Soldiers stand guard as they wait inside the military headquarters to be deployed in major thoroughfares, in Manila on March 14, 2020.
AFP/Ted Aljibe
DILG gives Diño benefit of the doubt, stresses rights not suspended by quarantine
Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - March 23, 2020 - 8:14pm

MANILA, Philippines — The government will uphold human rights in its implementation of far-reaching measures to arrest the spread of the new coronavirus in the country, the Department of the Interior and Local Government said Monday.

The department made the statement after one of its officials—Undersecretary Martin Diño—drew criticisms for incorrectly saying in a radio interview that human rights are suspended during a state of emergency.

“We need not fear. The government follows the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The president already said that the state of public health emergency in the country and the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon is not martial law,” Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, DILG spokesperson, said in Filipino.

Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte placed Luzon under enhanced community quarantine after majority of the COVID-19 infections in the Philippines were reported on the island wher the capital is.

He ordered half of the country’s population to stay home, suspended mass transportation and deployed uniformed personnel to enforce quarantine procedures.

“I wish to emphasize that the DILG upholds human rights in all its programs including the fight against COVID-19… The virus is our enemy, not human rights,” Malaya said.

He added that the “current restrictions imposed such as social distancing and home quarantine are neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration and proportionate.”

DILG Memorandum Circular 2020-062 directs local government units to ensure no quarantine patrol staff nor any employee or officer performing tasks relative to the implementation and maintenance of the quarantine shall commit any human rights violations.  

RELATED: Barangay captain faces raps for locking curfew violators in dog cage

‘Maybe he was misquoted’

Although he admitted that he has yet to hear Diño's radio interview, Malaya said the DILG official may have been misquoted or that “his statements were taken out of context.”

In a March 21 interview on Superadyo dzBB, he said: “Wala na hong karapatan. Tandaan niyo, State of Emergency ngayon. Ang karapatan pantao ay nawawala pagdating ng State of Emergency... ‘Pag ka ho may state of emergency, ‘yung writ of habeas corpus ay nawawala na po yan.”

(There are no rights. Remember, we are in a State of Emergency. Human rights are suspended during a State of Emergency. When there is a state of emergency, the writ of habeas disappears)

The 1987 Constitution only allows the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus—a safeguard against arbitrary arrest and detention—“in cases of invasion or rebellion or when the public safety requires it” not when a state of emergency is declared.

Duterte also issued Proclamation 929 and placed the entire country under state of calamity due to the spread of the virus on March 16. He earlier declared public health emergency through Proclamation 922.

Neither declaration did contain a provision declaring a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus nor did it state that human rights will not remain.

This is not the first time that Diño, a member of the president's PDP-Laban party, has portrayed human rights as something that can be discarded in the implementation of government policy.

In 2018, he said he issued a directive to village officials to forward to him a list of "drug personalities" in their area as part of the government's controversial anti-narcotics campaign.

Non-compliant barangay officials would face "sanctions," Diño warned, putting pressure on village executives to come up with a drug watch list.

In response, lawyer Gilbert Andres of the Center for International Law said Diño's directive to barangay executives would violate a person's right to the presumption of innocence.

"The state should not make any lists because it would be dangerous if the government would start labeling its people)," Andres pointed out in Filipino.

‘Human rights remain even during emergencies’

The Commission on Human Rights has said there may be “acceptable restriction” on certain rights like the freedom of movement during the enhanced community quarantine but stressed that restrictions must “be lawful, necessary, proportionate and should not be used to target specific groups, minorities or individuals.”

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers also said that “there are [rights] and there should be” during emergencies and calamities.

Local rights group Karapatan, for its part, said Diño's comment has "very serious implications on human rights and how uniformed personnel and authorities, particularly barangay officials, conduct arrests and implement quarantine measures."

Last week, United Nations experts stressed that drastic measures put in place to curb the rising number of new coronavirus must be motivated by legitimate public health goals and should not be used to simply silence dissent.

The UN experts also said that restrictions should be narrowly tailored and be at least intrusive means to protect public health.

“We encourage states to remain steadfast in maintaining a human rights-based approach to regulating this pandemic in order to facilitate the emergence of healthy societies with the rule of law and human rights protections,” they said. 

The new coronavirus has infected 462 people and killed 33 in the Philippines.

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