At least 3 COVID-19 deaths in Davao linked to cockpit derby; at least 270 who attended have come forward

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 31 March) –  At least three of six deaths from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) here have been linked to the Araw ng Dabaw six-cock derby at the New Davao Matina Gallera here that attracted cockfighting aficionados from all over the country vying for the 26-million peso prize pot, 17 million of that for the champion.

Why the derby proceeded as scheduled despite the February 7 advisory of Health Secretary Francisco Duque to “avoid attending, participating in, and organizing events that draw a huge number of attendees” to prevent the spread of COVID-19,  and following this advisory, Mayor Sara Duterte ordered the cancellation of all activities in the run-up to the Araw ng Dabaw on March 16, is now under investigation, the mayor said in response to MindaNews’ query on Tuesday.

Related story: Davao City Council unanimously approved permit for derby 3 days before Duque’s advisory to avoid gatherings

Entry fee alone in the derby scheduled  March 7, 10, 12 and 14, was pegged at 100,000 pesos with a minimum bet of 11,000 pesos, according to the huge tarpaulin on the fence of the airconditioned cockpit along Matina, which had not been removed as of Monday, March 30 even as its Facebook page, which contained a list of entries and owners, had been deactivated. (The final round was canceled as President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered a lockdown of Metro Manila and banned travel to and from Metro Manila effective March 15).

New Davao Matina Gallera in Davao City. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO BUENO

On Sunday, MindaNews asked Dr. Annabelle Yumang, regional director of the Department of Health (DOH) if all the four deaths recorded in the region as of that time, were linked to the six-cock derby.

“We cannot give details as of this time because all documents are with the hospitals where the patients were admitted,” she replied.

As of 4 p.m. on Sunday, the total number of confirmed cases in the region was 48 with four deaths and five recoveries. Forty of the 48 cases were from Davao City. As of 8 p.m on Monday, the total number of confirmed cases was 50, 41 of that from Davao City. The death toll was at 5 and recoveries at 6.

In a virtual presser on Tuesday afternoon, Yumang said there are now six deaths in the region , three of these traced to the cockpit cluster.

The DOH has yet to release details on the six but among those who died was the operations manager of the cockpit.

Asked on Tuesday if the five reported deaths in the city were connected to the cockpit, Mayor Duterte gave a number higher than five – eight —  but stressed that this was unofficial and that the number should come from the Department of Health (DOH).

(In its 8  p.m. March 31 update posted shortly after 9 p.m., the DOH-Davao reported the total of confirmed cases has reached 59, with eight deaths and seven recoveries. Forty-seven of the 59 are from Davao CIty).

A day earlier, the mayor confirmed there is already a community transmission of the virus. “We have confirmed community transmission here, those who have no travel history and acquired the infection here. We have cases like that here already,” she said. (See other story)

Around the country

A total of 270 persons have come forward in response to the “urgent announcement” of the Davao Region COVID-19 Task Force on March 22  for those who attended the derby and their families, to go on quarantine.

Dr. Cleo Fe Tabada of the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (RESU), said 245 were from within the Davao region (the five Davaos – de Oro,del Norte, del Sur,  Occidental, Oriental and the cities of Davao, Digos, Panabo, Samal, Tagum, Mati) while 25 were from other regions.

Hospital admissions of persons who went to the derby from the Davao region and outside the region have also been reported.

Tabada said there are 65 persons under investigation admitted at the Southern Philippines Medical Canter (SPMC) and 26 at the Davao Regional Medical Center (DRMC) in Tagum City. How many of them have history of exposure in the cockpit, the DOH has yet to say

SIx-cock derby announcement on tarpaulin outside the New Davao Matina Gallera says prize pot is 26 million pesos, 17 million for the champion. MindaaNews photo by GREGORIO BUENO

Bryan Kim Samuel Angoy, barangay captain of Apokon in Tagum City and chair of the Association of Barangay Captains, went public on Facebook on March 26 to announce initial results showed he tested positive of COVID-19 and to apologize to those who may have come in contact with.

He said he went to the derby here on March 10 and 12. He was admitted at the DRMC.

In Tubod, Lanao del Norte, Mayor Leoncio Bagol issued Executive Order 14 on Monday, placing a village under preventive lockdown to prevent the spread  of the disease after laboratory results showed that a 67-year old  man who went to Davao City for the derby,  tested positive of the virus.

In Cagayan de Oro, the DOH Region 10 reported two persons who participated in the derby are confined at the Northern Mindanao Medical Center, one of whom tested positive — the 67-year old patient from Tubod — while the 71-year old male from Xavier Heights in Cagayan de Oro tested negative.

In Digos City, a 38-year old male who tested positive of COVID-19, had a history of exposure in the cockpit.

