— with WENDELL VIGILIA
THE Presidential Security Group (PSG) is determining if there are grounds to charge Rep. Eric Go Yap of the party-list group ACT-CIS for putting everyone in Malacañang at risk when he failed to declare that he underwent testing for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) when he went to the Palace last Saturday to attend a meeting.
Yap, chair of the House committee on appropriations, is under fire for attending a special session on Monday despite being considered a person under investigation (PUI) after he was tested for COVID-19 last March 15. He also attended a meeting at the Palace last Saturday with fellow lawmakers and Palace officials.
On Wednesday night, Yap announced he tested positive for COVID-19. On Thursday, he said while understands the PSG’s position when it said that charges may be filed against him, he did not violate protocols.
“Basta ko malinis ang konsensya ko, wala akong nilabag na protocol (My conscience is clear, I did not violate any protocol),” he said.
“Wala tayong kalalagyan na tama. Basta natanggap ko na ito, kapag pulitiko ka lagi kang mali. Pero okay lang yun, ganun talaga yun (I’ll never be right. I’ve long accepted that fact that when you’re a politician, you’re always wrong. That’s okay, that’s just the way it is.”
PSG Commander Col. Jesus Durante III said he has formed a team to investigate the incident and has advised members of the PSG and the Office of the President, and other offices in Malacañang to allow those who had been in contact with Yap during the meeting to go on self-quarantine.
Durante also said that Yap did not meet President Duterte during the meeting.
“The Presidential Security Group (PSG) fully implements strict security measures in Malacañang Palace. One of these is by filling up a declaration form which asks for contact tracing and monitoring, COVID-19 symptoms check, and travel history. Congressman Eric Yap entered Malacañang last 21 March 2020. For whatever reason, he failed to disclose all needed information,” he said.
He said the PSG members on duty had assessed Yap and allowed him entry based on the answers on the declaration form that he submitted.
The declaration form includes questions about the person’s health and travel histories, and a declaration signed by the person involved stating that “the information I have given herein is true, correct and complete. I understand that failure to answer any questions or any falsified response may have serious consequences. (Article 171 and 172 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines.”
Durante said the incident shall serve as a reference for PSG’s implementation of enhanced screening measures for all those who enter the Malacañang Complex.
He said the PSG is assessing its protocols and will make amendments if needed. He said one of the questions that they are considering for inclusion in the declaration form is whether the person seeking entry to Malacañang had undergone COVID-19 test and if yes, how long ago had the test been conducted.
Yap said on Wednesday he received the results 10 days after he was tested.
Asked about the possible actions against Yap, Durante said the PSG might file charges, depending on the outcome of the investigation.
“We can file a case against him sa breach na ginawa niya (We can file a case against him for the breach that he made),” he said, adding that he refers to wait for the results of the investigations.
Among those present in the Saturday meeting in Malacañang were Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Senators Pia Cayetano and Christopher Go, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, and Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez.
They discussed the convening of a special session as requested by the President. The special session was held Monday.
Yap on Thursday night he said he did not undergo self-quarantine because he had no symptoms prior to attending the special session on March 23. He said he was scheduled for testing last March 15 after he came in contact with Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade on March 10, during a hearing of the House committee on appropriations.
Tugade, who was reportedly exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19, eventually tested negative.
Yap said he experienced symptoms only on Monday night when had chills at about 9 p.m. and asked Cayetano that he be excused from the special session.
“I went home. I had my temperature checked by the guard and it was 36.5,” he said in an interview. “I slept and the following day, I even went to the gym.”
Cayetano and all the other congressmen and House employees who attended Monday’s special session will have to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine.
“Following protocols, all the members and employees who attended the special session will go on self-quarantine,” House Secretary General Joel Montales said in a text message to reporters.
Yap, in a press statement issued Wednesday night, announced that he tested positive of the virus and apologized for exposing other people while waiting for his test result.
“Humihingi ako ng patawad at pag-unawa mula sa mga taong nakasalamuha ko (I apologize and I’m asking for understanding from all those who were exposed to me). I was paranoid dahil may kaunting ubo akong naramdaman (because I had cough) but I felt it was normal for me. Mas nag-ingat tayo dahil wala pang resulta ang test ko (I was more careful since I was waiting for my test result),” he said.
Yap said he was tested after he being exposed to a lot of people as part of his job as a lawmaker, noting that he had to attend his panel’s hearing on March 10 to deliberate on the proposal to grant the Department of a Health a P1.6 billion supplemental budget to fight COVID-19.
“After that, it was business as usual for me but I was careful as always. Since March 10, ilang tao pa ang nakasalamuha ko kabilang na ang ilan na maaaring na-expose sa mga known positive cases of covid19. (I was exposed to some more people, including those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 positive cases),” he said.
After he was tested, Yap said he was among those called to the Palace last Saturday to discuss the measures that the government will take to address the pandemic.
“Bago tayo magpunta doon, nagtanong ako kung may resulta na ang aking test, pero wala pa daw (Before I went there, I asked for my test result but I was told it was not yet available) I attended the meeting and was careful the whole time knowing that I could potentially be a carrier of the virus,” he said.
Last Monday, Yap said he attended the special session to sponsor House Bill No. 6616 which sought to give the President additional powers.
Before he went to the Batasan that day, the lawmaker said he again asked for his test result but to no avail.
Among those who attended the special session were majority leader Martin Romualdez, minority leader Benny Abante Jr. and deputy speaker for finance Luis Raymund Villafuerte who stood beside Yap while defending the measure which granted President Duterte standby powers to address the pandemic.
“I’m on my Day 1 of self-quarantine and will complete the 14 days. I’m feeling good and normal, no symptoms such as sore throat, fever or cough,” Villafuerte said.
Eighteen other lawmakers from different blocs were also physically present, including Isabela Rep. Tonypet Albano, an asthmatic who had just come out of a two-week self-quarantine when he was exposed to Yap.
“Cong. Eric and I worked closely together to fix and amend this bill with everyone else. I practiced social distancing with everyone there but I had my mask off at times when were all eating and working,” Albano said.
Albano said the other congressman is COVID-19 positive but did not identify the lawmaker, who according to sources, is from the party-list bloc.
The same House sources said the party-list lawmaker is already recuperating after being hospitalized.
Aside from Cayetano, Romualdez, Defensor, Villafuerte, Albano, Yap, and Abante, the other lawmakers who attended the special session were Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Wilter “Sharky” Palma, Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo, Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo, ACT party-list Rep. France Castro, senior deputy minority leader Janet Garin of Iloilo, Quezon City Rep. Anthony Suntay, Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Romeo Jalosjos Jr., Manila Rep. Manny Lopez, Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado, Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino, Cavite Rep. Francis Gerald Abaya, deputy speakers Raneo Abu of Batangas, Robbie Puno of Antipolo City, and Aurelio Gonzales of Pampanga.