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Editorial

Recklessness and entitlement

/ 05:00 AM March 27, 2020

In many disaster movies, and not just the ones featuring zombies, there is a stock character who serves as an object lesson on the entitlement of the privileged, the ill effects of class differences, and the consequences of stupidity.

In the surreal movie that is our life in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the community quarantine and the inept handling of the public health crisis by the government, we have seen both heroes and heels emerge from the scenery. Heroes we have plenty of, most notably the frontliners risking life and health in the service of those in need of timely help. But we have just as many heels, foremost of whom are the self-entitled politicians and members of the elite who think their needs come before everyone else’s.

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Which brings us to Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who has quickly become the poster boy of entitlement—and recklessness—for his antics in the last few days.

The whole sordid tale began last March 11 when Senate President Vicente Sotto III ordered “restricted entry” to the Senate building after confirming that a resource person who attended a March 5 hearing had tested positive for the virus.

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Several senators who were at the hearing went on self-quarantine, while others undertook the same as a “precautionary measure.” Some of them were reported to have sought priority COVID-19 testing, even opting for “home service” in violation of Department of Health (DOH) protocol and despite the critical shortage of testing kits.

March 14, Pimentel began experiencing body pains and flu and developed a high fever. Meantime, Sen. Miguel Zubiri revealed that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and quarantined himself. On March 19, reporters asked Pimentel if, given Zubiri’s disclosure, he was going for a test himself. His answer: a curt “No.” But the very next day, the senator did take the COVID-19 test.

According to Pimentel, he then undertook self-quarantine, staying in a separate room at home from his wife, then in the late stages of her pregnancy. But early last Tuesday evening, March 24, overcome by excitement, he said, the senator violated his own quarantine by accompanying his wife to Makati Medical Center (MMC). Around 9 p.m., while at the hospital, he received word from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine that he had tested positive for the virus. He then headed home, he said—denying reports that he had “roamed around” the hospital in the hours between. His wife Kathryna, meanwhile, who was scheduled to undergo a cesarian delivery, was advised to postpone the procedure until she had tested negative for COVID-19. She was supposed to have delivered by yesterday.

But the MMC management was having none of Pimentel’s straightforward version of events. In a strongly worded statement by its medical director Dr. Saturnino Javier, the hospital denounced the senator for breaking his quarantine and setting foot in the premises. He was chastised for breaching “the strict infection and containment protocols” of the medical center’s delivery room complex, and, worse, for having “unduly exposed health care workers to possible infection.” As a consequence, warned the MMC, “a number of our nurses and doctors may need to be quarantined which will further deplete the dwindling work force of the hospital.”

Pimentel has since apologized to the MMC doctors, nurses, and other people he had needlessly endangered. But the medical community, not to mention the larger public, is overwhelmingly angry at the incident. The explosion of indignation and horror at Pimentel’s dangerously irresponsible behavior cut across all sectors and quarters, with many lamenting that before this, a doctor had reportedly already died from COVID-19 infection because a patient (who also died) did not disclose his travel history.

The DOH, however, seems to be taking the senator’s grievous action in stride; it has yet to rebuke Pimentel in any way. Similarly, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has swatted away demands that the senator be sanctioned for the appalling breach of quarantine guidelines, already deemed illegal under the just enacted “Bayanihan” law (which Pimentel himself had backed). Guevarra’s touching justification for his refusal to act: “As I have said before, during abnormal times like these, when people are prone to commit mistakes or violations of the law, the DOJ will temper the rigor of the law with human compassion.”

Meanwhile, in less rarefied circumstances, destitute citizens are picked up willy-nilly for braving the streets of the locked-down metropolis in search of food for their families, some of them subjected to virtual torture by being made to sit under the searing heat of the noontime sun or shoved into dog cages. Some people are indeed luckier than others—none more so than in this pandemic, and under this dispensation.

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