Baguio mayor Magalong offers to quit as contact tracing czar, but resignation not accepted — Palace

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 29)— Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong has offered to step down as the government's contact tracing czar, but was asked to stay on, Malacañang said Friday.

"Mayor Magalong's resignation, however, has not been accepted," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a statement, adding that the official "continues to enjoy the trust and confidence" of the leadership of the country's COVID-19 task force.

Magalong's move comes amid the controversies over a birthday bash he attended earlier this month at a Baguio City hotel — an event which has drawn widespread backlash due to the supposed breach of coronavirus health protocols.

In his resignation letter, Magalong cited a recent incident where "several lapses in protocol were committed."

"In hindsight, being a senior officer of the Task Force, I should have done an immediate spot correction of the errors that I witnessed during that time," Magalong wrote in the document dated Jan. 28 and addressed to National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr.

"I am committed to hold myself accountable and do what is necessary to rectify this misstep," the mayor added, saying the incident was a reminder that a "higher standard is always expected" of him.

Explaining the rejection, Galvez said Magalong has contributed a lot to the task force, and his resignation would be a huge loss for the body.

"Napasakit sa amin nung pinasa nya ‘yung kanyang resignation paper pero hindi po namin matatanggap dahil napakalaki ng ginawa ni Mayor Magalong sa amin," Galvez said in a statement.

"Malaking kawalan po sa amin 'yun, lalo po ngayon sa mga adverse event kailangan po ng 'syndromic' surveillance at saka contact tracing," he added.

[Translation: We were hurt when he [Magalong] submitted his resignation paper, but we couldn't accept it, because Mayor Magalong has done a lot for us. It would be a big loss for us, especially now with adverse events that we would need 'syndromic' surveillance and contact tracing.]

The contact tracing czar was put in the spotlight after photos of him attending events organizer Tim Yap's controversial birthday party circulated online. Parts of the January 17 celebration caught on camera showed Yap and other personalities not wearing face masks and face shields — a violation of the city ordinance that requires fines of at least ₱1,000.

Magalong's wife was also seen without protective gear in a photo with celebrity KC Concepcion, but the mayor said they also asked her to pay up, in line with local regulations.

RELATED: 'No entitlement here': Baguio City mayor assures no one absolved after Tim Yap's viral birthday bash

Investigation on the incident is ongoing, Galvez said, as he appealed to the public to "withhold their judgment" and let the probe take its due course.

The Health Department also expressed support for Magalong, saying the official has immensely helped the contact tracing efforts in the country.

"We know that the President has that trust and the DOH also trusts Mayor Magalong," Health Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a media forum.