Death of tourist in Palawan raises questions on safety

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Travis Millard (R) was on a vacation at Coron, Palawan with his partner Miguel Ruiz (L), when the latter stepped on something that caused him to have difficulty breathing. Reports said that he might have stepped on a venomous stonefish.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — It was a dream vacation that turned into a nightmare. That's how Filipino-American tourist Travis Millard described the events that led to the death of his 25-year-old partner Miguel Ruiz.

On August 14, they were on a weekend getaway in Coron, Palawan. Millard and Ruiz went on an island-hopping adventure at Siete Pecados, along with three more tourists and a guide.

But when they got to the seventh island, something went terribly wrong.

"All of a sudden I can hear him shout, and he said: 'I stepped on something and I'm having trouble breathing,'" Millard said.

He said Ruiz's condition started to deteriorate.

"The spaces between Miguel's breath became further apart and he began to wheeze more loudly and then he began to froth in the mouth," he said. "When he passed out, I noticed that his face was changing color so I laid him down and I began to perform mouth-to- mouth resuscitation, while the boatmen just watched us from a distance."

Millard said nobody among the tour personnel knew how to perform basic CPR. He had to do it himself until Ruiz was put in the ambulance when they reached shore.

But Ruiz was pronounced dead on arrival at the Coron District Hospital.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) is now looking into the incident.

"Kailangan maimbestigahan ito. Kailangan malaman kung ito ba nabigyan ng permit ng local government," DOT Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr. said.

"Ang position po kasi namin sa DOT lahat po ng ating mga tour guides kailangan ay handa sa anumang mga emergency kaya dito natin nakikita yung importance ng training," he added.

The Coron Municipal Hall has yet to release an official statement, but it denied allegations that tourists are not given sufficient warning against such incidents.

"Ma'am meron po tayong mga naka-post po mismo na mga billboard and signages po sa Sietepicados like no stepping on the corals. Meron po tayong mga signages na naka-post po doon sa site mismo," Corrine Kong of Coron's tourism office said.

Possible stonefish poisoning

According to reports, the victim was probably poisoned when he stepped on a stonefish, a venomous fish that looks like a coral.

The stonefish is one of the 359 species of dangerous fishes in Philippine waters.

But the death certificate sent to the family indicated that Ruiz drowned. The family said it will demand a re-autopsy.

"How dare you attract people from around the world. How dare you take our money and not protect us and give us even the idea or educate us on dangers that exist," Millard said.

He hopes that Ruiz's story would lead to public awareness, but more importantly, and prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.

"I would never ever want this to happen to anybody else," Millard added.