–With Raymond Africa, Ashzel Hachero and Gerard Naval
THE Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday said it will evaluate if there are grounds to launch an investigation into the reported breach of quarantine protocol by Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III when he went to the Makati Medical Center (MMC) late Tuesday.
Under Section 15 of RA 6770 or the Ombudsman Charter, the government’s anti-corruption agency has the power to “investigate and prosecute on its own” any act by a public official that appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires said he will discuss the matter with other officials if there is sufficient basis for a motu proprio inquiry.
That consultation would have to be conducted by phone or electronic means as the Ombudsman has told all organic personnel not to report for work since March 17 in compliance with the mandatory enhanced community quarantine directive from the Office of the President.
In a strongly-worded statement on Wednesday, the MMC denounced what it described as an “irresponsible and reckless” action of the senator in bringing his wife to the hospital’s delivery room complex which was under an infection and containment protocol to prevent contamination by potential carriers of the novel coronavirus.
The hospital noted that Pimentel, who learned he was positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday night while at the MMC, placed health workers at risk thereby further straining the MMC’s workforce since doctors and nurses in the delivery complex area might have to undergo the mandatory two-week quarantine.
Pimentel on Wednesday issued a public apology saying he was only seeing to the safety his wife who was supposed to have their baby delivered by caesarian section last Tuesday. He acknowledged having “unnecessarily caused additional anguish, concern to the courageous health care workers.”
On Thursday, he issued a “sincere and profound” apology to MMC for the breach of infection and containment protocols.
“…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. I shall be open to any communication the MMC would want to have with me about this. I just ask for everyone’s understanding and compassion and allow me first to recover from COVID-19,” Pimentel said.
The Department of Justice has refused to start an investigation, saying the implementation of laws should be “tempered with compassion” even as calls mounted on various social media platforms for legal actions against Pimentel.
Lawyer Rico Quicho and a group of other lawyers are drafting a criminal complaint against Pimentel for failure to observe “mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases and health events of public health concern,” an offense punishable by imprisonment of up to six months and a P50,000 fine.
The Philippine Medical Association on Thursday issued a statement of support for MMC holding Pimentel responsible for placing physicians and nurses’ health and lives at risk by ignoring containment protocols.
It said the senator should have considered the adverse impact of his actions to the already dwindling number of frontline health workers who are handling the growing number of COVID-19 cases.
“The PMA thus calls upon our government officials to please refrain from being treated as VIPs and better, follow protocols as we are all in this fight together,” the group added.
APOLOGY TO MMC
Pimentel said: “ I apologize to MMC for being in their hospital in the evening of March 24, 2020 which they deemed to be a breach of their safety/containment protocols.”
Pimentel received a severe bashing from netizens for this.
Pimentel reiterated said he was not yet aware he was COVID-19 positive when he accompanied his wife to MMC on Tuesday night, although he admitted he went on self-quarantine after experiencing throat problems the past days.
“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 frontline health workers we all depend on. I was simply there to be with my wife during the birth of our daughter,” he added.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the DOH supports Makati Medical Center over its condemnation of Pimentel who, as a person under monitoring (PUM), should not have been at the hospital accompanying his wife.
“We agree with MMC that there was a breach in quarantine protocol and that such an incident should not have happened,” said Duque.
“The DOH forcefully reiterates that all PUIs and PUMs must stay at home. The public’s safety relies on everyone’s discipline in abiding by our quarantine protocols to protect the public, especially our health workers and frontline from undue exposure,” said Duque.
As to rumors circulating that Duque had intervened on Pimentel’s behalf for MMC officials to give him access to the hospital, he said, “I did not call MMC to coerce them to accommodate in their hospital the wife of Sen Pimentel.”