Tawi-Tawi COVID-19 free no more

Batanes to Tawi Tawi

Julmunir I. Jannaral

In my previous topic here in this column I was happy to write that Tawi-Tawi, which is my 2nd home Province is COVID-19 Free. This was even announced by Dr. Safrullah Dipatuan, the minister of the Ministry of Health (MoH) of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Dr. Dipatuan, being the health minister emphasized that Tawi-Tawi remains to be Covid-free. Well this was before July 5.

Tawi-Tawi was wearing the crown for several months and finally was dethroned last July 5 and the crown was changed into Coronavirus when TWT001 suffered a Technical Knock Out (TKO) after he underwent a Swab Test and the result came out to be Positive (+) last July 5.

Thus both the declaration on Tawi-Tawi as COVID-19 free and the proactive approach of its IATF approach to curb the virus are now overtaken by the recent development involving the person of TWT001 who is actually a 44 year old police officer or a personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) assigned with the Tawi-Tawi Provincial Police Office. 

Based on record TWT001 is an LSI (Locally Stranded Individual) who arrived in the Port of Bongao last June 30 and underwent Swab Test and the result came out to be Positive (+) last July 5.

TWT001 being the first COVID-19 patient in the entire Tawi-Tawi Province became a celebrity over night. However, some of the people in Bongao have hated him for his carelessness.

He boarded the boat last June 30 in Zamboanga City without observing the health protocol of undergoing the required Swab Test in order to determine that he is in his pink of health or not.

But unlike other boat passengers,  who have been tested with Swab Test, TWT001 bypassed all the protocols.

In fact confident that he is a police officer anyway he boarded the boat without his name being listed in the passengers list or the Boat Manifest.

The contact tracing for Patient TWT001 is full of controversy as far as his movements are concerned. His point of origin started in Barangay San Isidro in Quezon City. Then he went to Zamboanga City then proceeded to Basilan and returned to Zamboanga City. Then took a boat to Bongao and arrived on the 30th of June. A journalist friend in Bongao told me as per record of Contact Tracing, TWT001 although asymptomatic got in contact with more or less 300 persons.

However, Health Minister Dipatuan also emphasized that to date, there is no recorded local transmission in the region, adding that the “rise in numbers is due to returning BARMM residents classified into Locally Stranded Individuals (LSI), Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROF) and those availing of the Hatid Probinsya Program.”

Be that as it may, Tawi-Tawi has now its own COVID-19 which in the past people thought that it was just a myth and has no way of reaching this southernmost province.

In fact my good friend Dr. George R. Lee, Al Haj whom I know for several decades was very consistent in advising the people of Tawi-Tawi particularly those residing in Bongao.

Everyday I read his post in the social media particularly the Facebook advising his town mates to take extra careful that who knows one day COVID-19 will reach the town of Bongao.

However many think that he is just mere “paranoid” or according to Merriam-Webster dictionary of being “extremely fearful”. Dr. Lee being extremely fearful does not mean he is not only afraid for himself nor his family alone.  But he is afraid for the entire people in Tawi-Tawi from being infected with this Coronavirus.

“Wayruun na susunan sin kami, dain sin katagnah sambil bihaun wayruun da nalawa in pagpatumtum namuh sin paghallih sartah ha hunah-hunah hambuuk adlaw mamisita ra mari pa hulah natuh kalasahan in COVID-19 ini,” was the emotional answer in Tausug dialect of Dr. Lee when asked for his reaction that there is now a COVID-19 case in Tawi-Tawi. (We have nothing to regret from the very start until now the reminder to all has not stopped to be extra careful that who knows one day this COVID-19 will visit our loving province.)

“But let us pray to the Almighty Allah (SWT) that there will be no more additional COVID case that would happen here in our place,” said Dr. Lee as he prayed to the Almighty.

Then he reiterated his favorite health advice to the people whether one will believe him or not. “Lets not forget the usual preventive measures:

1. STAY HOME unless when necessary

2. Wear FACE MASK when with other people outside your homes

3. Practice SOCIAL DISTANCING when in a crowd

4. WASH HANDS properly when you arrive home.

5. Proper cough etiquette.

“May Allah (SWT) bless us all,” is the closing prayer of Dr. Lee who like any other medical doctor is well guided by his “Hippocratic Oath” to heal and care the sick people. This is an oath embodying a code medical ethics usually taken by those doing medical practice.

MP Alih urgent appeal

As this developed, Tawi-Tawi Member of Parliament Hadji Eddie Mapag Alih made an urgent and emotional appeal to the national government.

MP Alih asks the national government to pay attention also to the island provinces of Southern Philippines.

“Bigyan ninyo po  kaming pansin nasa Southern part ng Pilipinas- Zamboanga, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi (ZamBaSulTa),” MP Alih said. (Please give us attention we in the Southern part of the Philippines, the ZamBaSulTa)

“Maybe it is unknown to you, these four provinces are considered the backdoor entry of Filipinos travelling from Sabah,Malaysia. Many are travelling ilegally and cannot be monitored even by the government. They use wooden boats and dock at many ports in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi,” he said.

According to MP Alih when Malaysia declared a national lockdown, thousands of illegally documented Filipinos in Sabah escaped and travelled to BaSulTa. 

Hence, the number of PUMs and PUIs in these provinces have increased in a matter of days. 

He said Malaysia now has the most number of positive cases for COVID-19.

MP Alih have these litany of questions that must be answered by the national government.

“Do we have food? Yes may isda at gulay pa po kami.”

“Are people panicking?YES

Why? Because there is no way for us to find out if these PUIs are positive or not. We don’t know if they are carrier or not. Hindi po kaya ng mga albularyo namin diagnose kung positive  sa COVID o hindi.”

“Malayo man kami sa Metro Manila, pero napakalapit po namin sa Malaysia, bigyan nyo din po kami ng pansin, Pilipino din po kami,”  MP Alih stressed.

Finally his strongly worded reminder to the national government that ” we are Filipinos too!”


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