“The militarist and punitive framework of policing the pandemic in the form of policies resulting in mass arrests and detention of alleged violators runs counter to the purpose of quarantine protocols which is to protect and uphold people’s health.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment.
This is the reaction of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) to President Duterte’s order to arrest, detain and investigate people who are not properly wearing masks, during a televised meeting with members of the pandemic task force on May 5. He also ordered that those arrested be detained for nine hours.
While NUPL President Edre Olalia agrees that people should wear masks properly, he said that to arrest them due to improper wearing of masks, “is another authoritarian edict akin to the law of rulers and undermines the ‘rule of law’.”
“In any event, it is cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment disproportionate to the evil sought to be supposedly addressed. In practice, it will even be discriminatory again,” he said.
He added that the legal justification is not only inapplicable but also erroneous “because there appears to be no clearly defined crime or offense covered by any specific law or lawful ordinance for a valid instance of warrantless arrest to operate.”
Olalia also said that the detention period without charges is wrong and arbitrary.
“This is what we get when we have knee-jerk draconian ideas rather than commonsensical solutions,” said Olalia, adding that “providing face masks for free to those who cannot afford them and launching massive popular information drives” would be preferable than “overpacking our already cramped and congested jails.”
According to a GMA News online report, the Commission on Audit noted that Philippine jails have exceeded its capacity by 438 percent. Yet, infrastructure projects worth P2.7 billion ($563 million) to improve jail conditions have been delayed.
“These serial mailed fist cures would just worsen the problem and lock us up in this slippery slope of inane coercive measures,” he said.
Meanwhile, Karapatan said that Duterte’s order “is brazenly unscientific and ineffective, aside from a form of disproportionate use of force during a public health crisis that impacts mainly the poor population.”
The group stressed that over congestion and inhumane conditions in detention facilities in the country are already posing risks to the health of prisoners. Detaining more alleged violators in these already congested jails, they added, would only facilitate the rapid spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
“The militarist and punitive framework of policing the pandemic in the form of policies resulting in mass arrests and detention of alleged violators runs counter to the purpose of quarantine protocols which is to protect and uphold people’s health,” the group said.
“We have seen the arbitrary and often violent enforcement of these policies that have disproportionately targeted the poor and even political dissenters — while affording a double standard to this administration’s allies and lapdogs,” they added.
Karapatan pointed out that pronouncements like this coming from the President is a cause for concern as it becomes State policy, which would inevitably translate to more violations of people’s rights and civil liberties just as it has been in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs and the counterinsurgency program.
“The continuing spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the country rests primarily on the Duterte government’s criminal negligence of people’s welfare and its utter stubbornness in refusing to listen to calls to implement scientific, people-centric, and rights-based measures to combat the pandemic,” the group said.
They call on the public to be vigilant and assert their rights in the face of these pronouncements.
They also encourage the people to “demand accountability from a government more concerned with washing its hands from its obligations and accountability than upholding people’s welfare.”