Criminal cases readied vs Koko Pimentel for breaching COVID-19 quarantine

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 26 2020 02:34 PM | Updated as of Mar 26 2020 03:23 PM

MANILA—A group of lawyers is preparing criminal charges, including a disbarment case, against Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III for violating the Luzon-wide community quarantine when he accompanied his pregnant wife to the hospital despite previously showing symptoms of COVID-19, for which he had been tested.

Pimentel’s results came out positive triggering widespread condemnation for exposing doctors and other health workers at the Makati Medical Center (MMC) to possible infection.

“He is not only an ordinary citizen. He is a senator of the republic. As a lawmaker, he should not be a lawbreaker,” lawyer Rico Quicho told ABS-CBN News.

Quicho described the upcoming complaint as a “test case” which could “encourage other citizens” to also go after Rep. Eric Yap, who attended a Malacañang meeting and a special session of Congress despite already getting tested for COVID-10. Yap’s result also came out positive.

Pimentel violated the law on the “mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases and health events of public health concern,” said Quicho, who’s working on the case with 9 other lawyers.

The law imposes a jail term of up to 6 months and may include a maximum fine of P50,000 for persons who will not “cooperate.”

“He could be prosecuted at this point, in fact to the extent that he could be detained for violation of the said law and the enhanced community quarantine protocols,” the lawyer said.

Quicho said he and his legal team would also push for Pimentel’s disbarment, arguing that lawyers “should follow the law” but the senator exposed medical front-liners to the possibility of acquiring the new coronavirus.

VIPS

In the meantime, Pimentel can be detained for violating what was supposed to be a community quarantine imposed by the Philippines over its largest island to contain the spread of the virus, said Quicho.

"Humingi ang gobyerno ng emergency powers eh yung kapangyarihan pala ng pamahalaan na yun ay gagamitin lang sa mga ordinaryong mamamayan. Pagka mga VIP, pagka-nasa posisyon, parang nag-aabugado pa yung DOJ,” he said.

(The government asked for emergency powers. It turned out, those powers will be used on ordinary people. If you are a VIP or hold a position, it seems the DOJ is lawyering for you.)

Justice Secretary had said his department would “temper the rigor of the law with human compassion” during the COVID-19 crisis, which he described as “abnormal times.”

Quicho said his move to go after Pimentel was not “payback” for the senator’s protracted committee investigations into the alleged corruption of then Vice President Jejomar Binay in 2014.

Binay saw the Pimentel-led hearings as a propaganda campaign to jeopardize his chances in the 2016 presidential election. Quicho served as Binay’s spokesman.

“This has nothing to do with politics,” Quicho said. “It was really a spontaneous reaction on my part.”

Pimentel has apologized saying he “never intended to breach any protocol” when he brought his pregnant wife to the MMC last March 24.

He showed symptoms of the virus more than a week earlier and was tested on March 20. He said he was informed of his positive result at around 9 p.m. on March 24 when he was already at the hospital.

But as someone already classified as a person under investigation, Pimentel should have remained on a 14-day quarantine, said Dr. Saturnino Javier, MMC’s medical director.

“Sa tuwing nagsasalita si Sen. Pimentel, lalo lang nakikita na very irresponsible yung ginawa nya, very reckless,” Quicho said.

(Every time Sen. Pimentel speaks, it becomes more obvious that what he did was very irresponsible, very reckless.)