Selective Justice and 'Compassion' in the Time of Coronavirus
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that justice is selective in the Philippines. This is a country notorious for its impunity—a justice system that serves the few instead of the many. This is our normal, and it’s never become more apparent than now.
This is what’s happening now, to Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto, as he is summoned by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for allegedly violating the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act—a law that was passed one week after Sotto expressed his disagreement with certain provisions in the law.
The Tale of Two Leaders
To quote the mayor, who has gained popularity for his city’s innovative solutions and transparency, “Hindi po illegal magbigay ng opinion.”
The opinion he gave was a plea to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to permit tricycles to travel during lockdown to accommodate the frontliners and residents who do not have the privilege of owning a private car. On March 19, the DILG rejected this plea, and Sotto complied with their decision.
On March 24, five days after Sotto voiced his disagreement, the national government passed the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, which directs LGUs to follow national guidelines, such as restricting tricycle travel. And now, one week later, the NBI has summoned Sotto to answer for possible violations to the law—which, to reiterate, was passed after Sotto voiced his opinion, which is again, not illegal. There is no retroactive application of this law, according to Senator President Vicente "Tito" Sotto, Vico's uncle and the principal author of the bill.
The irony is not lost on us here, as just a week ago, COVID-19 positive Senator Koko Pimentel was slammed for breaking quarantine protocols—set by the Department of Health—by entering a busy health facility and endangering the lives of hundreds. Makati Medical Center called his actions “irresponsible” and “reckless,” doctors around the country were enraged, and lawyers are already drafting complaints against the senator for breaking RA. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.
But when asked if the Department of Justice (DOJ) would act on the blatant violation of enhanced community quarantine guidelines, the department said “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.”
It was only a few hours after news of Sotto's NBI summons came to light that the NBI announced they were also asking Pimentel to answer for alleged quarantine violations.
It’s clear only VIPs have the privilege of compassion as regular citizens who don’t have the luxury of being senators are being arrested on a daily basis for breaking curfew, being outside, and overstepping the guidelines of lockdown.
Just earlier today, residents of Sitio San Roque, Barangay Bagong Pag-asa, Quezon City, were chased and beaten by members of the Philippine National Police after they walked out of their community, demanding food and relief goods as families were left penniless and starving by the lockdown.
This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
And so Pimentel gets compassion for breaking quarantine, while Sotto gets a summons for having an opinion. Has the bar for Philippine leadership been set so low that the government is now allergic to efficient public servants? And public servants are a rarity these days, when all we see are politicians—many of whom have conveniently disappeared to "self-quarantine" while LGUs, the real frontliners in the government, are walking the streets to serve their constituents.
Here is Sotto, a young leader who’s giving the youth hope for better days and a promise for better public servants, whose best practices have become a model for other LGUs to follow. Here is a young man who’s setting the bar high to a standard that the majority of our politicians can’t reach. And the NBI demands he explain his nonexistent quarantine violations. The bureau might have also asked Pimentel to explain his actions, but let us not forget that this comes after days of his public violation and that the DOJ's immediate response? "Compassion."
Competency is punished, while incompetency is shown empathy.
Minutes after news broke of NBI’s summons, #ProtectVico and “People Power” started trending on Twitter. Netizens, ranging from his constituents to admirers, called to protect the young mayor, who’s now become a symbol for something greater than himself. Whether he wants this role or not, Sotto has become a beacon for the youth—an example of one who does what’s right, even at the risk of getting targeted for just doing his job.
But don’t let this attack on the mayor distract you from the real problems: frontliners dying because of lack of equipment, police abuse of the poor, and mass arrests occurring in place of mass tests. What happened during lockdown will be remembered for decades, and after the pandemic, something will change. We’ll remember how many poor were left to fend for themselves, the names of the doctors who did not die an honorable death, and the leaders we turned to in this time of peril.
Hopefully, we’ll remember it’s not always enough to complain or to write an op-ed. These changes need action, and that starts by voting the right people into power come election day. But until then, be loud, and hold officials accountable.
Like Mayor Sotto said, having an opinion isn’t illegal, right?