Retailer of deadly Laguna 'lambanog' falls ill due to fear, yet to give statement: police

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 24 2019 08:30 AM | Updated as of Dec 24 2019 10:52 AM

A policeman inspects bottles of lambanog that allegedly landed some 300 people in the hospital, at least 11 of whom died. Dennis Datu, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — An elderly woman who had sold bottles of "lambanog" or palm wine that allegedly led to the fatal poisoning of several people in Laguna province has fallen ill due to worry over the incident, preventing investigators from getting her statement, police said Tuesday. 

Some 300 people in total complained of stomach pains and were hospitalized after drinking the wine in different gatherings in Rizal town over the weekend, a few days before Christmas. At least 10 of the patients died from the wine that also killed 3 other people in neighboring Candelaria, Quezon, authorities said. 

"Naospital po iyong matandang babae na retailer po ng Lambanog... Natakot siguro dahil sa mga pangyayari, sa dami ng mga namatay sa pag-inom ng lambanog na ibinibenta niya," said Laguna police chief Col. Eleazar Matta. 

(The elderly woman who sold the wine was hospitalized. She was probably scared by what happened, the number of those who died after drinking the wine she sold.) 

The wine "Rey Lambanog" had a high amount of methanol, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits from being used as an extender of ethanol or legal alcohol, Rizal Mayor Vener Muñoz earlier said. 

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The owner of the 4-decade old wine brand, Fred Rey, appeared before police on Monday and claimed innocence over the deaths. 

"Ilang dekada na raw po silang nagnenegosyo ng lambanog, dini-deny niya na may problema sa pagma-manufacture nila," Matta told radio DZMM. 

(He said he has been in the lambanog business for decades. He denied there was a problem with their manufacturing.) 

Rey, who was not arrested, promised to help shoulder the victims' expenses, said the police official. 

The local government has imposed an immediate ban on the sale of the beverage, which is in high demand over the Christmas holidays.

Much of the coconut wine in the market is manufactured by locals in backyard operations. The government had previously warned against selling unregistered alcoholic beverages.

Methanol can cause blindness and death, said Jose Jonas Del Rosario, spokesman for the capital's Philippine General Hospital. Some manufacturers keep the methanol in, because it means greater volume and more profit, he added. 

Last year, more than 10 people died from drinking coconut wine, samples of which were found by the government regulator to have high methanol content.

-- With a report from Agence France-Presse