Pimentel insists not yet PUI when he visited hospital

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 17 2020 10:04 PM | Updated as of Jul 17 2020 11:07 PM

MANILA - After more than 100 days since his alleged breach of quarantine protocol at a Makati hospital in March, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III has finally submitted his counter-affidavit to the complaint against him before the Department of Justice.

Pimentel is facing a complaint for allegedly violating Republic Act No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act when he accompanied his then-pregnant wife at the Makati Medical Center on March 24, despite undergoing testing for coronavirus disease or COVID-19 on March 20.

He was eventually informed he tested positive for the coronavirus while at the hospital.

His defense: He was not a person under investigation (PUI) at the time he went to MakatiMed. Instead, he claimed that he was only a "VIP" or very important person who underwent testing for the coronavirus, according to excerpts of his counter-affidavit leaked to the media.

Quoting news reports, Pimentel said that "not all of those tested for COVID-19 as of March 20, 2020 were PUIs. Some were simply VIPs," citing the President as example.

A PUI is one who has developed fever and/or cough and has either had history of exposure to COVID-19 or travel history in the past 14 days to areas with issued travel restrictions or both.

Pimentel insisted that since he was merely a VIP tested for the coronavirus, he did not breach any protocol.

But he earlier admitted to the media that he experienced body pains similar to flu symptoms and developed fever and sore throat a few days before he went to the hospital.

The senator had no reported direct exposure to a COVID-19 patient but talked to Senators Nancy Binay and Sherwin Gatchalian who were exposed to a confirmed case -- a resource person at the Senate. Both senators later tested negative.

Meanwhile, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri tested positive for the coronavirus.

MakatiMed issued a strongly-worded statement denouncing Pimentel's "irresponsible and reckless action" while the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed Pimentel broke quarantine protocols.

The senator has apologized for his actions.

'ENTITLED RANT OF AN ARROGANT MAN'

Neither the DOJ, Pimentel nor the complainant, lawyer Rico Quicho, were willing to share the full text of Pimentel's counter-affidavit.

But Quicho, in a Facebook post Thursday, confirmed receving Pimentel's counter-affidavit, describing it "an entitled rant of an arrogant man being held to account for his own actions."

Aside from Pimentel's main defense of not being a PUI but only a VIP who underwent testing, Pimentel attacked Quicho in his counter-affidavit, calling him an incompetent witness with no business in the case.

"Hindi dapat payagang 'bilhin' ni Atty. Quicho ang isyung ito dahil wala naman siyang kinalaman dito," he said.

"The pursuit of justice is not the cause of Atty. Quicho. Mark my words: Someone is preparing early for the 2022 elections," the senator claimed, noting that Quicho once failed in his bid to become a party-list representative in the previous elections.

Quicho responded in his Facebook post to what he considers "irrelevant and malicious claims."

"Blame was thrown around: from the DOH’s alleged ineptitude to the birth of his daughter, anything but responsibility for and ownership of his actions. I was even falsely accused of using this complaint as a platform for my own agenda, as if that were enough to distract the DOJ from his blatant violations," he said.

He stressed: "These are the excuses of a man who had been enjoying 113 days of impunity and who had been enjoying VIP favors from then until now. I pray that the DOJ finally favorably resolves this call for a preliminary investigation and that it exercises its mandate to uphold the rule of law."

Quicho said he was given 5 days from Thursday to file his reply and Pimentel is given another 5 days to file his rejoinder. The probe has been reset several times due to the senator asking for more time to file his counter-affidavit.

Meanwhile, the DOH has endorsed Quicho's complaint against Pimentel to the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police.

"To my fellow Filipinos: Watch how the rule of law is applied to you and how it is applied to a Senator. Make our public servants know that we are watching them and that we will hold them accountable. There is power in vigilance," he said.

"To Senator Pimentel: the mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine," he added.