By Argyll Cyrus Geducos, Jeffrey Damicog, and Ben Rosario
A senator and a congressman, who had tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), are facing charges for breach of quarantine protocol.
The Presidential Security Group (PSG) said it may file a case against ACT-CIS party-list representative Eric Go Yap for “endangering” a lot of people by breaching Malacañang’s protocol when he attended a meeting in the Palace Saturday.
On Wednesday, Yap revealed he had tested positive for COVID19, and the results came out days after he attended important meetings in Malacañang and the recent special session of Congress.
A separate charge is also being readied against Pimentel for violating measures under the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine when he visited the Makati Medical Center (MMC) last Tuesday, March 24, even though he was supposed to be under self-quarantine.
Former University of Makati law dean lawyer Rico Quicho on Thursday, March 26, said he, along with his law associates, law students, and friends are drafting the complaints that will be filed against the senator.
“We cannot let such ineptitude into positions of power. We will rely on the full force of law – we are looking into criminal, civil, administrative charges. Not only to make him accountable, but also to set an example,” he told reporters.
The founder of the Quicho and Angeles Law firm also asked doctors, nurses, and families of patients who can become witnesses to come forward.
“We are coordinating with different medical associations, individuals, and concerned citizens and we encourage MMC to review its CCTV footage and join us in clarifying the facts of the situation and holding those responsible to account,” said Quicho, a former spokesman of former Vice President Jejomar Binay Sr. and the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“We owe this not only to the other MMC patients exposed, but also to the front liners who were put at risk,” he pointed out.
PSG probes breach
PSG commander Jesus Durante III said he already ordered an investigation on the incident and will wait for the probe to be completed before deciding on filing a complaint against Yap.
“Ongoing yung investigation. Nag-form na ako ng team (The investigation is ongoing. I already formed a team), actually a task force from the team. If it’s really necessary to file a case against him then we will,” he said Thursday.
“Umattend siya sa meeting involving itong mga (He attended the meeting together with our) other Cabinet secretaries and it really endangered everyone dito sa loob Palasyo (inside the Palace),” he added.
Present at the Palace meeting that drew up plans for the passage of House Bill No. 6616 or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One” bill were Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, senators Christopher “Bong” Go and Pia Cayetano, and Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Elray Villafuerte.
Among the key Cabinet members present were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, and presidential peace adviser Gen. (ret) Carlito Galvez.
According to Durante, Yap did not declare that he was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms when he filled out the form handed out to Malacañang visitors.
“Based on his declaration form, he specified ‘No’ to every question. Wherein the mere fact ng mga statement naman niya na lumabas is dapat ‘Yes’ yung sagot niya sa iba (based on his statements, he should have answered ‘Yes’ in some of the items),” he said.
“He did not declare na may contact siya (that he was in contact) with some people who were found positive. He has coughs, he has been experiencing some symptoms, hindi niya lahat diniclare ito (He did not declare all of these),” he added.
“Talagang misdeclared lahat yung other items, not all the top items, yung nilagay niya. So isa yun, kaya pinapa-imbestigahan ko (Other items were really misdeclared. So that’s one of the things I had investigated),” he continued.
Durante said he already required six PSG personnel to undergo selfquarantine while he estimated the number of persons under investigation (PUIs) from the Office of the President (OP) to be at around 20 people.
“I’m requiring them (PSG personnel) actually to go on self-quarantine. May mga measures naman kami dito like daily check-ups for them, pinupuntahan sila ng mga medical teams natin (We have measures in place like daily check-ups for them. They are visited by our medical teams),” he said.
“It could reach up to 20 people kasi kasama dito yung (including the) support personnel, eh. Because from there, pagdating pa lang, processing pa lang, pagdating niya (when he arrived, he would have been processed, then) somebody would meet him, then assign him to a seat, search him. Itong mga waiters natin, then the staff na nandoon (We also have waiters and other staff) present at the meeting,” he added.
Pimentel visited the hospital Tuesday night to accompany his pregnant wife even though he was supposed to be under self-quarantine since he has been categorized at that time as a person under investigation (PUI) for having the deadly 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). He later revealed that he tested positive for COVID-19.