In Agusan del Sur, the Provincial COVID-19 Task Force called on residents who went to the derby in Davao City submit to formal quarantine procedures.

At the KBP Hour program on March 27, Gov. Santi Cane admitted he was still clueless on the identity of those local cockfighting aficionados who went to the derby in Davao.

Alfredo Plaza, provincial public information officer and spokesperson of the task force, said the governor had  asked police to help locate the derby attendees.


The derby was attended by VIPs, including politicians and businessmen.

Mayor Ramil Lao Gentugaya of  Monkayo in Davao de Oro on Sunday posted on his Facebook page that, indeed, he was in the cockpit on March 10 but “I did not have any close contact with the named personalities circulated online.”

He was referring to photos that had been circulating online “involving my name and some other personalities who allegedly are carriers” of COVID-19.”

Gentugaya also said it has been 19 days since his cockpit visit “and I have not shown any signs and symptoms of the disease. I am at home with my family and I assure everyone that we have been adhering to government protocols regarding COVID-19.”

Sammy Uy, a close friend of President Rodrigo Duterte, posted a message accompanied by a photo of him showing his phone screen’s display, “8:50 p.m. Sun, Mar 29” to prove he is well.

Uy said he was aware of messages going around “involving my name and a few others who are allegedly carriers of the COVID-19 virus and that I have already been admitted and in the ICU of a private hospital.”

“Rest assured, I am at home with my family and have been adhering to government protocols regarding the community quarantine,” he said.

He admitted he was “in contact with a suspected PUI  (person under investigation) last March 12” and “I voluntarily submitted myself to self quarantine.”  He did not say where his March 12 exposure was.

“It has been more than two weeks since, and thank God I have not shown any symptoms of the disease,” he said on March 29.

Urgent Announcement

Panic spread among the “sabungeros”  who went to the derby as well as their families and neighbors when the Davao City government posted at 9:40 p.m. on Sunday, March 22 an “urgent announcement” from the Davao Region COVID-19 Task Force calling on everyone who went to the New Davao Matina Gallera from March 6 to 13, and their families and those they were in contact with, to isolate themselves for 14 days.

The announcement also urged those who have symptoms of colds, cough, fever, diarrhea, sore throat, to proceed to the Sta. Ana Health Center in downtown Davoa City or Crossing Bayabas Health Center in Toril for assessment.

The post was shared not only within the city and region but elsewhere. It  registered 36,000 shares as of 11 a.m. on March 31.

The Facebook page of the cockpit could no longer be accessed but before its deactivation,  MindaNews noted 150 entries for the elimination round on March 10 with owners coming from Davao, Bacolod, Bansalan, Bukidnon,  Cagayan, Caraga, Cebu, Cotabato, Davao Occidental, General Santos, Glan, Kidapawan, Lanao, Leyte, Lupon, Manay, Manila, Marbel, Pantukan, Polomolok, Samal, South Cotabato, Surigao, Tagum and Zamboanga, among others.

Avoid gatherings

On February 7, exactly a month before the derby was to start, Health Secretary Duque  issued an advisory that with the ongoing threat of the spread of COVID-19, the Department of Health “strongly urges the public to avoid attending, participating in, and organizing events that draw a huge number of attendees.”

The DOH also recommended the “cancellation of such planned big events or mass gatherings until further advice” and for the public to “avoid crowded places and continue to practice self-protection measures” to further minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19.

On February 10, Mayor Duterte cancelled all major activities lined for the 83rd Araw ng Dabaw celebration as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We have no confirmed case in Davao yet but the problem is if several people will get infected. Our hospitals cannot accommodate the hundreds and thousands of people (who might be) getting sick (from the virus),” Duterte said in a press conference.

“Our game plan is to ensure that nobody gets sick,” she added.

Only the thanksgiving mass on March 1 pushed through. The other events were canceled.

On Tuesday, in response to MindaNews’ query, Duterte said over DCDR that she has discussed the derby issue with the Sangguniang Panlungsod (City Council) and they are looking for the records. She said the holding of a derby is only up to the City Council which passes a resolution and if approved, goes to the business bureau for the special permit.

She said Councilor Danilo Dayanghirang, chair of the Finance, Ways and Means and Appropriations and Games and Amusement committees, is conducting the investigation and once she gets the report “we can release it and answer the question.”

MindaNews sought Dayanghirang on the progress of his investigation but he has not responded as of 8 p.m. Tuesday. (Carolyn O. Arguillas with reports from Manman Dejeto, Richel Umel, Chris V. Panganiban and Froilan Gallardo)

READ: Davao City Council unanimously approved permit for derby 3 days before Duque’s advisory to avoid gatherings