THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Thursday said Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto is being investigated for violating a Malacanang memorandum suspending all public transportation in Metro Manila under the guidelines of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
On Wednesday, the NBI sent Sotto a letter asking him to appear before the agency on April 7 for allegedly violating Section 6 (a) of the “Bayanihan We Heal as One Act” when he insisted on allowing tricycles to operate in his city despite the ECQ guidelines
NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand Lavin said Sotto was summoned for possible violation of the memorandum issued last March 16 by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
Lavin said Sotto was being probe allowing the continued operation of tricycles and motorcycles in his jurisdiction despite the suspension of all mass transportation, including tricycles, under the ECQ rules and strict Social Distancing measures.
“Maliwanag po sa sulat na pinadala continuous tricycle operation. May hawak ang aming investigation division na may continuous tricycle operation na ipinapatupad sa nasabing lungsod (it is clear on the letter it was about the continuous tricycle operation (in his area). Our investigation division has evidence showing that the operation of tricycle in the city is continuous),” Lavin said over radio DZBB.
Lavin made the clarification after no less than Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the NBI cannot hold Sotto liable for the Bayanihan We Heal as One Act because the law cannot be applied retroactively.
This was also the position taken by lawmakers, who pointed out that the law was only signed on March 24, while Sotto’s alleged violation happened on March 17 and 18.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, principal author of the Bayanihan Act, said it was wrong for the NBI to summon his mayor-nephew since the Act only became a law effective March 26 after it was published in a newspaper of national circulation.
“The NBI is under the DOJ. So why will you summon a mayor if there is no law violated? Again, laws detrimental [to the offender] are not retroactive,” Sotto said, adding: “If they did not study the law, it is best that they shun from issuing press releases as it diverts focus on fighting the scourge of the world, COVID-19).”
In a Twitter post Wednesday night, Sotto said: “NBI will be well-advised to be cautious in their interpretation of the law I principally authored. Any so-called violation of RA 11469 (Bayanihan Act) can’t be retroactive.”
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said “improvised tricycles” were used in Pasig before March 18, while the law that the NBI has been citing was passed on March 24.
“Paano nilabag ni Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto ang batas na hindi pa batas?” Pangilinan said.
Sotto likewise said that if his nephew was to be sanctioned, it should be the DILG which should be investigating him, not the NBI.
“If a local official has violated any law, the DILG is the department that has jurisdiction over him. Not the DOJ! #$%@P!?!,” Sotto said in a tweet Thursday.
Even the DILG was surprised with the decision of the NBI to probe the Pasig City executive.
DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya said there is no longer any issue to the incident because Sotto has already ceased the operations of tricycles.
“At one time, he did allow tricycles to operate in Pasig but upon the request of the DILG, he cooperated so there is really no issue as far as the DILG is concerned so we were also as surprised as the public when we heard that the NBI has summoned Mayor Vico Sotto,” said Malaya.
Malaya said there was some “miscommunication” between the DILG and Sotto during the initial stage of the implementation of quarantine but that was later resolved with Sotto giving in to the IATF-EID guidelines.
Malaya said the DILG does not understand why the NBI is pursuing an investigation against Sotto, adding “as far as the Department of Interior and Local Government is concerned, we want to move on from that issue.”
“Just my opinion but I think this act of summoning the mayor of Pasig is a useless political distraction at this time when all of us are preparing, when all of us are operating to fight this COVID crisis,” he added.
NO SPECIAL ATTENTION
Lavin denied the NBI was singling out Sotto, stressing that it is within the powers of the bureau to initiate investigations on officials for violating rules imposed by the national government.
He said aside from Sotto, the NBI is also looking at violations committed by officials in Las Pinas, Masbate and Cebu as well as Wednesday’s protest action by residents of Sitio San Roque in Pag-Asa, Quezon City.
Lavin said the issue on Sotto was being politicized even as he stressed that the bureau is only doing its job and not engaging in politics.
“It is well within the powers of the bureau. The issue has been politicized and sensationalized but we are not only looking at Pasig City. I think this is the misconception,” Lavin said. – With Raymond Africa