'Case closed': NBI move vs. Vico Sotto a 'useless political distraction' amid COVID-19 crisis, DILG says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 2)— The Interior Department assailed the National Bureau of Investigation's summoning of Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto over supposed quarantine protocol violations, saying the move is only a "useless political distraction amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

"I think this act of summoning the mayor of Pasig is a useless political distraction at this time when all of us are preparing and cooperating to beat the COVID crisis right now," Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday.

The Pasig City Mayor earlier received the request from the NBI asking him to appear at their office to respond to claims that he violated the recently-passed Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. The measure, approved by President Rodrigo Duterte to address the coronavirus crisis, seeks strict compliance from local government units in the implementation of the Luzon-wide quarantine.

Sotto turned heads in March when he ordered the limited mobilization of tricycles in the city to help bring medical workers and patients with urgent needs to hospitals. This is prohibited under the enhanced community quarantine guidelines, which include the suspension of mass transport.

However, Malaya said the department already considered the issue as "case closed," as Sotto has already complied with the order.

"There was some miscommunication between the DILG and Mayor Vico Sotto at that time. So there was exchange of views at that time. But that has been resolved," Malaya added.

Mayors of the capital region currently form part of the Metro Manila Council — the policy-making body of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. The local chief executives coordinate plans and programs through the platform, with MMDA monitoring the implementation of metro-wide services.

NBI Spokesperson Ferdinand Lavin previously said that if Sotto fails to show up on the order, then the agency would proceed with its probe.

However, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra maintained that penal provisions of any law cannot be applied retroactively "unless the offense is a continuing one and its commission has not been stopped."

Senate President Vicente "Tito" III meanwhile echoed Guevarra's stand.

"NBI will be well advised to be cautious in their interpretation of the law I principally authored. Any so called violation of RA 11469 can't be retroactive," he said.

For his part, legal expert Atty. Howard Calleja said that such invitation should only be issued by a valid court or if there is a valid case.

“The invitation technically is a warrantless arrest," Calleja told CNN Philippines’ Newsroom. "The NBI should not use this term. Unless there is a court order, only the court could issue a subpoena.”

“LGUs are under the supervision and control of DILG, and if DILG does not find anything wrong, then the NBI should take heed and stand down on this issue,” he added.