The many issues hounding both the national and local governments’ handling of the coronavirus disease 2019(COVID-19)pandemic was further aggravated by the news that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has asked Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto to air his side on his alleged violation of the national government’s policy on the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).

NBI Spokesperson Ferdinand Lavin said the mayor was sent a letter asking him to appear at the NBI office on April 7.

The NBI alleges that the Sotto violated Republic Act 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan) passed on March 24 to address the COVID-19 crisis.

Sotto verified receiving an NBI letter but with no details on his alleged violation, saying “Nakasulat lang, in parentheses pa, ibig sabihin ng e.g. di ba, halimbawa, example, ‘e.g. continuous tricycle operation’ (What was written was, and in parentheses at that, e.g., meaning for example ‘continuous tricycle operation’).”

He explained that when the national government did not approve his request for tricycles to transport the health workers, he immediately complied, an incident which happened before the ‘Bayanihan’ Act was approved.

Meanwhile, support poured in for the young mayor such as the “Protect Vico Sotto Online Rally”, described as an Online Protest From Home, that enjoins supporters to use the official hashtag in Facebook and Twitter, #ProtectVico.

#ProtectVico also lorded it over Twitter’s trending topics worldwide yesterday, right after the NBI announced it will summon the mayor.

Even the mayor’s uncle, Senate President Tito Sotto, who is the principal author of the Bayanihan Act tweeted last night “Laws are never retroactive if detrimental to any accused.”  He further warned the bureau to be ‘cautious’ interpreting RA 11469

This morning, the senator further tweeted and questioned the NBI’s jurisdiction over his nephew’s case. “If a local official has not violated any law, the DILG is the Dept that has jurisdiction over him….not the DOJ!#&%@P!?!”

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the government agency with direct supervision over local government officials slammed the NBI investigation against Vico Sotto.

“This act of summoning the mayor of Pasig is a useless political distraction on at this time when all of us are preparing and all of us cooperate to beat the COVID-19 crisis that we are in,” DILG spokesman Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya told CNN Philippines

Before lunch today the mayor posted this message for all his supporters saying, “Thank you for all your overwhelming support,” he added, “Ngunit wag na po sanang gamitin ang isyu na ‘to para sa politika (But please let us not use this issue for politicizing.)”

NBI deputy director Ferdinand Lavin said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel that the probe against the mayor has been “politicized and sensationalized.”

Sotto agreed via tweet to Lavin’s observation that the issue has been ‘politicized & sensationalized.’ but added “But with all due respect sir, pls stop and think why it reached this point: Side niyo ang nag-leak ng kopya ng sulat sa reporter. Nagpa-receive tao niyo sa opis ko, may kasama pang media,” he said.

(It was your side who leaked a copy of the letter to a reporter. Your men brought media when they went to my office to give the letter.)

During the same interview, Lavin clarified that the NBI’s anti-graft division is inviting Sotto to explain his side about his proposal to allow tricycle drivers to continue operating in his city despite a ban imposed by the national government on all public transport under the Luzon-wide ECQ.

“This is an invitation, not a subpoena, Hindi lang naman ito kay Mayor Sotto. Medyo na-politicize lang ito, na-sensationalize,” he said.

(This is not just for Mayor Sotto. This was just a bit politicized, sensationalized.)

Netizens heavily criticized the NBI for seemingly targeting the young mayor while Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel was not being investigated for violating his quarantine despite being classified as a person under monitoring.  Pimentel admitted to visiting Makati Medical Center with his wife even before he learned of his positive COVID-19 result.

The NBI said they will also investigate Pimentel along with a barangay officer in Las Pinas and other officials to explain their alleged quarantine and physical distancing violations. (Jojo Mangahis)