MANILA: Public discontent is rising in the Philippines, where many are accusing the government of double standards following reports that high-ranking officials have failed to respect the island-wide community quarantine on Luzon, initiated by the Department of Health on March 17 to help curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Among those known to have broken the quarantine rules and to have later tested positive for COVID-19 is Senator Aquilino Pimentel III.
Pimentel drew public ire for accompanying his pregnant wife to the Makati Medical Center (MMC), despite knowing that he could be infected. He later disclosed that his COVID-19 test came out positive.
MMC management slammed the senator for his “irresponsible and reckless action,” which put health care workers at risk of contracting the disease.
MMC director Saturnino Javier said that several members of staff may need to be quarantined following Pimentel’s visit, “which will further deplete the dwindling workforce of the hospital.” He added that although Pimentel was not aware that he had contracted COVID-19 when he visited the hospital, he was supposed to take the recommended precautions given that he knew Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, with whom he had been in contact, was infected.
Pimentel initially denied any wrongdoing, but on Thursday he apologized to the hospital, saying that he had not intended to breach any protocols and simply wanted to be with his wife during her labor.
Despite public uproar, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said that Pimentel’s conduct would not be investigated.
“The glaring double standard in how penalties are being imposed in this ‘enhanced community quarantine’ cannot be ignored,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights group KARAPATAN. “While the marginalized have faced ... unjust penalties and human rights violations for supposed violations of the quarantine measures, Senator Pimentel, who is actually positive for the disease, gets to have an easy pass despite putting hundreds of lives — especially frontline health workers and medical personnel — at risk with his recklessness.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who had previously asserted that quarantine violators would be arrested, said the DOJ would “temper the rigor of the law with human compassion.”
Palabay responded, “Where was this ‘human compassion’ when the homeless and the urban poor were subjected to ... detention in dog cages, or being made to sit under the sun as punishment for simply being outside their homes for the need to earn a living, or for simply having no home at all?”
During a press briefing on Thursday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted that Pimentel had indeed violated the quarantine rules.
The Philippines now has 707 known COVID-19 cases, with 45 deaths. Twenty-eight people are known to have recovered.