MANILA – The Department of Justice will not yet order an investigation into Sen. Aquilino Pimentel’s alleged breach of his quarantine when he accompanied his wife to a hospital despite having been tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“The facts are unfolding by themselves. The parties directly concerned are speaking publicly about the incident. Third parties (some thirsting for blood) are bringing in information from all sources into the open,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters in a message on Wednesday.
“Leave it to us to determine whether a motu proprio investigation by the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) would still be necessary,” he added.
Pimentel acknowledged on Wednesday that he was inside the Makati Medical Center (MMC) Tuesday to accompany his wife who was scheduled to give birth Wednesday morning, despite being on quarantine as a person under investigation.
He said he only received a call from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), which conducts testing for COVID-19, on Tuesday night, informing him that he tested positive for the virus.
He also acknowledged having experienced COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, slight sore throat, body pains, flu, chills, colds and diarrhea while waiting for the results of his test although he said that he always had recurring problems with some of these symptoms.
The hospital issued a stern statement denouncing Pimentel’s “irresponsible and reckless action.”
“By being in MMC, Senator Pimentel violated his Home Quarantine Protocol, entered the premises of the MMC-DR (delivery room), thus, unduly exposed healthcare workers to possible infection,” the statement signed by MMC Medical Director Saturnino Javier said.
“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. The entire Delivery Room Complex will have to undergo decontamination and disinfection before it can be used.”
The DOJ had previously said that “non-cooperation” by violating the enhanced community quarantine may be a ground 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.
Section 9(e) of RA 11332 punishes “non-cooperation of the person or entities identified as having the notifiable disease, or affected by the health event of public concern” with up to P50,000 penalty and 6 months in prison.
This law, along with the Revised Penal Code provisions on resistance and disobedience to a person in authority and direct assault, has been used by local authorities to arrest alleged violators of the ECQ and curfew ordinances.
DOJ spokesperson Usec Markk Perete had said even those caught outside their houses violating the quarantine may be a ground for warrantless arrest.
Asked about Pimentel’s case, Perete said a complaint must first be filed by “those who have knowledge of the incident.”
“A finding of probable cause is based on established facts. Facts are established by those who have personal knowledge of the incident,” he said.
He also ruled out the possibility of a warrantless arrest.
“A warrantless arrest is allowed following the en flagrante delicto principle, in cases of hot pursuit, among others. Thus far, reports have not alleged circumstances establishing the requirements for any of these grounds,” he explained, giving the assurance that “any complaint – regardless of the identity of the respondent – will be objectively evaluated during the appropriate proceedings.”
Guevarra echoed Perete’s explanation.
“As I have said before, 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. But this is not to say that the DOJ will not act upon the filing of a proper complaint by any interested party,” he said.
Guevarra clarified Pimentel could not invoke parliamentary immunity to avoid punishment because parliamentary immunity is not applicable if Congress is not in session.