Koko Pimentel sorry; Ombudsman mulling over probe
Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Thursday appealed for understanding and compassion as he offered an apology to Makati Medical Center (MMC) for violating his own and the hospital’s quarantine protocols meant to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, which had infected him and more than 700 others in the country.
“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.
Pimentel took his wife, Kathryna, to the hospital on Tuesday on the eve of her scheduled cesarean delivery for their first child.
While at the hospital, he said he was informed by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) that he was positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the severe respiratory disease COVID-19. He said he left his wife and the hospital immediately after learning he had been infected.
In a statement, the hospital medical director, Dr. Saturnino Javier, denounced Pimentel’s “irresponsible and reckless” action. As a result the hospital may have to put several doctors and nurses on quarantine because of their exposure to the senator, depleting its workforce, Javier said.
The Department of Health (DOH) reported 707 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 45 deaths and 28 recoveries.
According to DOH regulations, all people under investigation or under monitoring for possible infection should be in isolation for 14 days and not go out in public.
Pimentel said he went on voluntary quarantine on March 11 after being exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case at the Senate. He reported he had fever, cough, sore throat and body aches—typical symptoms of the ailment—on March 18 and had himself tested for the virus on March 20. He was awaiting results of the test when he took his wife to MMC.
“I just ask for everyone’s understanding and compassion and allow me first to recover from covid-19,” Pimentel said.
“My wife is still under the care of MMC. I ask that they take care of her and the baby still inside her tummy even when they say that I have breached their protocols,” he said. “I never intended to breach any protocol but I realize now that my presence in MMC unnecessarily caused additional anguish and concern to the courageous front-line health workers we all depend on. I was simply there to be with my wife during the birth of our daughter.”
Breach of protocols
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also agreed with MMC that Pimentel breached quarantine protocols.
“This should not have happened,” he told reporters.
The umbrella organization for Filipino doctors also chided Pimentel.
“The Philippine Medical Association is one with the doctors and nurses of the Makati Medical Center whose health, if not their lives, were placed at risk when Senator Koko Pimentel ignored the COVID-19 protocol of the hospital,” it said in a statement.
It said Pimentel “should have placed above all the well-being of the health workers who are already working so hard to help curb the problem of the COVID-19 menace.”
The group also urged government officials to refrain from seeking VIP treatment and follow health and medical protocols.
Duque said health authorities were not giving such treatment, especially in testing for the new coronavirus, but reminded laboratories to stick to the “first in-first out” policy in testing specimens.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the public should stop heaping hate on Pimentel and the incessant criticism of the senator and focus on helping stop the spread of the virus.
“This has gotten out of hand,” he told the Inquirer. “What do you people want? Hang or electrocute him?”
Lorenzana is head of operations of the National Task Force-COVID 19, which enforces the monthlong quarantine of Luzon.
No DOJ action yet
The Department of Justice (DOJ) said it would not take action against Pimentel for violating quarantine rules and potentially endangering the MMC staff.
“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,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday night.
“But this is not to say that the DOJ will not act upon the filing of a proper complaint by any interested party,” he added.
The DOJ itself had drawn criticism for alleged double standard when it justified the arrest of ordinary Filipinos, including the homeless, for violating curfew and the community quarantine rules, but not applying the same rules to a senator who admitted wrongdoing.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Thursday said he and his subordinates were discussing whether they should conduct a “motu proprio” investigation of Pimentel’s action, or a probe at their own initiative without any complaint filed.
The Office of the Ombudsman prosecutes state officials and employees charged with corruption and other wrongdoing.
Party list rep’s case
But one official who may have also breached quarantine protocols could soon be facing charges.
The Presidential Security Group (PSG) said it was investigating ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Go Yap who did not disclose that he had suspected that he had contracted the virus and had himself tested before meeting officials in Malacañang last Saturday.
Yap on Wednesday admitted that his March 15 test results showed he was positive for the virus. He was supposed to have been on a 14-day quarantine when he visited Malacañang.
Yap “endangered everyone” at the Palace, Col. Jesus Durante, PSG commander, told state-run PTV 4.
“If it’s really necessary that we have to file a case against him, then we will, after the investigation,” he said.
Durante said President Duterte did not meet Yap last Saturday and remained safe from COVID-19 for now. —WITH REPORTS FROM TINA G. SANTOS, JULIE M. AURELIO, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN AND PATRICIA DENISE M. CHUI
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