On Jan. 21, the Department of Justice announced that it was dismissing the charges against Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel for violating RA 11332, or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act of 2018.
Here’s a quick recap of the case: On Mar. 24, 2020, Senator Pimentel accompanied his pregnant wife to the Makati Medical Center (MMC), where she was to give birth. This would have been par for the course, but the senator was a person under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19.
On Mar. 25, the senator announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and had therefore put the lives of frontliners and other people in the hospital at risk when he violated his quarantine the day before. It was also revealed that the senator became aware of his COVID status the day prior.[READ: MakatiMed frontliners may be quarantined after COVID-19 positive Pimentel visit]
MMC released a statement condemning Pimentel’s actions.
After nearly four months, the Department of Health finally filed a formal complaint against the senator for his reckless behavior after pushing back its decision several times.
Now, almost a year later, these charges have been dismissed on the basis of “lack of probable cause.”
So what is “probable cause?”
According to Philippine law, probable cause is defined “as the existence of such facts and circumstances as would excite the belief in a reasonable mind, acting on the facts within the knowledge of the prosecutor, that the person charged was guilty of the crime for which he was prosecuted.”
In other words, there needs to be a clear basis on whether the person committed a crime or not. In Pimentel’s case, the DOJ’s ruling is a clear message that it believes no crime was committed in the first place.
The case was dismissed on three grounds. First, Pimentel is not a public health official so he isn’t obliged to report his condition under RA 11332. Second, he allegedly only found out about his condition while on hospital grounds. And third, the complaint filed was “defective” because it was based on “hearsay and news reports.”
Warrantless arrest of quarantine violators
In April of last year, the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced that they would arrest quarantine violators without warning.
“Foremost, there will be no more warning for ECQ violators—instead arrest and inquest procedures will be applied to cases of violation of Republic Act No. 11469 [Bayanihan to Heal as One Act]; Republic Act No. 11332 [Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act]; as well as Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code [Resistance and Disobedience to Persons in Authority or Agents of Such Persons],” said former PNP chief Archie Gamboa.
It’s important to note that RA 11332 was cited as one of the laws that could lead to a civilian’s arrest. If RA 11332 doesn’t apply to Pimentel, why does it apply to literally everyone else?
People have been killed for far less
The people who hold power in this country are no strangers to being treated as VIPs. They’re no strangers to the culture of impunity that continues to pose a threat to our democracy either. Instead of setting the standard for what it means to be a law-abiding public-serving Filipino, some of them have elected to benefit from their grand sense of entitlement and perpetuate the culture of impunity that is literally killing people.
Let’s not forget one of the biggest quarantine violation cases of 2020. Former Army Cpl. Winston Ragos, who was living with a mental illness as a result of his time in Marawi, was shot dead at a quarantine checkpoint for allegedly violating quarantine rules. After being murdered, the cops who shot him also tried to plant evidence and lie about the context in which Ragos’ life was cut short.
No matter how upsetting the DOJ’s decision is, it is far from surprising. The least the courts and the police can do is apply the same level of care and understanding to everyone else in this country, not just those who occupy seats of power. It’s a shot at the moon, but at least we’re still free to dream—for now.