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DOJ to apply law ‘fairly, uniformly,’ says Guevarra

The Department of Justice will apply the law "fairly and uniformly," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said after a criminal complaint was filed against Senator Aquilino Pimentel III over his alleged breach of self-quarantine.

"We assure everyone that the Justice Department will apply the law fairly and uniformly, regardless of the status of the respondent, with due respect at all times to the rights of the respondent," Guevarra said in a message to reporters.

Lawyer Rico Quicho on Monday filed a complaint accusing Pimentel of violating Republic Act No. 11332 and regulations of the Department of Health. The senator said he has yet to read it.

Pimentel said he has yet to receive a copy of the complaint.

Pimentel, who tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), earlier drew criticisms after he accompanied his then-pregnant wife to Makati Medical Center despite supposedly being under quarantine for a then-suspected infection.

The private hospital condemned Pimentel's action. The senator claimed he only learned he was COVID-19 positive when he was already at Makati Med and said he left immediately. He has since apologized.

RA 11332 penalizes the "non-cooperation of persons or entities that should report and/or respond to notifiable diseases or health events of public concern," and the "non-cooperation of persons who have been identified as having the notifiable disease, or those affected by the health event of public concern."

"Non-cooperation" and other acts prohibited by this law are punishable by a fine of P20,000 to P50,000 and/or one to six months of imprisonment.

"We've been waiting for the filing of this complaint," Guevarra said.

He said they will immediately schedule the preliminary investigation, taking into consideration the current lockdown.

The preliminary investigation is where prosecutors will determine if there is probable cause that Pimentel did what he was accused of and whether or not to file charges in court.

Guevarra said the preliminary investigation will not affect a separate probe on Pimentel that was launched by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

On orders from the justice chief, the NBI said last week that it will invite Pimentel to explain his side.

Guevarra earlier told reporters to leave it to the DOJ to determine whether a motu proprio investigation -- or one started without a complaint -- was necessary.

He said the DOJ will "temper the rigor of the law with human compassion." — RSJ, GMA News