Koko and selective justice
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - April 1, 2020 - 12:00am

The incident surrounding Senator Koko Pimentel has exposed anew the sense of entitlement of those in high government positions. It made it obvious that in this administration, the rule of law is selective and applies only to the poor, the powerless and those not aligned to the powers that be. 

We all know the story. Senator Pimentel exposed innocent bystanders to the coronavirus when he accompanied his wife to the Makati Medical Center (MMC) last March 24. As a result, at least 22 medical practitioners were put in quarantine, effectively weakening the already dwindling medical force of the hospital. The Senator also exposed scores of others at S&R and two social events he attended.

The seemingly “intelligent” Senator argued that he did not know he was contagious even if he reported body pains, diarrhea and a fever of 38 degrees Celsius as early as March 14. After all, he had not been diagnosed as being positive for COVID-19 yet. 

The Senator’s reasoning is flimsy. In the first place, the fact that he had himself tested for COVID after feeling ill tells us that he already suspected himself as being a carrier of the virus. Secondly, with the media campaign on the coronavirus hogging the headlines for three months, surely, the Senator must have figured out the implications of being a person under investigation (PUI) and the risks involved. How can a bar topnotcher and one who attended several senate inquiries on COVID-19 not know the implications of being a PUI? 

This leads me to believe that the senator went to the MMC and galivanted around town knowing full well that he could be infectious. In other words, he exposed others to the virus willingly and knowingly. He may not have intended to cause harm, as he claims, but that is exactly what he did. His actions were insidious and reckless.

This is why I cannot accede to his appeal for understanding. From where I sit, the senator acted with entitlement, believing that the rules of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) were for him to accept or ignore. He acted selfishly, putting the people he swore to serve behind his personal agenda. He showed little regard for the welfare of his fellowmen.

While we understand that it is human nature to want to be with your spouse during medical procedures, it does not excuse him from putting others in harm’s way. As a public servant, a senator at that, he is held to a higher standard.

During his apology, the Senator even had the audacity to present himself as a victim of public bashing. This is the height of self-absorption. Here is a situation where scores could have been infected with a life threatening disease. Instead of extending personal assistance to the plagued, he complains about being bashed. It is as if the world rotates around this man’s orbit.

With lives put in peril, we hoped that the Senator would do the honorable thing and resign. He did not. His lack of scruples showed that he is not as remorseful as he should be. In fact, he revealed himself as being even more entitled than we thought. Hence, the public outcry on social media.

Justifying his actions, the Senator said that the existing medical protocols in handling infectious diseases might have changed over time. He is obviously laying the foundation for his defense. 

In an attempt to protect Malacañang’s close ally, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that he will not yet order an investigation of Senator Pimentel. He justified the Senator’s reckless actions by saying “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.”

Compassion. The DOJ never spoke of compassion when ordinary Filipinos were herded like cattle by police squads, arrested and sent to prison over simple violations as breaking curfew. 

What Sec. Guevarra is really asking us to do is to be selective with our compassion. We refuse – simply because it is morally wrong and doing so will only undermine the rule of law. I am surprised that such a request came from the Justice Secretary himself. It shows how thwarted values have become.

Wasn’t it the Department of Justice who previously said that non-cooperation and violations to the ECQ may be grounds for prosecution, even warrantless arrest, citing Republic Act No. 11332, or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act. And that those who defy the law will be punished with a penalty of up to P50,000 and 6 months in prison.

Why is Secretary Guevarra diluting the force of the law? Shouldn’t he be the champion of blind justice? Why is he playing politics when he should be above it? All this puts his credibility to question.

Following public outcry, Sec. Guevarra backtracked and said we would “investigate and resolve Sen. Koko Pimentel’s case in exactly the same way the DOJ handles all other cases brought before it.”

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo chimed-in and said that “no one will be exempted from the law.”

But in a personal interview, Panelo said “it’s not his (Pimentel) fault.” The bias of Malacañang revealed itself.

Disappointingly, even Senator Gordon asked for understanding of Sen. Pimentel saying in the vernacular, “I know Koko, he is decent, not mean and does not abuse. Let us not feast on him.” I expected more from Sen. Gordon. Using the same logic, does he mean that all those who commit a crime should be absolved if they are decent, kind and unabusive? Sen. Gordon’s position shows that in the prevailing system, political bedfellows protect their own and their loyalty to each other precedes that of the law. The double standard is appalling.

No surprise, members of the ruling party, PDP Laban, for which Senator Pimentel is president, said they would not sanction the Senator, neither will they investigate him. It just proves that PDP Laban puts politics before principles. Let us remember this in the polls.

I am not counting on Senator Pimentel to resign over this. Neither am I optimistic that the state will try him in the same manner as an ordinary citizen. He is an ally and will be treated with kid’s gloves. I hope to be proven wrong.

One thing is for sure, if Senator Pimentel is allowed to go scot free, civil society will have its ultimate revenge in the ballot box.

KOKO PIMENTEL
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