By now, you’ve probably heard about the recent political gaffe concerning Senator Koko Pimentel. Fully knowing that he was a Person Under Investigation (PUI) and was still waiting for the results of his test (it eventually came back positive), he broke his quarantine to visit his pregnant wife in the hospital, exposing her, the doctors, the nurses and all the patients (which includes recovering mothers, immuno-comprised people and actual infants) to the virus. His wife denied that he entered the delivery room, too, but Makati Medical City’s response seems to say otherwise. In any case, even if he didn’t enter the delivery room, he still entered areas of the hospital with vulnerable patients.
It’s infuriating, and many people have rightly called him out on social media. Makati Medical City, where his wife was admitted, even joined in to castigate him for potentially infecting frontliners and patients. Later, S&R also revealed that the senator potentially infected their staff, too.
Pimentel has since responded to the backlash, saying that it made him feel discriminated. “’Wag lang masyadong mag-discriminate kasi ngayon ko nararamdanan ‘yung discrimination, actually.” It’s laughable, extremely laughable, if only it were something I could laugh at: Confirmed cases and death tolls keep rising every day and normal citizens who do less than him are penalized greatly (the Human Rights Watch noted that “authorities should respect the basic rights of people detained for violating the government’s COVID-19 regulations” after images of violators put in dog cages circulated online), and yet the man who’s not going to face any charges is the one being discriminated against?
I’m not going to follow in the footsteps of some celebrities and influencers who try to spin the global pandemic in a good light (“at least this lockdown is giving us time to meditate/recharge/reset/etc”) but I will say this: If anything, this virus has revealed the true colors of our politicians in a way that seems lasting.
Take Joy Belmonte. Just within these past two weeks, she’s been under fire multiple times, first for alluding that only her supporters (and not her “haters”) should be given the rights afforded to them as QC residents (housing, education, healthcare, social benefits projects) after receiving criticism of how she’s handling the crisis. Her political campaigning immediately afterwards (which involved, among other things, photo-op stunts) to clean up her name has since failed, and she’s currently receiving backlash for admitting that at least three COVID-19 patients in the city were sent home from the hospital due to a lack of space in facilities.
There are a lot of factors at work here that add up to a political Molotov cocktail that our current politicians are not used to experiencing. First is the wide-spread crisis and the understandable panic surrounding it. Tensions are higher now compared to other emergency crises in the past since it’s affecting the whole nation in a very visible way. And because it’s such an immediate crisis, establishments that might not have spoken up otherwise (like Makati Med and S&R in Pimentel’s case) are doing so.
At the same time, because of the lockdown, more people are staying inside and thereby spending more time on their phones, which means that the normal dissemination of information through social media is heightened. Everyone is watching, and who they’re watching are the people in charge of keeping them safe, the government.
It must be a novel time for politicians who are used to getting their way. Now they have to explain why they think they deserve V.I.P testing when they’re not the frontliners who are risking their lives. Now they have the public to answer to in a way they’ve never been expected to before.
I can’t fully say that politicians are now being held accountable for their actions and inactions. Public shame can only do so much—they need to be held accountable in a way that’s legally binding, and that they can’t later on use to shape a narrative that’s beneficial to them (look, Pimentel is already trying to address himself as a victim).
Homeless people who are forced to be on the streets because of their circumstances are being arrested or fined punishing fees they can’t afford to pay. “In the first few days of the quarantine, many of these poor and homeless folks were arrested as many attempted to continue with their livelihood,” said CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia. Pimentel is rich and powerful—going out and knowingly exposing others was a choice that he made. Despite him saying that he didn’t endanger anyone on purpose, his actions betray him. He went to a hospital not for himself but to visit someone else, knowing that he had just been tested. That’s not just irresponsible and reckless, it’s dangerous.
But he isn’t going to be penalized. The Department of Justice announced it themselves: No arrest or sanction will be made despite him breaking quarantine and hospital protocols. He could afford to pay however much fee that normal citizens would have to if they were in his shoes, but he doesn’t have to. Why?
“During abnormal times like these, when people are prone to commit mistakes or violations of the law, the DOJ will temper the rigor of the law with human compassion,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters. “The government earlier warned that quarantine violators may be arrested and charged for violating Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code which “punishes resistance and disobedience to a person in authority or the agents of such person” and violation of Republic Act No. 11332—the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act,” notes Inquirer.net.
Politicians are still looking after each other, for the most part. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but most of them are still prioritizing their own best interests. Why else would they enact quarantine policies that are anti-poor and hurts farmers without giving those in poverty a safety net? Why else would they endanger the people literally on the frontline of the crisis?
Politicians need to do better. However, I’m not convinced that the current crop (save for a few) we have ever would. So instead, it’s up to us to do better.
This should be a call for everyone to use their votes wisely in the next election. We need to elect individuals who care and strive to do right by us. If it means filling up the senate with fresh faces, so be it.
Art by Tricia Guevara
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