Pimentel off the hook for going out while waiting for COVID-19 test results

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Pimentel off the hook for going out while waiting for COVID-19 test results
This Feb. 4, 2020 photo shows Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III wearing a face mask during a Senate hearing on COVID-19.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice has thrown out a complaint against Sen. Koko Pimentel — who went out in public while waiting for his COVID-19 test results — over an alleged violation of a law the government said could be used to arrest quarantine violators.

The Office of the Prosecutor General (OPG) on Thursday said the complaint filed by lawyer Rico Quicho against Pimentel for violation of Republic Act 11332 was dismissed due to lack of probable cause.

RA 11332 is the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.” Early in the lockdown, in March 2020, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said quarantine violators may face arrest under this law or for disobedience under Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code.

Thousands have been arrested and detained in the long months of the quarantine. The STAR reported last October 25 that 123,994 quarantine violators had been detained since March, with most arrested for resistance and disobedience.

Complaints of "non-cooperation" under RA 11332 were also filed and subsequently junked against supposed quarantine violators, such as activists on their way to a relief operation in Norzagaray, Bulacan and protesters outside the University of the Philippines Cebu in June.

RELATED: DOJ: Law applied consistently during pandemic; 'known' personalities prosecuted too

Prosecutors: RA 11332 not applicable to Pimentel

But the prosecution, in resolving Quicho's complaint, held reporting under RA 11332 is only for public health authorities.

The law also punishes “non-cooperation” of persons and entities identified as having the notifiable disease, or affected by the health event of public concern.

But Pimentel cannot be charged under this provision, either. The OPG said that the senator had nothing to report when he went to S&R Membership Shopping in Taguig City on March 16 nor when he went to the Makati Medical Center on March 24 with his then pregnant wife.

Grocery staff who had come into contact with the senator were put on quarantine and the store "also took extra disinfection steps" after it was learned that Pimentel had been there, S&R said in an advisory last March.

According to a timeline by CNN Philippines, Pimentel said he started feeling body pains on March 14, two days after senators learned that a resource person at a hearing tested positive.

He took a COVID-19 test on March 20 and was waiting for the release of the test when he brought his wide to the hospital where he found out that he was infected with the novel coronavirus.

The OPG however said: “There is no ‘non-cooperation’ under Section 9(e) of RA 11332 as [Pimentel] was deemed to have ‘cooperated’ when he left the hospital premises immediately after receiving information about his medical condition.”

Pimentel, for his part, said that the DOJ’s resolution is “unassailable and correct,” adding that he was prosecuted for “non-penal [Department of Health] issuances” which are not even addressed to him.

RA 11332 however penalizes violations with a fine or imprisonment, or both.

READ: Whatever happened to: Quarantine violators in Philippine government

'Quicho complaint fatally defective'

The prosecution also held that Quicho’s complaint “is fatally defective” as he was not the proper party to sue Pimentel. It added that Quicho only presented news reports as evidence, which is deemed hearsay and cannot be relied upon as proof of allegations.

The National Bureau of Investigation also submitted a memorandum in September, prompting the prosecution to reopen the preliminary investigation. The bureau had then submitted an incident report from the Makati Medical Center.

Prosecution Attorney Honey Delgado, OPG spokesperson, said that the NBI’s submission was also taken into consideration in the resolution.

She added: “In fact, NBI submitted to the DOJ a final report recommending that the case be closed and terminated.”

Quicho, for his part, said this in Filipino on the junking of his complaint: “The DOJ is blind, mute and deaf.”

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