"Arrest those who are not wearing face masks" and abusive orders in Duterte's lockdown

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Rodrigo Duterte once again exposed his tyrannical response to the pandemic by arbitrarily ordering on May 5 to arrest “those who are not wearing their masks properly.” This was his response after local cases of Covid-19 surged. Government agencies rushed to devise new guidelines disregarding the Department of Justice’s clarification earlier in April that state forces cannot arrest anyone for violating health protocols, except when they are resisting violently.

Following the dictator’s order, the police and barangay officials apprehended more than 18,000 individuals in just a span of four days, or around 4,500 individuals per day.

Among the victims, 904 were reportedly arrested and detained, while 8,027 were fined, and 491 others were ordered to render community service. These figures exclude those who have been apprehended for not following other protocols such as social distancing, curfew and others.

Arbitrary apprehension

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) rebuked the president’s order calling it “cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment.” The group argued that there is no basis in law for enforcing such an arrests or even detention even if temporary and without bringing those apprehended to precincts. (Majority of those “arrested” are brought to barangay halls or covered courts.) This has been proven true with the junking of many other similar cases by courts since last year.

“This is another authoritarian edict akin to the law of rulers and undermines the rule of law,” said NUPL. The lack of clear guidelines on how this should be implemented, especially by abusive police officers, will result in more hardships and arbitrariness.

Anna was among those who have been apprehended by the police for allegedly not observing social distancing. The jeepney she was riding was stopped for purportedly loading more than the allowable number of passengers.

“The number of passengers did not exceed the limit,” insisted Anna. “We are fully aware of the guidelines that was why we complained after being fined ₱500 each,” she added.

They were threatened to be summoned to court if they could not pay the fine within five days. As a student, Anna has no means to pay this, and just opted not to pay.

During the first quarter of 2021, the have been numerous reports of various human rights violations perpetrated by state forces against those who “violated” government restrictions. Victims include Darren Peñaredondo from Cavite who died after being forced by the police to 300 squats.

Ernanie Jimenez on the other hand was beaten by barangay watchmen for purportedly violating curfew in their area. Many of those arrested are crammed in congested prison cells and made to sleep on the floor where they are vulnerable to being infected with Covid-19.

Effect on livelihoods

Small entrepreneurs are afraid of being apprehended, fined or detained, leaving them with no choice but to follow restrictions regardless of their huge losses.

In the case of Anna’s family during the enhanced community quarantine, they were compelled to close their market store as early as 5 p.m. “We could not cater to many of our customers who usually visit on their way home after work, that’s why our sales dropped so much,” she said.

According to Jenny, another small businesswoman, they lost more than ₱70,000 due to the restrictions. “Our income dropped with schools closed and students on remote schooling. In short, we lost our target market,” she explained. During the ECQ, I temporarily closed my small store because it is not considered an “essential” enterprise.

Employees are also affected as many businesses are forced to streamline their operations. “We can no longer pay our employees especially that we do not earn anything on days when our store is closed,” said Jenny.

According to Karapatan, militarist and punitive measures in addressing the pandemic go against the principle of upholding public health. “These policies have disproportionately targeted the poor and even political dissenters, while affording a double standard to this administration’s allies and lapdogs,” the group added.

“Don’t say that for those with the smallest infractions, but there are other bigger personalities who have a worse infraction, but were not arrested,” said Vice President Leni Robredo.

"Arrest those who are not wearing face masks" and abusive orders in Duterte's lockdown