“All he had to do was to simply stay at home. But he refused to do that. When he made the reckless decision to go to MMC, all he had to do was to declare his PUI status. He also refused to do that. It is the height of irresponsibility to hide his PUI status and mask his movement around MMC,” the lawyer pointed out.
Quicho lamented that Pimentel’s actions “only highlighted the growing disjunction between the constitutional duties of public officials and the so-called public servants posturing themselves as VIPs (very important persons).”
“We condemn the selfish actions of the senator and we are committed to seeking accountability,” Quicho assured.
Though he understands what Pimentel was feeling as an expectant father, Quicho said the lawmaker, as a public servant, “should also know the virtue in sacrifice.”
“If we protect our frontliners and each other from the virus, we protect our families, too,” he said.
On Thursday, Pimentel expressed his sincere apology to the Makati Medical Center for breaching their safety protocols on COVID-19 when he chose to accompany his wife to the hospital for a scheduled delivery.
Pimentel said he never meant to harm anyone and insisted he only knew the result of his COVID-19 test while he was already inside the premises of the MMC’s delivery room complex.
“Once again, I would like to sincerely and profoundly apologize to the management and staff of the Makati Medical Center for this unfortunate incident. I never intended to do any harm to anyone,” Pimentel said in a statement.
“I shall be open to any communication the MMC would want to have with me about this. I just ask for everyone’s understanding and compassion and allow me first to recover from COVID-19,” Pimentel said.
Meanwhile, supermarket chain S&R released a statement on Thursday, saying Pimentel was spotted at its BGC branch on March 16. ”It was confirmed that the senator was at S&R BGC on March 16, 2020. CCTV footage showed him checking out at counter 13 at exactly 1:59 p.m.,” the statement read. “As a result, S&R employees who were in contact with the senator were already placed in quarantine. S&R BGC also took extra disinfection steps.”
“We would like to assure S&R members that we are taking measures to maintain the safety of our members. We disinfect our stores daily and ascertain that our staff are clear prior to work. Shopping carts and handles, front-end belts, item shelves, and registers are kept clean every single day. Our employees are constantly reminded of the safety precautions regarding the virus,” it added.
As this developed, some officials who had close contact with Yap have already decided to go on selfquarantine.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Thursday he would continue his home quarantine after his recent meeting with Yap.
Sotto, however, said he believes he was not exposed to Yap, who was two seats away from him during their March 21 meeting, as seen in photos provided to media.
“I’m still in home quarantine, though I don’t think I was exposed to him. The meeting with them was very short,” he told the Manila Bulletin in a text message.
He said he was also informed by Sen. Pia Cayetano that the congressman was wearing a mask most of the time and only removed it when photos were taken.
“That’s why I did not see or recognize him,” he said. Sotto said they also practiced “safe distancing and seating” in their Palace meeting.
Senator Christopher Lawrence ‘’Bong’’ Go, who was also exposed to Yap, said on Thursday he is left with no choice but to go into selfquarantine.
“It is unfortunate that Congressman Eric Yap has tested positive for COVID-19. We are currently initiating contact tracing, particularly those present during a (Malacañang) meeting I attended last Saturday,” Go, a former special assistant to President Duterte, said.
“Puro po ako trabaho noong nakaraang mga araw. Wala naman po akong nararamdamang sintomas ng sakit. But since protocol requires that those who were directly exposed to persons positive for COVID-19 need to undergo self-quarantine, I am left with no choice but to comply,” Go said. (It has all been work for me the past days. But I do not feel any symptom of the disease.)
“Gayunpaman, lagi naman po akong handa na gampanan ang aking tungkulin. Pinili ko itong trabahong ito na magserbisyo. Kaya patuloy po akong maglilingkod sa kapwa kong Pilipino,” he stressed. (Nevertheless, I am ready to fulfill my duties as a senator. I chose this job to serve. That is why I continue serving the Filipino people.)
In his statement, Go said: “I am always ready to fulfill my duties as a senator and public servant – anytime, any minute, regardless of the situation – in a manner that will not put others at risk. I will continue to serve and I am ready to die serving my fellow Filipinos!” (With reports from Hannah L. Torregoza, Vanne Terrazola, Czarina Nicole Ong Ki, and Mario Casayuran)