–with JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR
INTERIOR Secretary Eduardo Año on Thursday criticized Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap for going outside their quarantine areas despite their classification as persons under investigation.
Pimentel said he was at the Makati Medical Center, accompanying his wife who is to give birth through cesarian on Tuesday night, when he learned he tested positive for the virus. Yap announced on Wednesday night his test result showed him positive for the virus. He was at a meeting in Malacañang last Saturday.
Año, a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), said he went on home quarantine starting Wednesday after news on Yap’s test came out. He was in the Saturday meeting in Malacañang.
While he said it is up to the Department of Justice to determine if there is a need to pursue charges against Pimentel and Yap because they are not under the DILG, “I agree that what they did was wrong. They violated their quarantine rule. The mere fact that they underwent tests, they are PUIs, don’t violate your quarantine because unnecessarily, you endanger many people. Even Cabinet secretaries were forced to go on quarantine, including Sen. Bong Go.”
“If you are PUI, you should not go out, unless you are going to be brought to the hospital (for confinement), that’s the rule. If you are PUI, there is no exemption, except when you’re about to be brought to the hospital,” he added.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said everyone, including high-ranking government officials and politicians, should follow the protocols on the disease to ensure public health and safety.
“The protocols set by the government for persons under investigation or monitoring must be strictly and absolutely observed by all people falling under the said categories, regardless of their socio-political status. They are not meant to discomfort or burden anyone. They have been established to ensure that public health and safety are secured at all times. There are no exemptions for any person on these health protocols. Those holding high positions in the government are enjoined to set an example to their constituents by strictly observing them,” he said.
Año said among the other officials present in the meeting in Malacañang were Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Sen. Christopher Go, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and other key Cabinet officials.
Año said they observed social distancing during the meeting and were wearing face masks, but there was an instance where they removed their face masks for picture taking.
“I had no physical contact with him, I was wearing a mask all throughout, except during the picture taking when we removed our face masks. After that, we put back our masks. All throughout, we’re wearing masks,” he said.
Año said he has consulted with the Department of Health. “On the side of caution, it’s better that I go on self quarantine, work from home. But the infection, they said, is not likely and congressman Yap was wearing mas all throughout,” he said.
Nevertheless, Año said, Yap should have not attended the meeting because he underwent test for COVID-19 and he was a person under investigation.
Año also said he would not want to be tested for COVID-9 because he has no symptoms and to avoid criticisms he went ahead of people who have exhibited symptoms.
“But I am a member of the National Security Council. My role in the implementation of (measures) dealing with national emergency is vital so there is reason for me to be tested. I will leave it to higher authorities,” he said.
Año said his decision to go on home quarantine would not paralyze the operation of the DILG and of the PNP.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana came to Pimentel’s defense. Asked if Pimentel should be charged for breaking the quarantine protocol, Lorenzana said: “This has gotten out of hand. What do you people want? Hang or electrocute him? How many people has he come in contact with? Let’s trace them and have them quarantined. Let’s look after his pregnant wife who is about to deliver.”
He added: “Did he intentionally want to infect anybody? He has apologized and we should accept that and turn our attention to more important ones, like how to get more PPE (personal protective equipment) to our health workers and other frontliners who are dying, how to get more testing kits, machines, how to have more COVID-dedicated hospitals, how to sustain our food production and distribution, how to properly implement this lockdown.”