Birthday Bashed: Celebrity Parties Spark Outrage in Virus-Hit Philippines

Critics highlighted the double standard as tough pandemic control measures remain in place for most Filipinos.
January 27, 2021, 11:32am
Philippines, pandemic, parties
For illustration purposes only. PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

Riding a white horse led by a shirtless man wearing indigenous dress, a Filipino media personality held a lavish birthday party this month that drew criticism for ignoring coronavirus safety measures in a country with one of the worst outbreaks in Southeast Asia.

In videos on Instagram posted as early mid-January, TV host and top event organizer Tim Yap was seen enjoying himself with several celebrity guests, most of whom were not wearing face masks and face shields required of any person leaving their home. 

The party in Baguio City, a cool highland area in the northern Philippines, was the latest bash to anger a public frustrated over what many see as double standards in enforcing virus restrictions. Over the course of the pandemic, critics observed, ordinary Filipinos caught violating health rules have been thrown in jail or made to sit under a hot sun as punishment.

Recording 516,000 cases and 10,300 deaths, the Philippines has one of the highest caseloads in Southeast Asia, outdone only by Indonesia. The country is also facing an uphill battle when it comes to vaccine procurement and mistrust over inoculations.

One influencer who attended Yap’s party defended the event and said all attendees were tested before driving to the upland Baguio City. 

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“Everyone’s aware of the protocols. We know that [Baguio City] is strict when it comes to implementing these,” she told VICE World News, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity over the issue. “But of course during the party, some people just became lax, especially when taking selfies while eating.”

Baguio City, a popular summer vacation spot first developed by American colonial administrators, closed its borders after successfully controlling the virus. It reopened to tourists in October 2020 but requires visitors to show negative COVID swab tests. 

Yap has since apologized over the breached health protocols.

“I am very, very sorry for those videos that came out where we didn’t wear our masks,” he told CNN Philippines. “There’s no excuse for not wearing your masks. We have to be at all times vigilant and take care of each other.”

But anger grew after it was revealed that Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, who was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte to lead the national contact tracing program, was seen in videos at the event.

Magalong, a retired police officer, admitted in a radio interview that even his wife violated the health protocol “at times.” He said he told Yap “don’t worry about” the controversial party and thanked him for promoting the city. 

“I understand what happened. Everybody was just so engrossed, so engaged, that’s why the protocols were forgotten at times,” he said in the interview. 

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Both Yap and Magalong could not be reached for comment.

In another recent party in Manila, a prominent actor landed in hot water after the restaurant that hosted his birthday bash was shuttered by the local government for failing to enforce physical distancing requirements. In a now viral photo, he was seen swarmed by camera-toting guests as he blew out his birthday cake candles.

The partygoers also said everybody was tested. But both the Philippine Department of Health and the World Health Organization have said that a negative swab test is not a pass to party because of the varying incubation period of the virus. 

“The gruesome display of wealth in the middle of the pandemic when many lost their jobs is appalling and worrisome,” RJ Naguit, a doctor and activist, told VICE World News. 

“It’s very evident there’s economic inequality that is manifested in the level of impunity we’re seeing right now. If you’re an ally of the President or if you’re rich, you can get away with anything.”