Senator Aquilino Pimentel III is now facing charges for going out in public despite showing symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) for which he later tested positive.
The incident raised questions over how the government was implementing its enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) policy.
The complaint emailed to the Department of Justice (DOJ) by lawyer Rico Quicho said Pimentel’s violation of the law on the mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases and epidemics could send him to jail for up to six months on top of a fine.
Quicho said the law punishes the “non-cooperation of the person or entities identified as having the notifiable disease, or affected by the health event of public concern.”
Pimentel was criticized for accompanying his pregnant wife to the Makati Medical Center last March 24 or four days after he was tested for the new coronavirus.
A CCTV footage also saw him shopping at the S&R supermarket in Taguig City on March 16 or 2 days after he already showed COVID-19 symptoms such as flu and body pains.
Quicho said Pimentel “blatantly violated laws, which put the lives and health of frontliners and even ordinary citizens at grave risk.”
“He has categorically admitted his breach without remorse. And yet because of his position, he is still not being made accountable,” Quicho said in a statement.
Pimentel, on the other hand, said that he had not read the complaint.
Pimentel also said he was not familiar with the procedure of filing by email.
“Sana to be fair to me, (Quicho) furnishes me with a copy so I can anwer/respond,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel earlier issued an apology after the MMC denounced his “irresponsible and reckless action,” which “added to the burden of a hospital trying to respond in its most competent and aggressive manner to cope with the daunting challenges of this COVID-19 outbreak.”
The lawmaker said he immediately left the hospital premises after getting a call from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) regarding his laboratory result.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III agreed that Pimentel broke home quarantine protocols when he went to Makati Medical Center.
Quicho urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to “be true to its commitment to the Filipino people to uphold the rule of law without fear or favor.”
“We are one with the Filipino people in condemning negligent and reckless acts which expose the public, especially our health workers to unnecessary risks,” he said.
A preliminary investigation will be set “on such date as may be appropriate” because of the current lockdown, said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
“We assure everyone that the justice department will apply the law fairly and uniformly, regardless of the status of the respondent, with due respect at all times to the rights of the respondent,” he said.
Guevarra said the DOJ investigation would be “without prejudice” to the one earlier initiated by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). /Stacy Ang