Two lawmakers in trouble

Alleged violations of health protocol spark uproar; Palace issues warning

Officials proven to have violated health protocols will not be spared, Malacañang said on Thursday amid the public uproar over Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr.’s violation of COVID-19 quarantine protocols that led to the exposure of at least eight medical personnel.

The Presidential Security Group is also looking into possible charges against ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap for breaching protocol after he attended a meeting despite knowing that he was already considered a patient under investigation (PUI).

“The equal protection clause of the Constitution imposes equal treatment to all. Any transgressor therefore must be dealt with in accordance with law,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

“The protocols set by the government for persons under investigation or monitoring must be strictly and absolutely observed by all people falling under the said categories, regardless of their socio-political status. They are not meant to discomfort or burden anyone. There are no exemptions for any person on these health protocols. Those holding high positions in the government are enjoined to set an example to their constituents by strictly observing them,” Panelo said.

Pimentel, who eventually tested positive, brought his pregnant wife to the Makati Medical Center (MMC) Tuesday despite undergoing self-quarantine at home pending the result of his COVID-19 test, which he took days earlier.

He also admitted to attending two parties and a meeting during his self-quarantine period as a PUI. S&R supermarket also confirmed Thursday that Pimentel shopped for groceries at its Bonifacio Global City branch in Taguig.

The MMC publicly berated the senator for putting at risk hospital frontliners who are already overstretched with the spike in the number of COVID-19 patients.

“By being in MMC, Senator Pimentel violated his home quarantine protocol, entered the premises of the MMC-Delivery Room Complex, thus unduly exposed health care workers to possible infection. As a result, a number of our nurses and doctors may need to be quarantined, which will further deplete the dwindling workforce of the hospital,” MMC Medical Director Saturnino Javier said.

Pimentel has since issued a public apology and appealed for understanding and compassion, which the Department of Justice was quick to give amid public demand for a criminal case to be filed against the senator.

“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,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

He said, however, the department will still determine whether it will order a probe motu propio (on its own) or act on a complaint filed by any interested party.

The government earlier warned that quarantine violators may be arrested and charged for violating Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code which “punishes resistance and disobedience to a person in authority or the agents of such person” and Republic Act No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.

A group of lawyers said they were preparing to file complaints against Pimentel for violating quarantine laws, which they said was tantamount to criminal negligence.

Lawyer Rico Quicho, the former dean of the University of Makati School of Law, said Pimentel should be held liable for endangering the lives of medical workers and other individuals at the MMC.

“We are already preparing the complaint based on the Revised Penal Code provisions and special laws. We cannot allow the indifference of the DOJ on this. We should strengthen the complaint,” Quicho said.

Quicho said it is clear that Pimentel violated the protocols and the law and he should not be allowed to wiggle his way out of the situation by saying he was just excited to see the birth of his daughter.

“Excitement is not a reason to expose people and medical practitioners to danger. What human compassion is he talking about?” Quicho said.

The lawyer said if ordinary people who violated the curfew imposed under the enhanced community quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19 could be arrested, then Pimentel should be held liable for what he did.

“Thousands are being arrested on the spot for violating the enhanced community quarantine because we need social distancing. But why is it that if it’s ordinary people it’s easy to humiliate and arrest them but not for Koko [Pimentel] and the other VIPs?” he said.

Quicho also appealed to the public if they know someone at the MMC who witnessed the incident to reach out to them to help them with additional testimonies to strengthen the case against the senator.

He said lawyers and law students who also want to help are welcome.

“Law students and lawyers unite. Let us protect our medical practitioners from this kind of people,” Quicho said.

He also called on the Philippine Medical Association to file a case against Pimentel on behalf of the MMC staff.

Quicho also called on the MMC management to release the footage taken by their close circuit television cameras of the incident.

“The MMC should release the CCTV footage so that the DOJ and the public will know what really transpired. It’s their obligation to the patients and the public. Release the CCTV as soon as possible and help us file the criminal complaints as well. It is your corporate social responsibility,” he said.

The DOJ earlier said they could not initiate an investigation on Pimentel without any formal complaint filed, a departure from past statements from Guevarra who said anyone could be arrested if they violated the protocols on the enhanced community quarantine.

PSG chief Colonel Jesus Durante III, meanwhile, said they are looking into possible charges against ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap for p attending a Malacañang meeting despite having symptoms of COVID-19.

The neophyte partylist solon attended a Malacañang meeting on March 21 despite being a patient under investigation or PUI. He is the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations.

Yap, who has tested positive for COVID-19, admitted to attending meetings at the House of Representatives and Malacañang Palace while waiting for his test results to come in.

According to reports, Yap attended a meeting at the Palace with other government officials including Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte, Senator Christopher Go, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on March 21.

“I attended the meeting and was careful the whole time knowing that I could potentially be a carrier of the virus,” he said.

The congressman appealed for understanding from the people he may have exposed to the virus, and said he wasn’t showing any other symptoms when he went to work.

Yap also attended a special session at the House of Representatives on Monday, which later granted President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers in the fight against the coronavirus. The session was attended by Cayetano, Medialdea, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, among others.

Go, who met with the infected congressman on Saturday at Malacañang Palace, said in a statement that he will undergo self-quarantine, and that authorities are currently initiating contact tracing.

Go, a close ally and confidant of Duterte often accompanies the Chief Executive to meetings.

Several congressmen who have had contact with Yap said they opted to undergo self-quarantine.

“While I had no close contact with our esteemed colleague, House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Eric Yap, during last Monday’s special session, the most responsible thing for me to do at this moment is to undergo self-quarantine,” House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez said in a statement Thursday.

“To put on record, I have not developed any symptom of the coronavirus disease-19.”

House Minority Leader Benny Abante also said that as a precautionary measure, he would go on self-quarantine together with members of his family to avoid potentially infecting others.

Similarly, Isabela Rep. Tonypet Albano said he would go into self-isolation for 14 days.

“Congressman Eric and I worked closely together to fix and amend (the emergency bill) with everyone else. I practiced social distancing with everyone there, but I had my mask off at times when we were all eating and working,” Albano said.

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Topics: Koko Pimentel , Eric Go Yap , COVID-19 , Saturnino Javier , Philippine Medical Association , Makati Medical Center , Salvador Panelo
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