Fairness to prevail in Koko case, DOJ chief says
MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Friday played down the criticism heaped on state prosecutors for clearing Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III of criminal liability for going to public places last March while awaiting the results of his COVID-19 test that turned out positive.
“I would like to assure the people that the [Department of Justice (DOJ)] is committed to administer our criminal justice system as fairly and equitably as possible,” Guevarra said in a text message amid criticism on social media of the prosecutors who released their decision not to pursue the case on Jan. 21.
Pimentel was charged with violating Republic Act No. 11332, or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, by lawyer Rico Quicho, but prosecutors junked the complaint because, they said, the law did not cover the senator and the charge was supported only by newspaper clippings as evidence.
Similarly, Guevarra said many people who were arrested and charged of the same crime during the early days of the Metro Manila quarantine were subsequently released and their cases dismissed by the DOJ inquest prosecutors.
‘Different set of rules’
The justice secretary declined to comment further on the merits of the case filed against Pimentel since Quicho may still appeal the prosecutors’ resolution before Guevarra.
But prosecutors said on Thursday that the law that Quicho accused Pimentel of violating did not apply to Pimentel, that Quicho was not an aggrieved party or a government or health official who had legal standing to determine whether Pimentel violated the law and that the newspapers clippings that he offered as evidence did not satisfy judicial rules of evidence and would ultimately be dismissed as “hearsay.”
The prosecutors said the senator was not mandated to report his health status since RA 11332 covered “public health authorities only.”
Quicho did not even include any video footage from Makati Medical Center (MMC) or any deposition of the hospital officials, who admonished Pimentel for “irresponsible and reckless” behavior that endangered hospital workers and the public in general.
When asked for its comment on the dismissal of the charges, Shieyl Ladines Aranas, communications manager of Makati Medical Center, said “MMC has no comment on this issue. As always, we focus our energies on relevant and health-related concerns.”
Quicho, a lawyer for 17 years and cofounder of Quicho Law, did not explain why he did not submit enough evidence to merit a charge, much less a conviction, but he decried the prosecutors’ decision which “promotes the wrong message that ordinary people must suffer the full extent of the law and some, while those in power get a free pass.”
He said there seemed to be a “different set of rules” for influential people like Pimentel as noted that several ordinary citizens had been detained for allegedly flouting quarantine protocols the government imposed to stem the pandemic. —WITH A REPORT FROM DEXTER CABALZA
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