No more warning before arrest under 'tighter' ECQ as PNP leads contact tracing

No more warning before arrest under 'tighter' ECQ as PNP leads contact tracing

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - April 21, 2020 - 3:56pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine National Police (PNP) will be handling all contact tracing efforts for probable and suspect cases of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) from here on out, its chief said on Tuesday. 

In a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Police Gen. Archie Gamboa, PNP chief, said that this was part of a tighter enforcement of the enhanced community quarantine on the part of the national police, particularly in Metro Manila, Region III and Calabarzon.

Gamboa said that the order was coursed through the DOH and DILG.

"We're being tasked to lead the contact tracing for positive, probable and suspected cases. We hope local government units and other people who can help support us in contact tracing," he said in Filipino. 

"We need to do this because we want to mitigate the increasing risk to frontline PNP personnel. We will not allow the continued increase in our law enforcers, who are the country's last line of defense," he added. 

Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) spokesperson Jonathan Malaya told Philstar.com, "The inter-agency task force [on COVID-19] directed the DILG and the LGUs to lead contract tracing. We in turn directed the PNP to assist the LGUs."

This came days after President Rodrigo Duterte last week asked the public to discipline themselves in observing social distancing and said that he would order the military and police to the military and police to strictly enforce the quarantine if its measures were still breached. 

READ: Duterte asks public for 'discipline' in following quarantine rules

Police and military personnel have been manning checkpoints since the middle of March, when the quarantines were first declared. 

The chief of the national police also bared that there were 74 confirmed cases of the new virus among PNP ranks, while 12 personnel have recovered.

No more warning

"In the name of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, and with the help of the staff of the Philippine National Police and the soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, we will enforce starting now a strict enhanced community quarantine," Gamboa said. 

"There will be no more warning for violators," he added.

Gamboa reiterated his warnings on Sunday that cops would directly apprehend any violators of lockdown protocols should the chief executive's earlier pronouncement of a "Martial Law"-like community quarantine become a formal order.

"No let-up, we will start arresting...We will charge all of you until you can avail of a bail, and if all are still in process, we can always legally detain you," he said. 

READ: PNP: We'll go 'straight to arrests' in 'martial law-type' quarantine

However, PNP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac clarified to Philstar.com in a text message that this pronouncement was not connected to Duterte's earlier warning of "martial law-like" marching orders.  

"Those are guidelines taken up in IATF meetings. No further statements have been issued by President Duterte since the last time he spoke," he said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

Gamboa also disclosed that he authorized the deployment of 12 teams of special action forces, with 116 personnel, to strategic locations in Metro Manila.

"What I want the public to know is that PNP is a national employee... Anybody from the PNP can be deployed nationwide. But we're not heartless. If there is necessity on a case-to-case basis, it will be observed," he said. 

'No fault'

Police have been arresting violators of curfews and quarantine guidelines since March. By the month's end, more than 69,000 had been arrested or fined.

Safeguards against warrantless arrest are still in place amid a state of national emergency. 

RELATED: CHR: Human rights, writ of habeas corpus remain during state of national emergency, calamity PNP: 'No difference' in quarantine implementation if military takes over

In his address, Gamboa also defended the actions of the national police in the past week. 

Speaking about policemen who barged into the premises of a high-end condominium in Taguig City and threatened its residents to allegedly enforce quarantine rules, the chief of police said, "I stand firm on the decision of NCRPO that the police had no fault here."

"Appropriate cases are being prepared by the Police Regional Office 3," he said of the arrest of Anakpawis volunteers. 

The condo's management has said it would seek legal action against the police. 

READ: Management of Taguig condo to seek legal action vs cops who barged into compound

'Medical solutions needed'

Besides enforcing quarantine procedures, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also told Philstar.com in early March that the national police could assist in contact tracing measures "if warranted."

Human rights and healthcare organizations alike have been saying that the Duterte administration's narrative of a nationwide war against COVID-19 perpetuates a misplaced militarism in a time when medical solutions are needed.

READ: 'War' narrative in COVID-19 crisis fails to empower Filipinos, groups say

Healthcare advocacy group Coalition for People's Right to Health co-convenor Josh San Pedro earlier 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."

San Pedro pointed to the lack of support for the country's healthcare system as a whole as the root of this. 

Sought for comment by Philstar.com, the DOH has not yet responded. 

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