CHR: Arresting the hungry does not address their problems
Photo taken on Wednesday, April 1, shows police forces fronting residents of Sitio San Roque brandishing riot shields.
News5/Arnel Tugade

CHR: Arresting the hungry does not address their problems

(Philstar.com) - April 1, 2020 - 6:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday expressed concern over the arrest of citizens from an urban poor community who had protested a lack of government support during the Luzon quarantine, saying the use of force and the arrests do not address what prompted the protest.

Earlier Wednesday, a protest of about 150 people in Sitio San Roque in Barangay Bagong Pag-asa demanding food and financial aid was dispersed by the Quezon City Police District, leading to the arrest of 20 people.

Protests and other mass gatherings are prohibited under enhanced community quarantine guidelines.

"Stricter policies, such as the enhanced quarantine, were set to protect the people’s right to health," the commission said in a statement issued Wednesday evening. 

"However, there are other determinants of a healthy life that the government should equally satisfy, including food and nutrition; adequate housing; access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation; and safe and healthy working conditions for those exempted from the quarantine among others."

In an exchange with Philstar.com, the chief of staff of Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte belied these calls, insisting that supplies had already been extended to the community, although not all residents have received aid yet.

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.

CHR: Better to ensure relief and support

"The best way for government to address similar protests is by ensuring that relief and support to the most vulnerable and marginalized are carried out without exclusion, discrimination, and inequality," said lawyer Jacqueline Ann de Guia, CHR spokesperson.

"These actions are cause for concern since it fails to respond to the root cause of the unrest, such as needs for food and other forms of assistance communities clamor due to lack of access to livelihood." 

The goverment is readying financial assistance of from P5,000 to P8,000 for poor households that have been affected by measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, which include work stoppages and the suspension of public transportation.

All of Luzon has also been under what is effectively a 24-hour curfew since only one person per household is allowed out to buy medicine and food.

As of this writing, there are currently 2,311 confirmed patients of the new pathogen in the country as of Wednesday afternoon as the death toll rose to 96. Hundreds of new cases have been detected daily since last week owing to enhanced testing capabilities, according to the Health Department.

Rights group Karapatan echoed the commission's sentiments in a separate statement, saying that mass arrests would not address mass hunger and calling for the release of the 20 residents.

Ever since the enhanced community quarantine was imposed by the chief executive, the Philippine National Police has reported that a total of 17,039 individuals have been arrested nationwide for supposed violations of curfews and quarantine measures. 

“Where is the human compassion of the law for the poor who are already suffering tremendously from this crisis?" Karapatan said.

'Protesters had legitimate demands'

Labor group Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, in a separate statement, said those arrested had legitimate demands.

"To arrest hungry and desperate people is a new low for this administration. Not only did they dilly-dally in addressing the crisis in late February, the government treated the health crisis as a peace and order issue and deployed security forces instead of medical practitioners," BMP said.

"Protests similar to what was held in San Roque today will not be an isolated case," it said, adding government must make widespread testing for COVID-19 as well as ensuring Filipinos have enough food its priorities.

"More and more people are questioning and rising up against the violent yet impossible implementation of ECQ in urban poor communities similar to the cases of Quiapo, Taguig and elsewhere," BMP also said. — Franco Luna with reports from James Relativo


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