Legal experts’ take on NBI’s attempt to go after Vico Sotto

April 2, 2020 - 4:41 PM
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Vico Sotto with Filipinos
Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto with Filipinos during the Department of Health's vaccination campaign at Pasig City Elementary School on July 16, 2019. (Philstar/Efigenio Christopher Toledo IV)

Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto has been summoned by the National Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday for allegedly violating the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act or the Republic Act 11469 when he temporarily allowed tricycle drivers to operate.

Sotto, however, ceased operations of these tricycles before the passage of the law.

The 30-year-old city chief received a copy of the letter from the bureau’s anti-graft division on Wednesday afternoon. He was invited to explain his side on the supposed quarantine violation he committed despite the ban on mass public transportation.

Sotto said that his city government “complied with all directives” and pointed out that the law was signed on March 24, days after he already ceased the operation of Pasig’s tricycles following the remarks of DILG spokesperson Jonathan Malaya.

The law states that local government officials “disobeying national government policies or directives in imposing quarantines” can be penalized with a fine and imprisonment. They can also be disqualified from holding public office.

On March 17, Sotto allowed the city’s tricycle drivers to operate within the area and service people exempted from the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine like health workers and those employed in industries deemed as essential services.

The day before that, President Rodrigo Duterte declared an enhanced community quarantine that would take effect “immediately.” The measure covers ban of mass public transport including tricycles.

On March 18, Pasig tricycles were already being stopped at checkpoints by the authorities. Sotto then asked the national government to exempt tricycles in consideration of Filipinos who have medical emergencies.

However, Malaya dismissed this plea and said that Sotto should just be “more creative” about the issue.

Sotto responded on March 19 and announced that his city government will comply with the national government’s directive.

The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act was only signed and approved by Duterte on March 24.

In his tweet, Sotto reacted to NBI’s letter and questioned if the agency knew that the cited law was not yet signed the day he allowed tricycle drivers to operate.

Legal opinions 

His uncle, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, also condemned the initiative and warned NBI to be “cautious” on how they interpret the Bayanihan Act which he “principally authored” as a legislator.

“Laws are never retroactive if detrimental to any accused. What are they talking about?” he tweeted.

Liberal Party President Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan also said that “acts done before the effectivity of the Special Powers Act will not fly as it will violate Art. III, Sec. 22 of the Constitution.”

Article III Section 22 of the 1987 Constitution, the fundamental law of the Philippines, states that “No ex post facto law or bill of attainder shall be enacted.”

An ex post facto law is defined as “a law that retroactively alters a defendant’s rights especially by criminalizing and imposing punishment for an act that was not criminal or punishable at the time it was committed.”

“Sa madaling salita, labag sa Saligang Batas na gawing krimen ang isang bagay na nagawa na bago pa man maipasa ang bagong batas,” Pangilinan continued.

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno similarly said that the Bayanihan Act is not retroactive or applicable to acts that have occurred in the past or before the law was in effect.

“Mukhang may bumagsak sa Constitutional Law,” he said in response to NBI’s letter to the younger Sotto.

Another human rights lawyer, Ross Tugade, also cited “the principle of legality,” a principle that states a “person may not be prosecuted under a criminal law that has not been previously punished.”

The Bayanihan Act imposed against the younger Sotto does not contain a provision about a retroactive application.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that penal laws cannot be retroactive “unless the offense is a continuing one and its commission has not been stopped.”

On Thursday morning, NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand Lavin said  that the bureau is aware that the law has no retroactive effect.

He added that the younger Sotto is being investigated for a “possible violation” of a memorandum issued by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

“Walang retroactive effect ‘yung penal law ngunit maliwanag dun sa sulat na aming pinadala– yung invitation nilagay dun na (continous tricycle ops) so even after nagkaroon na ng batas, ay may holding ‘yung aming investigation ng division na may continuous tricycle ops na [ipinatupad] ‘yung lugar,” Lavin said over an interview with GMA News’ Dobol B sa News TV.

“Alam naman ng NBI na ‘di retroactive. That is continuous tricycle operation kasi ito yung iimbestigahan. I don’t want to pre-empt the investigating agent. Dun sa memo, meron ‘no. Kasi nakasaad dun sa memo suspension ng mass transport at strict home quarantine. ‘Yun yung nakalagay dun sa basis ng NBI,” he added.

A look at the NBI’s press release uploaded after Lavin’s interview read that the city chief was being invited to “explain possible violation of the national guidelines on Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and R.A. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.”

#ProtectVico

The NBI’s attempt to go after the younger Sotto fueled for the hashtag #ProtectVico to trend on local Twitter anew. This hashtag also trended two weeks ago when the local chief executive was criticized for his COVID-19 initiatives.

Online support from celebrities and Filipinos who were dismayed by the NBI’s move poured online for Vico as well. They praised the Pasig mayor for his continued COVID-19 efforts.

Embattled Vico, for his part, said that he will “continue to work” and serve his constituents despite the summon, especially those heavily affected by the enhanced community quarantine.

“Mga kapwa ko Pasigueño, ‘wag niyo intidihin ang mga isyu-isyu na ganun,” part of his statement on Facebok said.

“Ang mahalaga, TULOY ANG TRABAHO… Focus tayo. Mula barangay hanggang nasyonal, magtulungan lang po tayo. Malalagpasan din natin ang krisis na dulot ng COVID-19,” he added.

On Wednesday evening, Vico posted a photo of him while working with his panda digital panda friend. The Instagram post was captioned “Let’s just work.”

 

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Let’s just work.

A post shared by Vico Sotto (@vicosotto) on