What is the PNP's role in a state of public health emergency?

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
What is the PNP's role in a state of public health emergency?
Photo shows Gen. Archie Gamboa, PNP chief, answering questions about the reshuffle of key PNP officials during a press conference at Camp Crame. With him are Lt. Gen. Camilo Cascolan and Maj. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, File

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday morning released a proclamation declaring a state of public health emergency throughout the country amid the worsening novel coronavirus (COVID-19) scare. 

Proclamation No. 922 mobilizes both governmental and non-governmental agencies to respond to the looming COVID-19 threat.

With the declaration, the Department of Health (DOH) may call upon the Philippine National Police (PNP) "and other law enforcement agencies to provide assistance" in addressing the threat of the virus.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 constitutes an emergency that threatens national security which requires a whole-of-government response aligned with the Four-Door Framework for COVID-19 of the DOH and the efforts of all concerned government agencies and [local government units],” the president said in his Proclamation.

LIST: Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines 

In a tweet on Tuesday, Police Gen. Archie Gamboa, PNP chief, said: "We will take guidance from the DOH, but the PNP is prepared, and ready to assist when asked."

Although the PNP has yet to respond to a request for comment from Philstar.com on what exactly it will do, the Department of Health said the police may be called in "if warranted."

At a press briefing on Monday, Gamboa also said that they already had units on standby pending orders from the Health Department.

"As a matter of fact, I think, this afternoon, there will be a conference to that effect chaired by the DOH," he said.  

The chief of the national police said that over 100 members of the PNP Health Service and Special Action Forces, along with personnel trained in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosive materials had already undergone training on possible quarantine procedures. 

'If warranted'

Asked by Philstar.com if the role of the national police under the public health emergency would include enforcing quarantines and assisting with contact tracing measures, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in a text message said that "both may be done with them if warranted." 

In a press briefing in Malacanang on Monday evening, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH is closely coordinating with the Philippine National Police and other stakeholders to immediately identify and isolate anyone who had had contact with 10 new positive cases announced in recent days. 

The government on Tuesday afternoon said the number of COVID-19 cases has risen to 35.

In early February, the PNP assisted the DOH in locating nine persons under investigation (PUIs) for COVID-19 who evaded hospital quarantine.

“We are urging everyone, especially the PUIs who refused admission, to cooperate with the DOH, LGUs and PNP," DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo said then. 

Police Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas, National Capital Region Police Office chief, also bared that the public could reach out to police hotlines as well to report any symptoms of COVID-19. 

'Truant officers'

The Department of Interior and Local Government on Tuesday also said police and barangay officers will serve as “truant officers” to make sure that the learners are at home.

“I have also directed all our Metro Manila Mayors to personally direct their respective Chiefs of Police to implement the presidential directive so that Local Governments and the police will jointly implement this policy of the government,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said. 

Asked what the implications of the PNP's inclusion in the proclamation could be, Coalition for People's Right to Health co-convenor Josh San Pedro told Philstar.com in an online exchange, "I think it may reflect the lack of manpower by the DOH to conduct contact tracing and quarantine."

"The irony is that the DOH claims we are ready, yet they encourage home quarantine for [persons under monitoring] and even mild COVID-19 cases in order for hospitals not to be overwhelmed with cases," he added.

On Tuesday, NCRPO chief Sinas also confirmed that two policemen and two non-uniformed personnel were under quarantine due to suspected COVID-19. 

READ: House approves budget for COVID-19 response below amount prescribed by DOH

Also on Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved an unnumbered bill allocating a P1.6 billion to fund combating the COVID-19 scare, despite a DOH representative saying that the department needs P3.1 billion to address the threat. 

"I think it is to keep people from breaking quarantine procedures," San Pedro said of the PNP's possible role in the public health emergency. 

"Thing is, did we even bother to ask their possible reasons [for breaking quarantine], such as no-work-no-pay, or the mere impossibility of quarantine in poor living conditions in the country?" — with report from Kristine Joy Patag and The STAR/Alexis Romero

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