Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd shopped at an upscale supermarket at Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig City despite placing himself in self-quarantine after experiencing the symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
S&R Membership Shopping on Thursday confirmed that Pimentel was in its BGC branch on March 16.
The senator is already facing a torrent of virulent criticism after admitting he had breached quarantine rules by accompanying his pregnant wife to the Makati Medical Center (MMC) in Makati City last Tuesday.
In a statement on Facebook Thursday, S&R said closed-circuit television footage showed Pimentel “checking out at counter 13 at exactly 1:59 p.m.”
It noted that the employees who were in contact with the senator had been quarantined and the store disinfected.
Pimentel on Wednesday said he was at Makati Medical Center when the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine called him Tuesday night to say he was Covid-positive.
Pimentel apologized to the public, saying he never intended to do any harm to anyone.
But that did spare him from angry posts on social media that denounced him for recklessly breaking quarantine rules and endangering a number of people.
The management of Makati Medical Center also censured Pimentel for accompanying his wife, Kathryna, to the hospital despite knowing that he was already considered a person under investigation.
On Thursday, Palace Spokesman Salvador Panelo assured the public that no one is exempted from restrictions meant to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“There are no exemptions…to these health protocols. Those holding high positions in the government are enjoined to set an example to their constituents by strictly observing them,” he said in a statement.
“Any transgressor therefore must be dealt with in accordance with law,” he warned.
Panelo, however, said the Palace was leaving it to concerned agencies to act on any complaint against officials who breached health protocols.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd agreed with Panelo that Pimentel violated quarantine rules.
Several legal groups are said to be contemplating disbarment charges against Pimentel, while the Office of the Ombudsman was considering its own investigation.
“I[‘]m discussing with my subordinates if a motu proprio investigation will be conducted on Senator Koko Pimentel’s supposed breach of Covid-19 protocols at the Makati Medical Center”, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said.
Under Republic Act 6770 (“Ombudsman Act of 1989”), the Office of the Ombudsman may investigate and prosecute on its own (motu proprio) “or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient.”
Pimentel, last March 10, said he talked to colleagues Senators Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay and Sherwin Gatchalian, who both had been exposed to a Covid patient, but found that it was not sufficient reason to go into self-quarantine.
Four days later, Pimentel said he started experiencing body pain, a symptom associated with the disease. That was when he started isolating himself, staying in a different room from his wife.
On March 18, Pimentel said he developed fever and a sore throat, but had no difficulty breathing. He decided to take the Covid-19 test on March 20.
“I never intended to breach any protocol, but I realize now that my presence in MMC unnecessarily caused additional anguish and concern to the courageous frontline health workers we all depend on,” he said in his apology.
He stressed that no doctor ordered his Covid testing. “It was my own initiative, as an expectant father, after learning that my other colleagues had themselves tested and out of precaution because I was living with a pregnant wife who was nearing the time of childbirth.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday defended Pimentel from the barrage of criticism: “This has gotten out of hand. What do you people want? Hang or electrocute him?”
“How many people has he come in contact with? Let’s trace them and have them quarantined. Let’s look after his pregnant wife who is about to deliver,” he added.
Pimentel has already apologized for his actions “and we should accept that and turn our attention to more important ones,” he said.
Lorenzana said Pimentel and his family “are suffering because of this.”
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE, JOMAR CANLAS, REINA C. TOLENTINO, DEMPSEY REYES AND BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO