Milk tea shops can be seen everywhere, from around campuses to malls to other popular locations especially in urban areas. This industry has been thriving in the Philippines since the early 2000s, thanks to Zagu, which claims to be the pioneer in adding “pearls” to their products, and Orbitz, which had the late Rico Yan as endorser.
Given this, it comes as no surprise that the public became so alarmed following the widely reported death of two individuals just minutes after drinking milk tea from Ergo Cha Milk Tea House, William So-Abrigo (the shop’s owner) and Suzaine Dagohoy, who went to the shop with her boyfriend. The news clip below from GMA News TV’s State of the Nation provides a good background about this story:
An examination conducted by the Department of Health showed that the samples did not have toxic substances, which seems to be hard-to-believe considering the scenes recorded in the CCTV.
Health Secretary Janette Garin announced that there will also be tests to include blood, gastric, and tissue samples obtained from the victims to investigate the matter further, adding that what happened in Ergo Cha appears to be an isolated case.
This lack of certainty has paved the way for various theories about the incident to thrive on the Internet, with all of them focusing on apparent cyanide poisoning.
Facebook user Roan Ruanto, for example, theorized that the tapioca pearls used by Ergo Cha might have contained cyanide, citing various websites as his source. The post already had close to 8000 shares as of writing time.
The possibility of cyanide poisoning was also raised by Philippine College of Physicians president Dr. Anthony Leachon, saying that just a few substances can immediately kill human beings. He however pointed out that the DOH failed to secure adequate milk tea samples to test which led to them reporting inconclusive results.
If it’s really because of cyanide poisoning, how did Ergo Cha’s beverages have high levels of cyanide? One source who previously had a milk tea shop in Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City told The Filipino Scribe that foul play is the more logical scenario.
According to him, if there’s something wrong with the milk tea ingredients (mostly imported from Taiwan), then others should’ve died of poisoning elsewhere. That hasn’t happened yet. “Tapioca pearls had been around for 15 years now,” he pointed out.
The family of Suzaine Dagohoy is reportedly eyeing filing charges against the heirs of Abrigo. Given the facts reported in the media, the charge can either be reckless imprudence resulting to homicide and serious physical injuries (if the poisoning was triggered by the ingredients used for the products) or even murder if the poisoning was done deliberately.
Here are the things that the government should do within the next few days in connection to this case:
1) Avoid making premature announcements, especially having in mind that ill-fated press con held by Secretary Garin
2) The National Bureau of Investigation must step in to help the Manila Police District in investigating
3) The son of the owner must be declared a “person of interest” in this case based on circumstantial evidence (no other proofs had surfaced so far). At the 2:23 part of the news clip above, an unidentified worker in Ergo Cha recounted that the owner’s son brought a glass full of a foul-smelling liquid two days before the deaths happened.
4) The Health Department and the Food and Drug Administration must use the opportunity to remind the public of the need to be mindful of the ingredients used in milk teas and various types of palamigs being sold.
Getting to the bottom of what happened last April 10 in Ergo Cha Milk Tea is really important. A lot of milk tea businesses are thriving right now and it will be very wrong for them to lose clients just because of misinformation and public hysteria.