Is compassion for everyone? DOJ asked over inaction on Pimentel’s protocol breach

March 26, 2020 - 4:56 PM
Koko Pimentel, COVID-19
Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III wearing a surgical face mask as he attends a Senate hearing on the preparedness of the Philippine government on the novel coronavirus outbreak. (The STAR/Mong Pintolo)

The Department of Justice said that it will not yet investigate Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III until a formal complaint is filed despite breaching the quarantine protocols of a private hospital in Makati City.

On Wednesday, Pimentel disclosed to the media and the public on Wednesday that he tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, March 24.

Hours before getting a confirmation from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, Pimentel accompanied his pregnant wife Kathryna Yu Pimentel at the Makati Medical Center in Makati City for her scheduled delivery.

He did so despite knowing that he underwent a test, was experiencing associated symptoms and could be diagnosed positive for the highly communicable disease.

The MMC issued a statement denouncing Pimentel’s move to leave the house despite being ill. It said the senator also breached its strict infection and containment protocols and as well as the national government’s rules on home quarantine.

As a result, around 22 of the hospital’s nurses are placed in home quarantine, MMC’s director Dr. Saturnino Javier said in a television interview. Others have already been cleared to report to work.

“We cannot strictly enforce the 14 days otherwise mauubusan tayo ng health personnel,” Javier told ABS-CBN.

Moreover, its entire delivery room also underwent decontamination and disinfection following Pimentel’s visit.

Local social media then questioned whether he can be held legally liable for endangering the lives of patients and health workers at the MMC, which has been struggling for weeks from a diminished workforce and swelling of patients with COVID-19.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that the department will observe “compassion” during these difficult times.

“As I have said before, during abnormal times like these, when people are prone to commit mistakes or violations of the law, the DOJ will temper the rigor of the law with human compassion,” Guevarra said.

Criminal law professor Theodore Te and other activists expressed disappointment over this inaction on Pimentel’s violation and supposed social inequality.

‘Compassion is only for high-ranking officials’

In his tweet, Te emphasized that the DOJ gave a different response when an ordinary Filipino has violated a law.

“When the person involved was not a privileged senator, the DOJ opined that secs. 9(d) and 9(e) of RA 11332 could give rise to a warrantless arrest even without resistance,” he said.

“Now, they’re citing tempering the rigor of the law with human compassion? Yea, right,” he added.

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno similarly said that compassion should be for health workers and other front liners exposed to the virus because of Pimentel’s recklessness.

“Pag mahirap, kulong. Pag senador, compassion? Ang compassion e para sa mga may sakit at mga naghihirap, hindi para sa mga pulitikong sadyang nilagay pa sa peligro pati frontliners natin,” Diokno said.

Other online activists and personalities juxtaposed screenshots of reports on the DOJ’s view toward Pimentel with those of Filipinos being detained in isolation rooms or converted cages.

Republic Act 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act states the following prohibited acts enshrined in Section 9:

  1. Non-cooperation of persons and entities that should report and/or respond to notifiable diseases or health events of public concern;”
  2. Non-cooperation of the person or entities identified as having the notifiable disease, or affected by the health event of public concern.

Anyone who violates this provision may “penalized with a fine of not less than 20,000 pesos) but not more than 50,000 pesos or imprisonment of not less than a month but not more than six months, or both, at the discretion of the proper court.”

This is also the same legislation that gave President Rodrigo Duterte the power to impose the enhanced community quarantine last March 16.

Back in March 14, however, Guevarra said warrantless arrests can only be made in case of physical assaults, slander and bribery. Law enforcers cannot arrest people who violate travel or quarantine regulations.

But Gueverra’s remarks proved shortlived. DOJ spokesperson Markk Perete later issued a warning that individuals can get arrested by merely going out to the streets. He added that the activity falls under the same prohibited acts of non-cooperation.

Health workers, emergency and frontliners, employees of retail businesses and public utilities and other Filipinos who need to buy food, medicine and other necessities are the ones allowed to go out for essential movements.

Film director Kip Oebanda compared the DOJ’s statement with the government’s strict imposition on local government units deemed to be disobeying the national government.

Sotto and other LGU officials were told to just follow the president’s orders.

“Oi lakas maka-“sumunod na lang sa policy” at “letter of the law” sa tricycle issue kay Vico Sotto pero compassion ang panawagan ngayon. Kayo ha… too obvious ;)” he tweeted. 

National government, for example, called out Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto for allowing operations of tricycles despite the national government’s directive to stop mass transportation and practice social distancing.

‘I never intended to harm anyone’

Meanwhile, as criticisms pour in against Pimentel, the senator apologized to the public via an interview on ANC.

“I never intended to breach any protocol but I realize now, I unnecessarily caused additional anguish, concern to the courageous healthcare workers who we all depend,” he said.

The lawmaker continued to defend himself and maintained that he only left the house to be with his wife.

“I was simply there to be with my wife during the birth of my daughter,” he said.

The senator, however, confirmed to have recently attended birthday parties, a meeting and a plenary session, with the latest last Monday during the Congress special session for Duterte’s special powers despite bearing symptoms similar to that of COVID-19.

He said he did not make any trips abroad recently.

On Thursday, international supermarket S&R confirmed that Pimentel shopped in its Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City branch last March 16.

“As a result, S&R employees who were in contact with the senator were already placed in quarantine,” it said in a statement.

S&R against Koko Pimentel
Statement of supermarket chain S&R on the recent visit of Sen. Koko Pimentel in its Taguig branch on Thursday, March 26, 2020. Pimentel was later found to be positive for COVID-19.

The supermarket likewise took extra steps to disinfect its branch that has been compromised by Pimentel’s visit.