NBI says probe vs Vico Sotto 'politicized, sensationalized'

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 02 2020 10:21 AM | Updated as of Apr 02 2020 01:43 PM

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MANILA - The National Bureau of Investigation said Thursday some individuals have "politicized" and "sensationalized" its investigation of Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto's possible violation of a recently approved law that gave President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The NBI's anti-graft division had asked Sotto about his proposal to allow tricycle drivers to continue operating in his city despite a ban on public transport under the Luzon-wide lockdown. 

"This is an invitation, not a subpoena," said NBI deputy director Ferdinand Lavin. 

"Hindi lang naman ito kay Mayor Sotto. Medyo na-politicize lang ito, na-sensationalize," he added. 

(This is not just for Mayor Sotto. This was just a bit politicized, sensationalized.) 

The NBI also asked Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel, a barangay officer in Las Pinas and other officials to explain quarantine and physical distancing violations, he said. 

Sotto, 30, earlier said his city needed tricycles to ferry medical workers and patients. On March 19, he said he would comply with the public transport ban. 

This was before lawmakers on March 24 passed the Bayanihan as One Act that allowed Duterte powers to reallocate government savings to COVID-19 programs, control private businesses under special circumstances and grant exceptions to the procurement law, among others. 

The law cannot be applied retroactively, some senators, including the mayor's uncle Senate President Vicente Sotto said Wednesday. 

The hashtag "#ProtectVico" topped worldwide trends on the same day as thousands of netizens - including usually apolitical celebrities - tweeted their "disappointment" with the NBI's investigation. 

"Ang NBI naman hindi namumulitika. Hindi kami namulitika kahit kailan. We're not only looking at Pasig City. I think this is a misconception. We're looking at the other areas," said Lavin. 

(The NBI does not play politics. We neved did.) 
 
"This is part of panawagan ng Presidente... He asked all agencies, state forces to come together and help him dito sa sitwasyon," he added. 

(This is part of the President's call. He asked all agencies, state forces to come together and help him here in this situation.) 

The NBI is also investigating alleged incidents of profiteering, hoarding and fake news during the COVID-19 crisis, said the lawyer. 

The Philippines as of Wednesday confirmed 96 deaths out of its total 2,311 cases of the respiratory disease. The tally could continue to climb following the recent delivery of test kits and the accreditation of additional screening laboratories, said the health department. 

Metro Manila and the entire Luzon, home to about half of the country's 100 million people, is under lockdown until April 12 to contain the pandemic.