat siya mismo mag-lead ng pagpapatupad ng tama. During that particular moment, mukhang may kakulangan ako so it’s all about accountability," said the mayor. 

(Let us look at the accountability of a ranking official, he himself should lead in doing what is right. During that particular moment, it seems that I had a shortcoming.)

"Kung 'di namin kaya ipatupad gaya ng nangyari noong insidente, better na lang siguro na mag-resign na ako because it’s all about accountability," he added.

(If we cannot implement rules like what happened in that incident, perhaps it is better that I just resign because it’s all about accountability.) 

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In an ambush interview on Friday night, the official said he would discuss his resignation further with Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19. 

He also admitted that while he cannot just abandon his responsibilities as a contact tracing czar in the wake of the UK variant's presence in the country, he had already resigned from his post. 

"As I've said, I already filed my resignation. Of course I cannot just simply abandon 'yung ongoing contact tracing na ginagawa natin lalo yung UK variant, pagtulong natin sa Bontoc at sa La Trinidad. So bukas tawagan ko si Sec. Charlie (Galvez) para pag-usapan namin," he said. 

(I cannot just abandon our contact tracing efforts, most especially with the UK variant's presence in the country. So tomorrow, I will call Sec. Charlie Galvez to talk about it.) 

On Thursday, he wrote to Galvez to "formally tender my resignation as Contact Tracing Czar," showed a copy of his letter that ABS-CBN News obtained. 

He said "several lapses in protocol were committed" in the birthday party for media personality Tim Yap that the official and his wife attended in Baguio City. 

Some of the guests were photographed without anti-virus masks and failing to observe physical distancing. 

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Magalong said that in hindsight, "I should have done an immediate spot correction of the errors that I witnessed during that time." 

“Much as I have been given my best to discharge my duties for the Task Force [on COVID-19], this incident has been a reminder that a higher standard is always expected of me,” read the letter.
 
“It pains me to see my family, and my constituents, in anguish over this but I am committed to hold myself accountable and do what is necessary to rectify this misstep,” Magalong wrote. 

RESIGNATION REJECTED 

Palace spokesman Harry Roque confirmed that Magalong had "tendered his resignation" but that it has been rejected. 

"Mayor Magalong’s resignation, however, has not been accepted," Roque said in a statement. "He continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of the leadership of the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19." 

"Napakasakit sa amin noong ipinasa niya sa akin ang kanyang resignation paper, pero hindi po namin matatanggap, dahil napakalaki ng ginawa ni Mayor Benjie Magalong sa amin," Galvez said in an interview. 

(It was painful for us when he submitted his resignation letter to me, but we could not accept it because Mayor Benjie Magalong has done so much for us.)

Malacañang has yet to release a new statement after Magalong said his resignation was "irrevocable." 

Galvez said the pandemic party "does not speak of Mayor Magalong’s true character nor define him as a public servant." 

"We would like to express our full support to Mayor Magalong," said Galvez of Magalong, a former police general who was his upperclassman at the Philippine Military Academy. 

"We believe that the incident does not speak of Mayor Magalong’s true character nor define him as a public servant. We would like to express our full support to Mayor Magalong." 

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Galvez said Magalong is "considered a trailblazer in the field of COVID-19 prevention and mitigation," and that his "innovative contact tracing techniques" decreased COVID-19 transmissions throughout the country. 

"Mayor Magalong is a true professional and an excellent mentor. He acts as a big brother to everyone, and has never hesitated to share his experiences, knowledge and expertise especially to LGUs who needed his advice on how to effectively contain local transmissions," said Galvez.

As a former police officer, Magalong "demonstrated that he is a man of honor, decency and commitment, and "even President Rodrigo Duterte has vouched for his integrity," said Galvez. 

"As we face the challenges brought about by the health crisis, Mayor Magalong's role as contact tracing czar is crucial as we scale up our COVID-19 response and mitigation efforts," he added.

Galvez, meanwhile, in an interview, expressed his gratitude to the government for their continued trust to him.

PROBE ON

Authorities are investigating the party, said Galvez. Magalong said he was "ready and willing to cooperate" with the probe. 
 
Galvez urged the public to "withhold their judgement and let the investigation take its due course."

"We assure you that those who have committed violations in our community quarantine protocols will be held accountable for their actions," he said. 

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News of the party came around the same time that authorities in Parañaque City were caught on camera violently accosting a man during a clearing operation. 
 
Malacañang said on Thursday the government was favoring no one in its implementation of protocols. 

"Pagdating sa pagpapatupad ng protocols, wala po tayong kinikilala—mayaman, mahirap, lalaki, babae, kung ano mang kasarinlan (sic)," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque. 

(When it comes to implementing protocols, we are not favoring anyone—rich, poor, man, woman, whatever their gender.) 

Magalong has promised to fine even his own wife, said Roque, who himself came under fire last year for attending a crowded Cebu event.

"Hayaan na po natin na umusad ang proseso. Buo po ang tiwala ni Presidente kay Mayor Magalong, buo po ang kaniyang respeto kay Mayor Magalong," the President's spokesman told reporters in an online briefing. 

(Let us allow the process to move. The President has full trust on and he has full respect for Mayor Magalong.)

Other officials have been scored for alleged violations of quarantine protocols, including national police chief Gen. Debold Sinas, Sen. Aquilino Pimental III, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, and Roque.