Koko Pimentel, VIP
The late great Nene Pimentel’s son and namesake is behaving like an “abogado” in the worst sense vis-à-vis the complaint filed against him in connection with his visit to the Makati Medical Center (MMC) on March 24, when he was awaiting the result of his COVID-19 test. Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III has finally submitted a counter affidavit and is showing the public how a man like him — lawyer, bar topnotcher, and longtime lawmaker — can dig in and prolong what should be an open-and-shut case.
Pimentel has described former law dean Rico Quicho’s complaint as a “baseless case,” in effect negating the remorseful words he aired on TV on March 26: “I would like to sincerely and profoundly apologize for this very unfortunate incident. … I never intended to breach any protocol but I realize now, I unnecessarily caused additional anguish [and] concern to the courageous healthcare workers who we all depend [on].”
In April, Quicho brought a complaint against Pimentel at the Department of Justice for alleged violation of Republic Act No. 11332 (or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act) by accompanying his then pregnant wife to the MMC despite his being a person under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19.
On March 11, it was announced that an infected person had served as resource person in a committee hearing at the Senate. Pimentel himself did not attend the hearing, but he subsequently spoke with two other senators who were present. He began experiencing flu-like symptoms including body pains, sore throat, and high fever in the next few days, and had himself tested for the novel coronavirus on March 20.
Yet mere days later, he went to the hospital with his wife, who had been scheduled to undergo a caesarean operation. It was there that he received a phone call informing him that he had tested positive.
The MMC subsequently issued a strongly worded statement admonishing Pimentel for his “irresponsible and reckless action” and the danger to which he exposed the hospital staff. It assured the public that disinfection measures as well as quarantine procedures for the exposed personnel would be put in place and expressed regret for the momentary disruption of hospital operations.
The senator’s apology included this call to the hospital management: “Please tell me how I can make it up to you.”
Yet the DOJ, seemingly protecting one of its own, said it would not open an inquiry into the breach of quarantine unless a complaint was filed. Quicho was thus prompted to lodge his complaint, which, he said recently, had been endorsed by the Department of Health to the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation. Health Undersecretary Maria
Rosario Vergeire has confirmed the endorsement.
For all that, and per portions of his counter affidavit leaked to the press, Pimentel now insists that he was not a PUI when he went to the hospital with his wife, but merely a VIP who had undergone testing for the coronavirus. As such, he says, he was not in violation of any quarantine protocol in escorting his spouse to the MMC.
The senator is referring, with breathtaking insensitivity, to the testing priority accorded by health authorities to very important persons like himself during the early days of the contagion. The public will easily recall that, much to its (futile) indignation, health care workers had to make trips to these VIPs’ residences or offices to administer tests to them and even to their near and dear. On that sore point alone, it hardly comes as a surprise that Quicho describes Pimentel’s counter affidavit as an “entitled rant of an arrogant man being held to account for his actions.”
It’s in the people’s interest to watch how this case proceeds, in order to take firm note of the ways by which VIPs, particularly the self-proclaimed, manage to get around the law and ultimately off the hook, while ordinary folk standing stupefied in the sun with a mask on lopsided get dragged off to their reckoning. (And the chief of the National Capital Region Police Office has yet to be held accountable for his sweet “mañanita.”)
But perhaps Pimentel merely forgets himself, or his father’s name, or where he’s from. To remember, perhaps he should listen to the remarks of Fr. Jett Villarin, SJ, president of Ateneo de Manila, his alma mater along with the University of the Philippines. “You are more than just a lawyer,” Villarin told the Ateneo’s new law graduates at their conferment ceremony. “You are a human being first.”
He reminded the graduates of putting their being “expert technicians of the law” below their being human: “ Magpakatao bago magpaka-abogado.”
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