EXPLAINER: Confusion from separate categories of Cebu province and 3 Metro cities caused flap over Covid cases. It would've helped if Cebu was classified as one island.

Pachico A. Seares
·4 min read

TURNAROUND BY OCTA. Thursday, January 28, the Octa Research Group sounded its "serious concern" over Cebu's Covid-19 cases. Two days later, in its Saturday, January 30, report, Octa said Cebu City "is showing an upward trend."

Assistant Secretary Jonji Gonzales noted the shift, saying in his Facebook post Tuesday, February 2, that the new advisory now has more data about Cebu City.

Between the two Octa reports, released in a span of three days, Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia blasted the first advisory for getting the wrong figures and wondered why the researchers were singling out Cebu. That heated up local public discussion over the current "spike" of coronavirus infections.

That was also probably what changed Octa's focus, which was its way of correcting its earlier report.

Octa's first advisory warned that Cebu could hit 400 new cases of Covid in the next two weeks, that is, this week and next week.

THESE TWO WEEKS. As of the last four days of January, Cebu City logged more than 100 new cases each day, raising the total to 12,647 cases by February 1. That's the "upward trend," which Octa's January 30 report mentioned. Reproduction number has gone up to 1.62, Octa said, "based on seven-day moving average," with Cebu City (not Cebu Province) as "primary driver."

Media reports said on February 1 the entire Cebu recorded 158 new cases, with Cebu City, 77; Lapu-Lapu, 23; Mandaue, 20; and Cebu Province, 38.

CORE CAUSE OF CONFUSION. Apparently, Octa combined Cebu Province with Cebu City, Mandaue City and Lapu-Lapu City as one area, bundling them into one and stamping one label on the island, Cebu.

Octa summed up the numbers from Cebu Province and those of the three cities and concluded that Cebu was an area of "serious concern."

The governor promptly complained, showing the figures from her 44 towns and six component cities, which showed it was not serious in the province where, aside from the different population density and lifestyle, the mayors have "control of the situation" and "can cope" with the increase in infections.

DOH LISTING, FRAGMENTED CEBU. Octa's research must have missed these facts:

[1] In reporting of Covid cases, the Department of Health (DOH) has separated the three cities (Cebu, Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu) from each other and from Cebu Province.

The three cities -- called Tri-Cities in the OPAV "Project Balik Buhay" -- are highly urbanized and independent cities, whose voters, except Mandaue's, cannot vote in province elections. (Republic Act #6641 of 1987 amended Mandaue's charter, thus allowing the city's qualified voters to vote in Cebu Province elections.)

[2] While all the cities and towns of Cebu operate in one geographical location, they are separate LGUs with their respective chief executives who may belong to rival parties or may not share similar ideas or concerns in tackling a problem.

[3] Effects of a fragmented Cebu and the absence of unity, decried by many Cebuanos and recognized by Manila politicians, usually spill over not just to elections but also big-ticket projects.

The current health crisis has provided illustration of the clash of personalities, if not interests. The tri-cities project on swab tests involved only the Metro Cebu cities and didn't include the province or at least some of its towns and cities in the metro area. Border control rules clashed for some time, making access and exit a vexing ordeal to travelers and checkpoint guards.

BREAKING DOWN NUMBERS. The towns and cities of Cebu may be categorized as one, with only one label for the entire island. One daily total for the entire Cebu, but with breakdown of the numbers per town and city, can give a fairly accurate picture, on which assessments by research groups may be made.

But such a breakdown is being done already, with a summary in percentages. For example, the Tuesday, February 2, DOH report says Cebu City cases comprise 44.6 percent and Cebu Province cases, only 28.2 percent.

The breakdown goes from national and regional levels to cities, towns and barangays. Obsession with numbers, as well as location of the hubs of contagion are crucial to getting the bases for planning and operations, an IATF official said last June.

June 2020 was when Cebu City was called epicenter of the pandemic in the country and Cebu Province was not. Which must partly explain the governor's objection to the first Octa report and her staunch defense of Cebu's capacity to repel Covid-19.