MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights on Friday expressed concern that the arrests made by police amid the novel coronavirus pandemic "appear to violate the government's own health and safety guidelines."
The commission said that physical distancing guidelines, in particular, seem to be disregarded during arrests.
"We urge the law enforcers to adhere to government’s own health protocols and serve as good examples for the rest of the citizens to follow," the commission's spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.
"At the same time, this reminder comes at a time when the Philippine National Police also notes a rise in the case of police officers testing positive for [COVID-19]. It would then be to the benefit of our police officers to help curb the trend of possible more infections by being more conscious of their actions," De Guia added.
The PNP on Friday logged a total of 754 cases of COVID-19 and a death toll of nine among its officers.
Sen. Nancy Binay on Thursday made similar overtures to the national police, urging the agency to train its personnel on the correct situational handling of cases, particularly in terms of health measures that are expected to be strictly observed.
"The PNP should look at how their staff can avoid COVID-19 even those they encounter. Not just in patrol cars or in the precincts. What should be their protocol to keep everyone safe in the new normal," Binay said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Cases of police personnel violating protocols have been piling up amid the enforcement of community quarantine in the country.
Binay added that "for some reason, the police have become over-zealous in enforcing public health directions to the point that they have put to risk the health of people, and [violate their] basic rights."
'Overzealous' arrests and 'disproportionate' punishments
Data from the quarantine enforcement arm of the government's coronavirus task force showed that 211,064 quarantine or curfew violators have been apprehended since the country was put under a coronavirus-induced lockdown in mid-March. Of these, a total of 64,515 were arrested.
Police on Sunday arrested 113 people for violating social distancing rules in a Makati bar.
On June 26, cops arrested 20 protesters during a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) community-organized protest against the controversial anti-terror bill along Mendiola Street, Manila.
Despite the protesters’ observation of social distancing protocols at Mendiola as seen in photos uploaded online, police apprehended the "Pride 20" and subsequently held them at the Manila Police District headquarters.
Three of the arrested were quickly released since they were minors but 17 spent days under police custody.
Rep. Sarah Elago (Kabataan party-list) [slammed the arrests], saying the right to peaceful assembly is not suspended during public health emergencies.
The Commission on Human Rights made a similar statement on June 10, saying authorities cannot “halt fundamental rights including freedom of peaceful assembly and activism” even amid community quarantine.
On Independence Day, 13 student protesters were arrested in Iligan City. They claimed that police had originally given them the go signal to continue with their program but later arrested them after the protest without reading out their miranda rights.
On June 5, police arrested seven activists and a bystander at the University of the Philippines in Cebu City during an anti-terrorism bill rally. A trial court judge ordered their release three days later.
On June 6, police arrested six jeepney drivers—dubbed as “Piston 6”—after a “Balik Pasada” protest led by transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (Piston). Four drivers walked free on June 8 while the remaining two were released on June 9.
Two of the six jeepney drivers, who were detained, soon after tested positive for COVID-19.
"The PNP must take steps in dealing with low-level offenses in its public health response. Don't be excessive to the extent that you need to arrest someone not wearing a mask, or just taking a video or expressing how they feel. People are disproportionately punished while some violators are absolved," Binay said.
The likes of Sen. Koko Pimentel and Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, Metro Manila police chief, face separate raps for breaching quarantine rules themselves, while the latter has gone as far as urging the public to "move on" from the incident after issuing an apology while also denying his wrongdoing.
Sinas in June sacked five police officers for similarly violating quarantine rules.
Another PNP official is currently facing an investigation after bypassing a checkpoint in Borongan, Eastern Samar. — with reports from Franco Luna
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