'Compassion': DOJ not investigating Pimentel quarantine breach without complaint

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) will not automatically investigate, and definitely not arrest without a warrant, Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III over his breach of protocol when he went to a hospital when he was supposed to be under strict self quarantine.

Pimentel said Wednesday, March 25, that he tested positive for coronavirus. He visited the Makati Medical Center (MMC) the day before with his wife Kathryna Yu-Pimentel who was supposed to deliver their child. (READ: TIMELINE: When Pimentel tested positive for coronavirus)

"For a complaint to prosper, those who have personal knowledge of the incident should file the complaint," Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete told reporters.

Appealing for compassion, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he is also not at this point ordering an investigation. The DOJ can order motu proprio (on its own) investigations without a need for complaint, as it did on the spreading of fake news related to the coronavirus.

"During abnormal times like this, 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," said Guevarra.

Guevarra said to leave it to the DOJ "to determine whether a motu proprio investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) would still be necessary."

"The facts are unfolding by themselves. the parties directly concerned are speaking publicly about the incident. third parties (some thirsting for blood) are bringing in information from all sources into the open. leave it to us to determine whether a motu proprio investigation by the NBI would still be necessary," said Guevarra.

Same standards under RA 11332?

The DOJ also ruled out a warrantless arrest, saying the circumstances do not satisfy the requirements for a valid warrantless arrest.

"A warrantless arrest is allowed following the en flagrante delicto (caught in the act) principle, in cases of hot pursuit, among others. Thus far, reports have not alleged circumstances establishing the requirements for any of these grounds," said Perete.

The DOJ used Republic Act 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases Act to justify warrantless arrests of those who will violate lockdown terms, like those found outside without an essential task. (LOOK: In Parañaque, curfew violators sit under the sun as punishment)

RA 11332 punishes the non-cooperation of those "affected by the health event of public concern," which the DOJ said lockdown violators fall under.

The same provision punishes the non-cooperation of "person or entities identified as having the notifiable disease."

Pimentel went on self-quarantine on March 14 after he "body pains similar to flu symptoms. Senators had quarantined themselves because a coronavirus case attended a hearing in the Senate.

By March 15, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri had announced he also tested positive.

By March 20, Pimentel had taken the test, meaning his 14-day self quarantine had not lapsed when he went to the MMC on March 24.

Aside from caught in the act, warrantless arrest is also valid if there is probable cause to believe that someone had just committed the crime.

The MMC had itself called Pimentel's act "a breach of protocol" and called it "irresponsible and reckless." Pimentel had admitted going to the MMC and asked for understanding and forgiveness.

But Perete said this still does not constitute probable cause.

"A finding of probable cause is based on established facts. Facts are established by those who have personal knowledge of the incident," said Perete. 

"Senator Pimentel violated his home quarantine protocol, entered the premises of the MMC delivery room, thus, unduly exposed healthcare workers to possible infection," the MMC said in a statement.

"He added to the burden of a hospital trying to respond to its most competent and aggressive manner to cope with the daunting challenges of this COVID-19 outbreak," the hospital added. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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