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NBI summons Vico Sotto for alleged violation of COVID-19 quarantine rules

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has asked Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto to explain his side on a possible violation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

NBI Deputy Director and spokesman Ferdinand Lavin confirmed that the anti-graft division sent the mayor a letter inviting him to appear at the NBI's main office in Manila on April 7.

"For LGU officials for disobeying national government policies or directives in imposing qurantines under the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act," Lavin said when asked what Sotto's violation was.

This is a prohibited act under the newly-signed law, which allows President Rodrigo Duterte to exercise additional powers to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

This and other prohibited acts are punishable by two months of imprisonment and/or a fine of P10,000 to P1 million.

Public officials may also suffer perpetual or temporary absolute disqualification from office, according to the law.

Sotto's specific act that prompted the NBI's invitation was not immediately known. Lavin said he was not privy to the investigation details. Sotto later said it was regarding the "continuous tricycle operation" in his city.

Sotto has questioned the allegation that he violated the law.

In a tweet, Sotto said he was being asked to explain an alleged violation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act such as the continued operation of tricycles.

"We complied with all directives. Hindi po illegal magbigay ng opinyon," Sotto said in reaction to the National Bureau of Investigation communication asking him for an explanation.

"Alam kaya nila na March 24 naging batas ang Bayanihan Act?" he added.

In his first report to Congress pursuant to the new law, Duterte said the NBI was investigating and filing charges against local government officials who "willfully disregard, contravene, or violate" the community quarantine guidelines set by the national government.

NBI Director Eric Distor ordered the bureau's agents to conduct investigations, even without complaints and upon order of higher authorities, on Tuesday, March 31.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the "penal provisions of any law are not applied retroactively unless the offense is a continuing one and its commission has not been stopped."

A retroactive application means a law will be applied even to acts committed before the law was in effect.

When Duterte imposed an enhanced community quarantine over Luzon mid-March, he also suspended mass public transportation.

Sotto, who allowed tricycles in Pasig City to ply their routes to transport health workers and emergency patients to hospitals, asked the national government to exempt tricycles from the ban.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, however, said social distancing was difficult to enforce in tricycles and that other LGUs can use other vehicles to ferry frontline workers.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government urged Sotto to check the alternatives used by other LGUs.

Sotto eventually acceded and complied with the directves of the national government as regards the quarantine. -NB, GMA News