NBI wants Vico Sotto to explain 'violation' of quarantine protocol

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
NBI wants Vico Sotto to explain 'violation' of quarantine protocol
This undated photo shows then-Councilor Vico Sotto whowon the Pasig City mayoral race in the 2019 midterm elections.
Facebook / Vico Sotto (Janina Vela)

MANILA, Philippines (Update 3, 9:20 p.m.) — The National Bureau of Investigation asked Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto to explain a possible violation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the law that grants President Rodrigo Duterte sweeping powers to implement measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among those powers is to make sure that local government units follow national government guidelines on the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine inLuzon.

In a message to Philstar.com, NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand Lavin said: “NBI did, for violation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.”

He explained that the letter was for “LGU officials for disobeying the national government policies in imposing quarantines.”

Lavin added that Sotto is being asked to come to the NBI office on April 7 at 10 a.m.

Retroactive application?

In a separate The STAR tweet, the NBI said that Sotto will be given the opportunity to explain why he should not be charged for violating RA 11469 when he allowed tricycle drivers to operate despite a mass transportation ban.

Sotto said in a tweet that the NBI asked him for an "explanation on the alleged violation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (e.g. continuous tricycle operation)."

The Pasig mayor, during the first week of the Luzon-wide quarantine, allowed tricycle operators to ferry healthcare workers, saying the city does not have enough government vehicles so they had to look at alternatives . He also appealed to the government to exempt the tricycle drivers from the suspension of public transportation.

A GMA News Online report dated March 19 quoted Sotto as saying that the Pasig City government will comply with the national government's ban on PUVs, including tricycles.

"We here in Pasig will comply with whatever directive of the national government," the city mayor was quoted as saying in Filipino in an interview with GMA News' "24 Oras".

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act on March 24. The law does not contain a provision on retroactive application.

Sotto also pointed this out in a tweet as he wrote: “We complied with all the directives. It is not illegal to give an opinion."

"And do they know that the Bayanihan Act became a law on March 24?"

SOJ: Applicable if crime is continuing

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarrra, in a message to reporters, said that the NBI and its regional offices are under instruction to "monitor the actions of all LGU officials and investigate any cotnrvention of guidelines set by the IATF."

Asked if an act committed before the law punishing it was signed—that is, if penal laws be applied retroactively—Guevarra explained that "penal provisions of any law are not applied retroactively unless the offense is a continuing one and its commission has not been stopped." 

Since the IATF rejected Sotto’s appeal for the use of tricycles, the city government has deployed electric buses to ferry essential workers in the city.

The NBI was also asked why it is not conducting a probe into Sen. Koko Pimentel who breached quarantine protocols by repeatedly leaving home while waiting for the results of his COVID-19 test. Pimentel found out he was positive for COVID-19 while at the Makati Medical Center, a trip that the hospital said put its patients and staff at risk.

A The STAR report said that the bureau noted that President Rodrigo Duterte’s order was to investigate local officials on the ground implementing the quarantine.

Pimentel also invited to explain

In a clarification on Wednesday night, the NBI said it will also actually invite Pimentel to its office, saying it could not send the senator a letter because he is currently in isolation for COVID-19.

"My instruction was, if Makati Medical Center or any other party in interest does not file any complaint, then the NBI may initiate its own fact-finding and ask Sen. Koko to explain his side," Guevarra said Wednesday night.

He earlier said that in Pimentel’s case, the department will determine “whether a motu propio (by its own initiative) investigation by the NBI would still be necessary.”

This was after MMC denounced Pimentel’s breach of containment protocols when he brought his wife to the hospital while he was waiting for the results of his COVID-19 test. He had also gone shopping at a groecery store in Taguig, prompting S&R Membership Shopping to put members of its staff on quarantine.

Pimentel has since apologized for his actions, while a private lawyer said last week that they are readying complaints against the lawmaker. — with reports from The STAR/Marc Jayson Cayabyab

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