Food poisoning cases in Caraga region reach 1,699; candy-maker denies responsibility

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/11 July) — Authorities in Caraga region are on alert after the number of food poisoning cases rushed to hospitals overnight since Friday in Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Sur reached 1,699.

The Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (RDRRMC) in Caraga region immediately called for an emergency meeting Saturday morning to assess and address the mass food poisoning attributed to durian and mangosteen candies bearing the brand name “Wendy’s” from Davao City.

But the manufacturer of “Wendy’s” went to the Talomo police station in Davao City on Friday afternoon to say they had nothing to do with the sale of their candies in Caraga region, that the vendors may have repacked and re-sold their products, and that their candies have a shelf life of only six months and the vendors may have sold expired products.

As of Saturday afternoon, a total of 1,699 cases of food poisoning allegedly from eating these candies had been reported in Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Sur. Of this number, 339 were admitted in hospitals, Liza Mazo, regional director of the RDRRMC and Office of Civil Defense said.

Mazo said she immediately called for a meeting with the different regional offices of the Department of Health, Philippine National Police, Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine Army, Department of Interior and Local Government, provincial and local government units.

“We called for meeting this morning to discuss what was needed to be done as reports had been arriving in our office since yesterday afternoon.  We issued an advisory to the public to address the need to be vigilant as well as to cut speculations. We hope that the problem would be contained anytime soon as our health and emergency services are working round the clock to address the situation,” said Mazo.

The DOH report indicated that the first reported cases of 286 came from the town of Cagwait in Surigao del Sur on Friday morning, July 10. By the late afternoon and into the evening, reports started coming in from other towns of Surigao del Sur.

Rushed to hospitals

As of  8 a.m. on Saturday, July 11, the DOH reported the number of cases had reached1,260 based on reports from the district hospitals in the towns of Marihatag, Lianga, Cortes, Madrid, Rural Health Unit in Cagwait and the Adela Serra Ty Memorial Medical Center in Tandag City.

Doctor Jeanne Maningo, City Health Officer of Bayugan in Agusan del Sur recalled that several students started arriving at the Bayugan City Community Hospital by 5 p.m. on Friday.

“At around 5 in the afternoon we started receiving patients with complains of abdominal pain, headache, dizziness, fever, vomiting and some even presented red eye. By 11 in the evening the cases reached 160, mostly students,” Maningo said.

She said they admitted 13 patients for hydration with intravenous fluids while others with no severe symptoms were given medications and were sent home. Some, however, returned, she said.

By Saturday morning, the cases in Bayugan City had increased to 234 with 19 patients admitted in the hospital.

Most of the patients in Bayugan came from Agusan del Sur College, Bayugan West District Elementary School and a smaller number from Bayugan Central National High School.

A report released by the RDDRMC showed Surigao del Norte recorded 191 cases in the Surigao del Norte Provincial Hospital in Placer town, five of them admitted in the hospital while Caraga Regional Hospital in Surigao City reported 12 cases with 10 admissions.

Arrested

Police Superintendent Martin Gamba of Caraga Police Regional Office 13 announced that eight of the 12 suspects had been apprehended.

Gamba said that as of July 10, Cagwait police arrested Junnil Teriote Martinez, 30; John Dequilla Oben, 36; and Joel Alferez Paja, all residents of Calinan, Davao City.

In Tago, Surigao del Sur, police personnel intercepted in their vicinity a white Mitsubishi L-300 FB Deluxe bearing plate number MEM-366, registered under the name of the Executive Pastor of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ at KJC Compound, Phil-Jap Highway, Davao City.

Gamba said the vehicle was used by 28-year old Richard Lawag Rivera Jr . and 19-year old Martinez Sawit Bocaycay of Calinan, Davao City, “in selling the poisonous candies.”

Gamba added that the police in Tandag City also arrested Genelyn Dorgas Pasa,  26, of Bucana, Davao City and Henryto Bitco Amoguis, 21, of Valencia, Bukidnon, at the premises of the Special Education Elementary School in Tandag City selling Wendy’s Durian, Mango and Mangosteen candies.

On Friday, Senior Supt. Narciso Cerdadeno, provincial police director, said they arrested eight vendors who were said to have sold the candies bearing the brand name ‘Wendy’ and suspected to be the cause of the food poisoning.

“We now have in our custody eight ambulant vendors which we had arrested who claimed they are from Davao City and travelled all over Caraga region. We confiscated durian and mangosteen candies all carrying the Wendy’s brand,” the police official said.

“We also have in our custody the vehicle they used, a white L300 van-type vehicle with plate number MEM366,” he said.

In Davao City, Janet Aquino, owner of ‘Wendy’s Durian Candy’ appeared before the Talomo Police Friday afternoon to clarify that they are not behind the selling of their products in Surigao.

CNN Philippines quoted Aquino as saying it is highly possible that their durian candies were repacked and re-sold. Aquino also said their durian candies have a shelf life of only six months and that the candies sold in Surigao may have expired already.

CNN Phlippine also quoted Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, OIC mayor, as saying he immediately coordinated with Surigao del Sur’s officials to assure them that the city government would aid in the investigation. (Erwin Mascarinas / MindaNews)