'Unauthorized' relief volunteers face fines, arrest

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
'Unauthorized' relief volunteers face fines, arrest
Former Anakpawis party-list representative Ariel Casilao and six other volunteers of Sagip Kanayunan and Tulong Anakpawis relief operations were flagged down at a checkpoint in Norzagaray town Sunday morning.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Handout

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 4:58 p.m.) — Both the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police stressed Sunday that penalties could be imposed on relief volunteers found without the necessary certification from the local government units they intend to help.

This comes after—but, the DILG said, is not related to—volunteers from Sagip Kanayunan and Tulong Anakpawis were flagged down by police in Norzagaray, Bulacan last Sunday while on their way to conduct a COVID-19 relief operation.

According to DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, department spokesperson, relief volunteers will be subjected to the same rules and treatment as Unauthorized Persons Outside of Residence (UPOR) and charged with Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code, which prohibits resistance and disobedience to a person in authority or the agents of such person. 

The volunteers from Bulacan are facing complaints for the same violations but have been released on bail. They have said that they had proper documentation and had been doing relief operations since the start of the enhanced community quarantine in March.

READ: 'Critical but not seditious,' journalist, artists say of papers in halted Bulacan relief drive

"They will be denied passage, drivers will be issued citation tickets and those resisting will be arrested," Malaya told Philstar.com, claiming that the relaxed restrictions for relief volunteers was quickly abused.

"If [it happens during] curfew hours, additional penalties as imposed in the ordinance will apply."

In an April 15 statement, the Department of Social Welfare and Development also required donation drives to receive prior authorization from the department before carrying out relief operations. The posts have been taken down after they sparked outrage on social media. 

Photo shows DSWD graphic requiring solicitation drives by persons or organizations to first secure a permit from the department.
Release / Department of Social Welfare and Development

Malaya said that the DILG does not foresee any disputes between LGUs and volunteer groups arising from the new requirement. 

"It's a measure to ensure that only authorized people are outside of residence. The PNP has reported to us that so many people are claiming in checkpoints that they're doing relief but the truth is they just want to go out and about. Our police sought guidance from [Interior] Secretary Eduardo Año and he gave that directive," Malaya said.

"If we don't put order to this situation we are undoing all our hard work for the past month. We need to be stricter in implementing the ECQ...because our very lives are at stake."

Malls and other leisure areas have been closed since March.

Protocols 'up to LGUs'

For his part, Police Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, PNP spokesperson, told Philstar.com that violators could also be charged with violation of quarantine under the Bayanihan Heal as One Act for non-cooperation of persons and entities that should report to notifiable diseases or health events or public concern. 

Section 9(d) of Republic Act No. 11332 reads: "Violation may be penalized with a fine of not less than Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) but not more than Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) or imprisonment of not less than one (1) month but not more than six (6) months, or both such fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the proper court."

"Those who were really going to give out relief, they were given a warning right away not to proceed with their plans unless they make prior coordination with their LGUs. Others just go with their groups so they can go out," Banac said in Filipino. 

Asked what requirements an organization would need to present before receiving certification, Malaya said: "It will now be up to the LGUs. But I'm sure no LGU will refuse legitimate organizations since they know their constituents would benefit from the support of the private sector."

"[It is a] simple certification that the LGU recognizes them and that they coordinated with them for relief operations. No need to issue guidelines to LGUs because it's so simple. It's not a complex issue," he added. 

"In view of local autonomy, we will allow LGUs to exercise their sound discretion on the matter."

'Why restrict aid?'

In a statement issued later Sunday, fishers federation Pamalakaya slammed the new requirement, calling it a violation of the people's right to food. 

Former lawmaker and Pamalakaya chairperson Fernando Hicap also said that such a requirement would be vulnerable to politicking in a time when target beneficiaries grow critical of local officials. 

"There are so many people asking for help even on social media because they were not given aid from the government's social amelioration program, and now, they'll restrict what should be the help that citizens give freely to those in need," Hicap said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

The fishers leader also pointed out that such an order violated the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which the Philippines is a signatory of.

"Never can you subject to complicated bureaucratic processes the people's right to food, especially when it is the intention of many to help. The people are showing each other "bayanihan", yet the government keeps obstructing this," he said. — with reports from The STAR/Romina Cabrera 


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