Lake Sebu, the biggest lake in the municipality of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. MindaNews file photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 02 May) – At least 108 persons, many of them children, were hospitalized Sunday due to suspected food poisoning after reportedly attending a campaign rally in a remote village in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

Roberto Baggong, head of the Lake Sebu Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO), said Monday the victims experienced severe loose bowel movement and vomiting an hour after eating pancit and bihon at a gathering around noon in Sitio Bayabas, Barangay Tasiman.

He said they immediately launched rescue operations for the affected residents after receiving an alert from the Provincial DRRMO past 2 pm

The operation was assisted by rescue workers from this city and the municipalities of Surallah, Tboli, Tantangan and Sto. Nino.

As of 1 am Monday, Baggong said a total of 108 residents from Barangays Tasiman and Lamfugon had been brought and underwent treatment at the Lake Sebu Community Health Care Complex in Poblacion due to food poisoning symptoms.

“Most of the victims were already weak when we got to them. Some were from remote sitios that are not accessible to vehicles so our rescuers had to go on foot to reach the last batch, ”he said in a radio interview.

Based on their monitoring as of Monday morning, Baggong said 46 of the victims were children aged 10 years old and below, while the rest were 11 years old and above, including a senior citizen and a pregnant mother.

He said the victims, with 10 already discharged as of midnight, were from five sitios of Barangay Tasiman and four of Lamfugon.

The official said Mayor Floro Gandam mobilized the local government’s full resources to ensure that the patients would receive proper treatment and other necessary assistance.

Baggong said they are still verifying details of the “mass gathering” attended by the affected residents in Barangay Tasiman.

But Tasiman barangay chairman Joel Madlon told radio station Bombo Radyo that they received information that the gathering was for a campaign rally.

He claimed that some of their sitio leaders reported that nearly 1,000 people attended the event in Sitio Bayabas, about five kilometers from the barangay proper, after being lured by a supposed payout of P500 per head.

“We’re looking into this incident and will make appropriate actions to ensure that it will not happen again,” he said.

Aywing Gadung, organizer and owner of the site where the event was held, claimed in an interview over the same radio station that the gathering only involved her relatives and was not a campaign rally.

She said they served pancit and bihon during the event, which she admitted was in support of the candidacy for municipal councilor of her cousin, Lamfugon barangay chair Lea Lobong.

“She was the only one who attended the event. No other politician was there, ”added Gadung, who acknowledged responsibility over the incident and vowed to shoulder the hospital expenses of the victims.

Lake Sebu town is the tourism capital of South Cotabato famous for its waterfalls and tilapia produced from its lakes. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)

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