Feb 22, 2021 @ 13:14
Does RA 11332 apply or not? ‘San Roque 21’ question discrimination as Koko avoids charges
Urban poor residents of Quezon City have asked a local court to stop their trial for “non-cooperation” under Republic Act (RA) Number 11332, questioning why the law was applied to them for protesting their hunger but not to people like Senator Aquilino Pimentel III who visited a maternity ward despite knowing that he had symptoms.
The so-called “San Roque 21” filed a petition for certiorari before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 93, after Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) Branch 38 Judge John Booomsri Sy Rodolfo denied their motion to quash the cases and moved to proceed with their trial.
“Why then are the petitioners here being discriminated against?” asked the Sitio San Roque residents who were arrested in a violent dispersal on April 1, 2020, for airing their pleas for food as the government placed the country under lockdown and bungled its response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
To recall, government officials cited the clause “non-cooperation of persons and entities that should report and/or respond to notifiable diseases or health events of public concern” under Section 9(d) of RA 11332 to justify putting quarantine violators in crowded jails where they were ironically exposed to the virus.
Pimentel drew flak for going to the Makati Medical Center (MMC) on March 24, 2020 knowing that he felt sick enough to get tested for COVID-19. Pimentel did not reach the delivery room because he learned that he tested positive, but the MMC management condemned how he thoughtlessly exposed the staff and patients to the virus.
Yet, the Office of the Prosecutor-General dismissed a complaint filed by lawyer Rico Paolo Quicho, saying RA 11332 only covered medical authorities.
Even before Pimentel’s case, numerous others were thrown out by lower courts (such as that of former Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao who was arrested for trying to hold a relief drive in Bulacan for those affected by the government’s lockdown) and even by prosecutors, meaning these did not reach the courts at all.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra then said: “Please note that a large number of people apprehended by law enforcement officers during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic due to various quarantine violations were subsequently released and their cases dismissed by DOJ inquest prosecutors.”
The San Roque 21 cited this pronouncement by Guevarra in their petition.
Although they admitted that the next step after the denial of the motion to quash would be to defend themselves with evidence in the trial, the San Roque 21 argued that they should not be forced to do this since “a more enlightened and substantial justice” is at stake.
“The interest of a more enlightened and substantial justice requires that citizens, especially the poorest and the most marginalized, are guaranteed the protection of their fundamental rights under the Constitution,” read the petition.
“Petitioners stand to be tried, convicted, and imprisoned for merely waiting for food aid along EDSA after enduring two weeks of unceasing hunger,” the San Roque 21 said.
They further stressed: “Going outside one’s residence is not a crime, such that anyone who does so ─ especially for a necessity as basic as food ─ cannot and should not be subject to arrest. No law makes it so.”
It may be noted that Pimentel is a loyal ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, who in an April 1, 2020 speech generalized quarantine violators as belonging to the Left and threatened: “My orders are sa pulis pati military, pati mga barangay na pagka ginulo at nagkaroon ng okasyon na lumaban at ang buhay ninyo ay nalagay sa alanganin, shoot them dead.”