Two persons who were shown in a photograph together with Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero during a Halloween party in one of the resorts in Tawala, Panglao have come out to refute accusations that they violated health protocols during said event.
Montero has been widely criticized for joining said Halloween celebration which was held at Amanzara Resort in Tawala, Panglao on Sunday.
Businessman Gerry Lugod, whose photo of the party was uploaded on social media, categorically denied the gathering was open to the public, explaining that it was only a private get-together of “family and friends”.
Lugod said there were only a handful of people in that party contrary to reports of more than a hundred attendees and that it was open to the public.
Lugod said the photo which accompanied the story of The Bohol Chronicle published on Wednesday entitled, “Montero under fire anew for alleged Halloween party in Panglao, violating health protocols,” was “unscrupulously grabbed” from his Facebook post, without his permission. It showed him and his wife with Montero and another friend, Raul Phillip Gatal.
Lugod said two Facebook users who had “wrongful motives” against Montero “grabbed” and then uploaded the photo on their Facebook pages that carried captions insinuating that the mayor and company held the Halloween party in violation of health protocols.
“The photo was my private property. I never gave permission to anyone to use it, much less, use it to shame and destroy the reputations of those who were in said picture,” Lugod stressed.
The picture with Montero was supposedly taken at the request of Lugod “for posterity’s sake” as he and the mayor never had an opportunity to have a picture taken of them together since they became friends, Lugod explained.
Meanwhile, Gatal also took to social media to answer the flurry of public criticism generated by said photo on Facebook and over the airlanes.
Gatal said in a statement that is posted on his Facebook page that, “[f]riends and family decided to gather for a private Halloween party at a friend’s resort. It’s a private party.”
He said “mandatory safety protocols were in place and in fact contact-tracing forms had to be filled up by guests even if it felt weird for friends to do it.”
“Out of courtesy and respect, we invited Mayor Nila (Montero) to grace the affair. She said she can’t promise coz she will be going around monitoring how people and businesses are coping in Panglao during the pandemic. To our delight, Mayor Nila showed up but said that she won’t stay long. She just wanted to show her support to local businesses,” he added.
The statement went on, “[b]ut just like any hospitable Boholano who has a guest of social prominence, we offered some food and drinks. So of course, being the kind person that she is (Montero), she obliged and so had to remove her mask so she can eat.”
According to Gatal, the other guests in that party, including him, wanted to have a photo with Montero “being a prominent person” and that the mayor’s close in security had to intervene to stop the others from having their photos taken with the mayor as “it would be a breach of protocols.”
Gatal said the nature of his job as a lifestyle columnist required him to attend such events “with many other mayors and other high-ranking officials, socialites, beauty queens and other newsmakers.”
Gatal criticized the Chronicle for writing and publishing the story “based on a photo that was grabbed from somebody’s timeline” calling it “careless” without having the validity of the item confirmed.
Gatal went on to apologize to Montero and her family for dragging her into the “mess.”
“If there is one thing to be learned here, it is to be more cautious what we post coz we don’t really know how people would react. I also ask the public to be more cautious when we share our opinions if we don’t have all the facts. I beg for forgiveness in the lapse of judgment on our part if you have been revolted to the core about the seemingly harmless activity that has created a social media stir,” Gatal concluded.
THE CHRONICLE’S SIDE
Contrary to Gatal’s statement, the Chronicle story was not based on a single photo.
In fact, it was during the top-rated public affairs radio programs of sister-radio station dyRD where the news regarding the Halloween party first broke out, particularly, on Monday night over Tagbilaran By Nite and subsequently on Tuesday morning over Inyong Alagad.
The Chronicle only picked up the story after listeners of said radio programs revealed the existence of photos regarding the Halloween party involving Montero which was apparently held in violation of health protocols as attendees were shown to have breached the social distancing rule and all of them were not wearing face masks.
Most of the photos were in fact found on the Facebook posts of Gatal which were accessible by anyone on Facebook and on social media as the posts were on “public setting.”
As a matter of editorial policy, the Chronicle’s publisher and editors required screenshots of the photos to be gathered and independently verified from other sources.
Apart from the photos published by Gatal on his Facebook page, a “selfie video” which was taken by Gatal himself was also uploaded.
The Chronicle stands by its story that the photos and the video uploaded by Gatal showed that the attendees of the party were not observing the rules on social distancing and the wearing of face masks, which was the subject of public criticism in the first place.
The Chronicle story carrying the photo of Montero was an editorial prerogative taking into account the fact that the subject of the public’s sentiment is the Panglao mayor’s attendance in said Halloween party.
The use of the photo was not in any way an infringement on the privacy of its owner, the photo having been “publicly” posted on social media by the owner himself.
As a matter of fact, the said photos and the video uploaded by Gatal, including the photo uploaded by Lugod, have already been taken down from their Facebook pages after the backlash and criticism. However, the Chronicle has kept screenshots of said photos and a copy of the subject video.
The B-IATF is already conducting an investigation to check whether social distancing and other rules were committed during said Halloween party.
During its briefing on Wednesday, B-IATF spokesman Dr. Yul Lopez revealed that those found in violation of rules and health protocols will be charged accordingly. (Kit Bagaipo)