THREE more lawmakers — one senator and two congressmen — tested positive for the coronavirus disease 2019, adding to the rising number of infections that the Health department said had reached 707 as of Thursday.
Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who took the test on March 16 after experiencing mild fever, cough and headaches, was the third senator to get infected after Senators Miguel F. Zubiri and Aquilino L. Pimentel III.
The lawmaker, who missed Monday’s special session where Congress approved a bill giving President Rodrigo R. Duterte special powers to deal with the outbreak, said he had not been in contact with the public since he got tested.
Meanwhile, two congressmen had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Isabela Rep. Antonio T. Albano.
“We bravely went to work and two of our congressmen are now positive for COVID-19, two congressional staff have died, many more are persons under investigation and under monitoring,” he said in a Facebook post on Wednesday evening.
ACT-CIS Partylist Rep. Eric G. Yap confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that he had tested positive. Mr. Albano did not name the other congressman who fell ill from the virus.
Mr. Yap, who heads the House committee on appropriations, said he got tested on March 15 after being exposed to people who later tested positive, and received the result after 10 days.
He said he led a hearing on the Health department’s supplementary budget on March 10. “After that, it was business as usual for me but I was careful as always.”
Mr. Yap attended a meeting on March 21 between lawmakers and Cabinet officials at the presidential palace. Among those in attendance were Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano, Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, Senator Christopher T. Go, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea.
Meanwhile Mr. Pimentel could face criminal charges and a disbarment complaint for violating quarantine protocols and exposing several health care workers to the novel coronavirus, according to lawyer Rico Quicho.
In a Facebook post, the lawyer said the senator should be held accountable for violating home quarantine rules when he accompanied his pregnant wife to the Makati Medical Center.
“We cannot let such ineptitude into positions of power,” Mr. Quicho said. “We will rely on the full force of law — we are looking into criminal, civil and administrative charges not only to make him accountable, but also to set an example.”
Mr. Quicho said they were coordinating with different medical associations and people and encouraged the hospital to review its CCTV footage. “We owe this not only to the other MMC patients exposed, but also to the frontliners who were put at risk,” he said.
Mr. Pimentel on Wednesday confirmed that he had tested positive for COVID-19. He said he got the news of confirmation on Tuesday evening while he was at the Makati Medical Center with his wife Kathryna, who was due to deliver their child.
The hospital rebuked Mr. Pimentel for being reckless and irresponsible.
The Philippine Medical Center expressed support for MMC, saying the senator should have put forward the well-being of the health care workers.
“The PMA thus calls upon our government officials to please refrain from being treated as VIP’s and better, please follow protocols as we are all in this fight together,” it said in a statement yesterday.
Mr. Pimentel apologized to the Makati Medical Center, saying he did not intend to breach the quarantine protocol.
“I would like to sincerely and profoundly apologize to the management and staff of the Makati Medical Center for this unfortunate incident,” he said in a statement. “I never intended to do any harm to anyone.”
Mr. Quicho said the senator had violated the law on “mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases and health events of public health concern.”
The law imposes a jail term of up to 6 months and a maximum fine of P50,000.
Mr. Quicho described the complaint he was readying as a “test case” that could “encourage other citizens” to also go after Congressman Yap, who attended a Malacañang meeting and a special session of Congress even after getting tested.
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra on Tuesday said the department would “temper the rigors of the law with human compassion,” during “abnormal times like these, when people are prone to commit mistakes.”
“But this is not to say that the DoJ will not act upon the filing of a proper complaint by any interested party,” he added.
Mr. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island on March 16, suspending classes, work and public transportation and asking people to stay in their homes to contain the outbreak.
The Justice department earlier said violators of the lockdown order would be arrested. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Charmaine A. Tadalan and Genshen L. Espedido