By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Human rights lawyers maintained that violating the enhanced community quarantine is not a crime.
This is in reaction to Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Gen. Archie Gamboa’s statement on Tuesday, April 21. Gamboa said that violators of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) will be apprehended without warning.
National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) Secretary General Ephraim B. Cortez said that violating the ECQ protocols is not a criminal act. Whether there is a public health emergency or not, he said, the general rule on arrest is still in place and a person can only be arrested if there is a warrant.
“There is no specific law that criminalizes it (violating the ECQ protocols). The police can always tell the people to go home and then file charges but not arrest them,” said Cortez in an online forum entitled, Know Your Rights, on Tuesday, April 21.
As of April 20, the PNP said there are already 136,517 lockdown violators. Of this number, 31,363 have been arrested, 6,168 were fined and 98,986 were warned.
Troops are also now more visible in many areas in the metro.
Josalee Deinla, spokesperson of the NUPL, added that arresting the so-called ECQ violators is not the solution to the pandemic. She pointed out that arresting violators and putting them in jail can only contribute to the spread of the disease as detention centers are presently cramped.
This, she said, is also contrary to the calls and the recent circular released by the Supreme Court to decongest prison by releasing persons deprived of liberty to prevent the spread of the virus.
Lockdown and the pandemic, not ‘passes’ to sow reign of terror
The NUPL said that Duterte’s threat to impose a martial law-like implementation of the ECQ should not be taken lightly as human rights violations are already increasing such as putting critics in jails in this time of the pandemic.
“At this point, we should reiterate that the ‘rule of justice’ has never ceased to operate,” Cortez said.
The group said that in more than 30-days of lockdown in Luzon, President Duterte’s administration is not really ‘flattening the curve’ of the pandemic, “but at committing human rights violations with impunity along the way.”
“Basic economic, social, political and civil rights have never been reduced to a mere enumeration of empty do’s and dont’s as what control-obsessed wielders of power, high and low, try to undermine. The lockdown and the pandemic are not the government’s ‘passes’ to sow a reign of terror, cultivate a climate of fear and blind obeisance, and commit human rights violations with impunity,” Cortez said.
NUPL President Edre Olalia reminded groups and all concerned to document all incidents of abuses committed by the barangay officials, officials of the local government units, police and the military. In time, he said, they will be held accountable.
In the meantime, the group committed to “continue equip the people with legal knowledge, competent advice and as prompt aid as possible to protect and defend their rights.”
“Asserting and exercising one’s individual and collective rights are not incompatible with preserving life, caring for health and ensuring our welfare which are rights themselves. When this pandemic is over, our basic rights and dignity should still be with us,” the NUPL said.