DOJ says Bayanihan law can't be enforced retroactively
MANILA (UPDATE) — The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said Wednesday it launched an investigation on Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto's alleged violation of the newly-enacted Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, the measure that gives Malacañang additional powers to address the coronavirus crisis.
"Iyung investigation [is] regarding the possible violation of LGU doon sa Bayanihan [Act] saka 'yung sa protocols dun sa Luzon quarantine," according to NBI Anti-Graft Division executive officer Marlon Tauli.
(The investigation regarding the possible violation of LGU of the Bayanihan [Act] and protocols under the Luzon quarantine.)
Tauli said Sotto, through a letter, was asked to explain why he should not be charged for allegedly violating the Bayanihan law, which was enacted amid a month-long lockdown of Luzon to prevent further spread of the contagious virus.
The NBI cited Section 6A of the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act, which penalizes "LGU officials disobeying national government policies or directives in imposing quarantines."
Penalties include imprisonment of 2 months or a fine of not less than P10,000 but not more than P1 million or both as directed by court.
A copy of the NBI's letter obtained by ABS-CBN News identified "continuous tricycle operations" as Sotto's possible violation.
"May we request your written explanation on the alleged violation... (e.g continuous tricyle operations) by sending your representative on 07 April 2020," said the letter dated April 1.
The Pasig mayor was known to have caught the attention of the national government after he rejected banning tricycles in Pasig despite the government's directive to suspend all public transportation in Luzon under lockdown guidelines.
Sotto had cited the need for transportation of frontliners and residents without private vehicles who may have critical appointments such as medical checkups.
After the Department of the Interior and Local Government reiterated the transport ban despite his plea, Sotto on March 19 said he would comply with the order and tapped alternative means of transport.
In a tweet, Sotto clarified that he complied with the directive under the lockdown, and that his "rejection" was merely an opinion.
Sotto also pointed out that Duterte signed the law on March 24, days after Pasig City followed the national government directive.
"We complied with all directives. Hindi po illegal magbigay ng opinyon... at alam kaya nila na March 24 naging batas ang Bayanihan Act?" Sotto said.
(It's not illegal to give an opinion. And do they know that the Bayanihan Act became law on March 24?)
The Department of Justice echoed this, saying penal provisions under the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act cannot be applied retroactively.
"Penal provisions of any law are not applied retroactively unless the offense is a continuing one and its commission has not been stopped," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.
The NBI is under the DOJ.
Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, Duterte will have more powers that includes the authority to reallocate government savings to coronavirus-related programs, control private businesses under special circumstances, and grant exemptions from procurement laws.
As reports on the NBI summon broke, netizens took to social media to protest the agency's act, sending the hashtag #ProtectVico to the top spot of worldwide trending topics on Twitter.
April Fool's joke?
Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan, in a statement on behalf of the Liberal Party, said the NBI's seeming "April Fool's joke" is "not funny."
He said provisions of the Bayanihan law may not apply on Sotto's alleged violation as his acts came before the enactment of the measure.
"A case against Mayor Vico for acts done before the effectivity of the Special Powers Act will not fly as it will violate Art. III, Sec. 22 of the Constitution, which reads '[n]o ex post facto law or bill of attainder shall be enacted'," said Pangilinan.
He said Sotto was just doing his job properly and looking for solutions for his constituents.
"I-atras na ang pananakot na kasuhan si Mayor Vico. Nagtatrabaho siya nang mabuti at naghahanap ng solusyon at paraan para makatulong. Habulin ang mga tunay na pahirap ngayong may epidemya," Pangilinan said.
(Take back this threat to charge Mayor Vico. He is just doing his job and looking for ways to help. Go after the ones who are a burden at this time of an epidemic.)
He called on fellow civil servants to avoid getting used for vested interest and just focus on public welfare.
"Huwag na ninyong dagdagan ang mga kapalpakan at pagsipsip. Hindi kayo nakakatulong. Umayos kayo."
(Do not add to the failures and the suckups. This doesn't help. Conduct yourselves properly.)
-Reports from Henry Atuelan and Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News