Can Pimentel be held liable for breaching quarantine rules?

March 25, 2020 - 10:07 PM
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Sen. Koko Pimentel delivered his remarks at the US-Philippines Society Breakfast Panel Presentation and Discussion held at The Peninsula Manila last Feb. 17, 2020. (Senate PRIB/Released)

Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, the second senator who tested positive for COVID-19, breached the protocols of a hospital in Makati City after accompanying his pregnant wife despite having himself tested.

The first senator who acquired COVID-19 was Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who announced his positive results last March 16.

Pimentel announced that he tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.

He disclosed he accompanied his wife Ma. Anna Kathryna Yu Pimentel at the Makati Medical Hospital last night, March 24, hours before the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine called him and told him that he was positive for the deadly COVID-19.

“I was informed late last night March 24, 2020 that I have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The swab was taken last Friday, March 20, 2020,” the senator said in a statement.

“I have quarantined myself upon the doctor’s advice and consistent with the protocol. I feel I am, with God’s help, on the way to recovery,” he added.

Koko’s admission raised questions on whether he can be held legally liable for endangering the lives of patients and health workers at the MMC.

The MMC later announced on its social accounts that Koko’s move to leave the house despite being ill breached its strict infection and containment protocols and rules on home quarantine, according to the national government’s guidelines.

A number of their nurses and doctors were then exposed and have to be quarantined at a time when the hospital has scarcity in its workforce.

The entire delivery room will also have to undergo decontamination and disinfection procedures.

“We denounce the irresponsible and reckless actions of the senator. He added to the burden of a hospital trying to respond in its competent and aggressive manner to cope with the daunting challenges of this COVID-19 outbreak,” the MMC said.

The MMC was among the private hospitals in Metro Manila that released statements on their decisions to stop admitting COVID-19 patients, citing their “overstretched” healthcare workers and lack of sufficient facilities and PPE suits to handle them, among others.

Can Koko be arrested?

Local social media denounced Koko for endangering the lives of the people in the hospital, including his wife and child, and possibly others more.

Lawyer Emil Marañon III pointed out these consequences on Twitter.

“By escaping his quarantine, Senator Koko Pimentel exposed 3 doctors, 3 nurses and possibly the whole hospital unit. They could have unwittingly infected their patients and family members and the chain of transmission could have went on,” Marañon said on Twitter.

Koko was also accused of VIP treatment after he managed to undergo a detection procedure and the results were also given to him immediately despite limited testing kits and accredited diagnostic laboratory.

“Politicians are so used to doing just whatever they want, VIP treatment noh? Calling out Koko Pimentel for spreading the virus!” user @ayabellsmd said.

What the law says

The policies on surveillance and response to infectious diseases and other public health concerns are enshrined under Republic Act No. 11332 or the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act”.

A day before the confirmation of Koko’s COVID-19 test results, the MMC previously posted this law on its social media accounts. It reminded all patients to “provide truthful information about their health condition and possible exposure” to avoid further contraction of COVID-19.

The following punishable acts are provided in Section 6 of the law:

  1. Non-cooperation of persons and entities that should report and/or respond to notifiable diseases or health events of public concern; and
  2. Non-cooperation of the person or entities identified as having the notifiable disease, or affected by the health event of public concern.

Your honesty will go a long way in protecting our healthcare frontline warriors! Protect yourself and the people around…

Posted by Makati Medical Center on Monday, March 23, 2020

 

The Section 9 of the law likewise states that anyone who violates it may be “penalized with a fine of not less than 20,000 pesos) but not more than 50,000 pesos or imprisonment of not less than a month but not more than six months, or both, at the discretion of the proper court.

President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Luzon island under enhanced community quarantine last March 17.

After announcing this umbrella measure, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters: “Violators of the enhanced community quarantine may be arrested and charged under Article 151 of the [Revised Penal Code] which punishes resistance and disobedience to a person in authority or the agents of such person.”

A report of Philstar.com indicated that Duterte’s Proclamation 922, or the declaration of a State of Public Health Emergency throughout the Philippines does not contain a provision on violations of a quarantine order.

Its Section 4, however, stated that: “All citizens, residents, tourists and establishment owners are urged to act within the bounds of the law and to comply with the lawful directives and advisories to be issued by appropriate government agencies to prevent further transmission of the COVID-19 and ensure the safety and well-being of all.”

Koko’s recent schedule

Reports said that Koko first experienced body pains similar to flu symptoms on March 14. Four days later, he had a fever of about 38° Celsius and sore throat, but did not have difficulty breathing.

Despite bearing these symptoms, Koko told CNN Philippines that he recently attended birthday parties, a meeting and a plenary session, with the latest held Monday during the Congress special session for Duterte’s special powers.

His wife, meanwhile, noted that the senator had been on self-quarantine for “weeks.” They have also not been sharing a room together for ten days now.

Kathryna claimed that Koko only accompanied her because he was excited to witness the delivery of their first child. When the senator learned he acquired the disease, he allegedly immediately left and did not enter the delivery room.

She also dared the public to view the hospital’s CCTV footage to prove this.

Koko maintained in a separate interview that he only had minimal movements when he went to the MMC around 6 to 7 p.m. of Tuesday. He learned of the COVID-19 test result at 9 p.m.

“It was only yesterday that he went with me for admission because he was also excited to see me deliver ‘sana’ (hopefully) which was scheduled today at 7 am but was canceled,” Kathryna was quoted in a report as saying.

Because of the exposure, Kathryna said she would need to be tested first before giving birth.

According to the Department of Health’s algorithm for triage, an individual has to be in self-quarantine for 14 days if he is classified either as a person under investigation or just under monitoring.

The 14-day duration was based on the World Health Organization’s advisory on the coronavirus strain’s incubation period, the time between catching the virus and having symptoms of it.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeirie said that the health agency needs to verify Koko’s interactions first before they can comment on the matter.
“Is it accurate to say that he is PUI or PUM? Did he exhibit symptoms from the time he went to the hospital? Was it really that he was classified as PUM when he interacted pa po to this doctor when he went to the hospital? We need to find out all of these things for us to be able to give you an accurate answer. But for now, we will have this verified,” Vergeirie was quoted by News5 as saying.