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Koko Pimentel may have broken law with trip to Makati Med, legal experts say

Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III announced on Wednesday he had tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Hours later, the Makati Medical Center said he broke quarantine protocol when he went with his pregnant wife to the hospital, potentially exposing medical staff to infection.

The senator said he learned about the test result when he was already at the hospital and left immediately. He has apologized.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said it was up to his department to determine whether to investigate the incident even without anyone filing a complaint.

Undersecretary Markk Perete said that for a complaint to prosper, those who have personal knowledge of the incident should file it.

Before this, the Department of Justice had said violators of quarantine guidelines imposed by the government could be arrested for "non-cooperation" even if they did not seriously disobey or resist authorities.

The senator has been heavily criticized online for his action. A lawyer has said he was drafting a complaint against Pimentel.

These are some of the terms that have come up in questions and statements about the senator's possible liability for the alleged protocol breach: 


Republic Act. No. 11332, or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, penalizes, among others, the "non-cooperation" of persons who have a notifiable disease, should report or respond to such diseases, or are affected by health events of public concern.

This is one of the laws that the DOJ said could be basis for the arrest of Luzon quarantine rule violators. Prohibited acts under this law are punishable by a fine of P20,000 to P50,000 and/or one to six months of imprisonment.

For Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, Pimentel's alleged act counts as "non-cooperation."

Father Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, said the senator's liability depends on when he learned he was COVID-positive.

"Until that fact is clear we will not really know his culpability because kung dati na niyang alam na positive siya pumasok pa rin siya, that really makes him fully culpable, on the other hand if he knew it only later on, we cannot blame him for having accompanied his wife," Aquino said in an interview over Dobol B sa News TV on Thursday.

"But there's another point to consider: the senator also knew that he had mingled with other people who were under investigation or monitoring," he added.

Olalia said Pimentel's claim that he did not yet know his test result when he went to the hospital is a matter of defense.

"Let him put that up as a defense as he is entitled to. But there is already prima facie or reasonable ground to start the process," Olalia told GMA News Online.

Aquino said that assuming that Pimentel had known his status, Makati Med "and anybody who was in the area who is potentially affected by the infection" have the legal personality to file a complaint.

Warrantless arrest

Could Pimentel have been arrested without a warrant for breaking quarantine?

On Wednesday night, Perete said reports had not alleged circumstances that would establish the requirements for the grounds for warrantless arrest.

According to the Rules of Court, warrantless arrests could be made when a person has committed, is committing, or attempting to commit an offense; if a peace officer or a private citizen has "probable cause" to believe that the person has committed a crime that has just been committed; or when a prisoner has escaped.

"The principle of in flagrante delicto" -- or caught in the act -- "in warrantless arrests is what is in issue here," Perete said Thursday. "That applies if the offender is caught while in the act of committing the offense or crime, but obviously not after."

Asked if Makati Med doctors as private citizens could have arrested the senator on the spot, Perete said: "Hypothetically, based on my personal opinion, that is possible."

In this hypothetical situation, he said the propriety of the arrest would subsequently be evaluated in the proper proceedings.

Motu proprio investigation

The justice secretary has on several occasions ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into crimes, including the murders of mayors and the alleged involvement of immigration personnel in corrupt schemes.

This time, Guevarra said "the facts are unfolding by themselves" and the parties concerned are speaking about the incident. "Leave it to us determine whether a motu proprio investigation by the NBI would still be necessary," he said.  

A motu proprio investigation is one initiated even without a complaint.

An NBI investigation is usually ordered when the suspect, the victim, and the witnesses and the facts of the case are not yet known, Perete said Thursday.

Law and compassion

When asked if he would order an investigation on Pimentel, Guevarra initially said: "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 first made the statement when the issue was the arrests of violators of quarantine rules now that courts and prosecution offices are physically closed.

"I assure you that your SOJ tempers the rigor of the law with human compassion," he told reporters last week.

Chel Diokno, chairperson of the Free Legal Assistance Group, called out Guevarra over his new statement.



"Pag mahirap, kulong. Pag senador, compassion? Ang compassion e para sa mga may sakit at naghihirap, hindi para sa mga pulitikong sadyang nilagay pa sa peligro pati frontliners natin," Diokno tweeted on Thursday.

"Bakit pag ordinaryong tao, parusa agad? Pero kung big time, walang pananagutan?" he said.

Aquino, for his part, said of Guevarra's statement: "That sounds very good, it sounds very good, but my only appeal is if you apply that to Koko, apply that to everybody else." -NB, GMA News

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