Updated March 17, 2021, 4:20 p.m.
BY REIN TARINAY
A year into the pandemic, double standards on how minimum health standards and quarantine protocols are observed remains evident, with government officials and personalities breaching protocols and getting away with it while nearly 600,000 Filipinos, mostly poor, have been warned, ticketed, fined, and charged over quarantine violations.
News reports revealed that the renewed stricter lockdown implementation has led to the arrests of almost 50,000 Filipinos in the first week of March 2021 alone. This amid another surge in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases, vaccination roll out for health workers and the poor still delayed, social protection for displaced workers wanting, and the country’s testing capacity and contact tracing remaining weak.
Critics pointed out that its implementation for the rich, famous, and influential is far from the jarring experiences that the poor are subjected to, as they were treated as murderers, per a Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism report
Below are among officials who got away with violations of quarantine protocols:
Sen. Koko Pimentel
On March 24, 2020, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel went to Makati Medical Center to accompany his then-pregnant wife. Pimentel said he only learned of his positive diagnosis for COVID-19 when he was already at the hospital and that he immediately left after learning he had contracted the virus.
Apart from visiting Makati Medical Center, Pimentel also admitted that he attended two birthday parties and a meeting while considered as a person under investigation (PUI). He also went to S&R Bonifacio Global City, Taguig on March 16, requiring the quarantine of store clerks who were exposed to him.
Pimentel was charged for violating Republic Act No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, which prohibits the “non-cooperation of person and entities” in reporting “notifiable diseases or health events of public concern.” The health department also issued separate protocols on home quarantine which includes those who were exposed to a COVID-19 patient to undergo a 14-day home quarantine.
A lawyer filed a case against Pimentel’s quarantine violation. The Department of Justice later dismissed the charges for lack of probable cause.
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) deputy administrator Mocha Uson
Despite strict lockdown in place, Mocha Uson, a staunch supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte and later appointed as deputy chief of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, gathered more than 300 repatriated Filipino migrant workers, who were on their 14-day quarantine at a beach resort in Batangas, a province south of Manila.
Mass gathering is prohibited in the whole of Luzon, which was then under enhanced community quarantine.
OWWA chief Hans Cacdac then defended Uson, saying she had the “best intentions” and “carried out the message” for the repatriated Filipinos.
Police chief Debold Sinas
On May 12, 2020, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Public Information Office uploaded photos of a mañanita, where the police chief celebrated his 55th birthday. Photos showed Sinas with about 50 colleagues, with social distancing not observed. The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said it is a tragedy how “selective mercy and hypocritical compassion” is only for the rich and powerful.
Then PNP Director Archie Gamboa defended Sinas saying the latter did not violate any quarantine protocol and that it was “not a party”
On March 11, 2021, Sinas tested positive for COVID-19.
San Juan Mayor Francisco Zamora
On June 5, 2020, San Juan Mayor Francisco Zamora and his convoy carrying “a group of visiting officials” sped off at a quarantine checkpoint inspection on Kennon Road, which violated protocols.
Zamora later apologized to Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong. Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) Vice Chair Eduardo Año also defended Zamora, saying there is no abuse of authority.
On Nov. 12, 2020, a video of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque singing at a restaurant in Baguio City without a mask went viral. At that time, Baguio City was under MGCQ. He was also photographed speaking to a large crowd in Bantayan Island in Cebu.
Early this month, he drew flak when likened the lockdown to a vacation.
He tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.
Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong
Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong admitted that he and his wife attended the birthday party of celebrity Tim Yap on Jan. 17, 2021 where health protocols were not observed.
He and his wife paid a fine amounting to P1,000 each, as per the city ordinance. Magalong offered his resignation as the country’s tracing czar but the Palace did not accept his resignation.
Quarantine protocols only for the poor?
Sen. Risa Hontiveros described the year-long lockdown as nothing but hypocrisy, particularly for high officials.
Fish vendor Dodong Jimeda was arrested on May 7, 2020 for allegedly violating quarantine protocols. He was detained for 12 days and made to post bail amounting to P3,500 (US$72).
On June 2, 2020, six jeepney drivers were arrested for calling on government to allow them to resume operations. They were charged with “disobedience to social distancing” and were fined P3,000 each (US$60).
Urban poor group Kadamay said that instead of addressing the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, the government appears to be “back to zero.” The group said the government should not expect the strict lockdown to work effectively now, if this measure has failed miserably since last year.
Kadamay secretary general Mimi Doringo said, “they have put the blame on the people on the impending stricter lockdown. But isn’t it that it was President Duterte and his people who did not heed the people’s plea? Do not blame us. Hold to account the powerful who neglected their duty.” (With reports from Dawn Peña)