20 arrested at protest in Quezon City during quarantine

20 arrested at protest in Quezon City during quarantine
This photo taken on March 18, 2020 shows a mother washing her laundry outside her home along the river in Manila. Asian nations have imposed increasingly heavy measures to fight the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Philippines has ordered half its population of some 110 million to stay home.
AFP / Maria Tan

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 9:27 p.m.) — While demanding food and financial aid, 20 individuals were arrested on Wednesday morning when a protest was dispersed by the Quezon City Police District.

According to initial police reports, around 150 people from the urban poor community at Barangay Pag-asa flocked to the side of EDSA at around 9 a.m. on Wednesday. A police dispersal of the protest—prohibited under enhanced community quarantine guidelines—resulted in the arrests of 14 men and 6 women. 

The same report from the National Capital Region Police Office said that protesters were calling, "Pagkain kailangan naming wala kami natatanggap mula kay Mayora at Kapitan" (We need food, we received none from the mayor and the barangay captain).

However, Weng Macatao, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte's chief of staff, said in a phone call with Philstar.com that support had already been extended to the community, although not all residents have received aid yet.

"They were already given relief. That's why the barangay captain was in tears. Because aid was given to that area but he admitted that not everyone has been given the aid," Macatao said in Filipino.

In a statement released later on Wednesday, Belmonte instructed city personnel to review the list of recipients of food packs "to make sure nobody has been inadvertently left out."

"The sectors most affected by the enhanced community quarantine are reminded that if they have not yet received their food packs, they may report this to their respective barangays," the statement from the city hall read.


Dialogue eyed

The Quezon City local government is not eyeing on pressing charges against the protesters. "We will likely just hold a dialogue. Will you charge people in these times?" Macatao said.

She said the dialogue will be initiated by barangay chairperson Rodolfo Palma and by Rannie Ludovica, head of the city's Task Force Disiplina.

The QC official added that there is no complainant against the 20, who were arrested for violating quarantine guidelines against public gatherings.

She said someone in the community announced that food aid was coming to them and that the community's residents ran out of their homes on impulse.

"Someone said, 'someone will distribute food, they are outside already.' That's why people left their homes. There was a miscommunication, actually. And, of course, the police, when there is a gathering... some of them reacted. So there was tension."

Macatao also said that there happened to be police officers on that side of EDSA and that those officers only called for backup because they were surprised at the unannounced demonstration.

She said steps had been taken to de-escalate the situation before the police arrived, but did not elaborate on what those steps were.

Although the Quezon City government believes the protest was a spontaneous one that was prompted by a miscommunication, the national police holds that it was a rally whose organizers were in violation of the Bayanihan Heal as One Act, the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, among others. 

Mayor Belmonte appealed to Quezon City police "to release the detainees in the interim for humanitarian reasons." The appeal came with a warning against those who would incite chaos.

READ: In Metro Manila, fighting COVID-19 requires helping the poor—now | Told to stay home, Filipino poor go out to work absent government aid

Police Brigadier General Debold Sinas, Metro Manila police chief, said in a press statement:  "I understand the challenges that go with the implementation of our enhanced community quarantine endeavor. However, we have our own sacrifices to make to win this battle with the unseen (enemy)." 

"The safest place to be right now is at home. So please, stay at home. Let us end the spread of this pandemic together. We cannot do this alone," he added.

Tensions mounting

Immediately after the protest was dispersed, urban poor group Kadamay, which has members in the community, said the protest was a natural reaction to the lack of government support for the poor.

"Instead of listening to the requests of the poor suffering without government support, they chose to arrest ... them," Kadamay chairperson Gloria Arellano said in Filipino.

"We can't avoid this outburst of anger from the masses if the administration continues to employ militarization instead of social safety nets."

Urban poor alliance Save San Roque said, "With the lockdown in place, work has stopped, and with a sudden lack of income, many residents have been left hungry and waiting for relief that is yet to come."

In a separate statement, Kadamay called for the release of the 20 and called for social assistance to low-income families. 

RELATED: Health workers walk to work, sleep in clinics as quarantine halts transportationSocial distancing's victims: In a Luzon quarantine, the disabled are mostly forgotten

DWSD financial aid coming

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is set to roll out aid for vulnerable sectors amounting to P5,000 to P8,000 for two months to families affected by COVID-19 as part of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the law granting President Rodrigo Duterte authority to realign the 2020 national budget.

For the time being, the urban poor, commuters, informal workers, the disabled, the elderly and even health workers on the frontlines themselves are just among the many other vulnerable Filipinos still reeling from the effects of the novel coronavirus and measures taken against it.

The arrested protesters are now under the custody of QCPD Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit for filing of charges for violation of RA 11469, RA11332, RA 922 and RA 151, according to the NCRPO's public information office. 

As of this writing, there are currently 2,311 confirmed patients of the new pathogen in the country as of Wednesday afternoon. Hundreds of new cases have been detected daily since last week.

The United Nations warned the international community that the "whole of humanity" was put at risk by the novel coronavirus, saying millions could die if collective action was not taken. 

"For in a time when the entire world has stopped, the struggle of the marginalized does not, and social distancing could very well be the last problem of someone with an empty stomach," Save San Roque said. — Franco Luna with reports from James Relativo  


Disclosure: Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte is a shareholder of Philstar Global Corp., which operates digital news outlet Philstar.com. This article was produced following editorial guidelines.

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