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Palace assures UN rights body: Alleged violations during quarantine will be investigated

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Palace assures UN rights body: Alleged violations during quarantine will be investigated
This file photo from April 2020 shows Barangay Gatid chairman Frederick Ambrocio with youths he had locked in a dog cage for breaking curfew.
Eric Panisan Ambrocio Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines — Rule of law would prevail and wrongdoers would be punished, Malacañang said Wednesday, after the human rights body of the United Nations raised concerns over the alleged brutality of state forces enforcing lockdowns in some countries including the Philippines.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet recently urged governments to ensure that human rights are not violated under the guise of exceptional or emergency measures. Bachelet said there have been numerous reports about security forces using "excessive, and at times lethal" force to make people abide by lockdowns and curfews.

Such violations have often been committed against people belonging to the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population, the UN human rights chief said. 
Emergency declarations in 15 countries, including the Philippines, were viewed as most troubling, a report quoted an official of Bachelet's office as saying.

Asked to react to the statement of Bachelet, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippine National Police has given an assurance that all wrongdoers would be held accountable.

RELATED: LGUs have leeway in enforcing quarantine, but no license for cruel punishments

"We have a message here from the PNP chief (Gen. Archie) Gamboa. He will implement the rule of law. He will go through all the incidents involving alleged human rights violations and he will punish those that need to be punished," Roque said at a press briefing.

"But for now, we will rely on presumption of regularity in the discharge of their duties. But all complaints will be addressed by the PNP," he added.

Presumption of regularity means the discharge of duties is presumed to have been done according to procedure unless there are indications otherwise.

The Supreme Court in 2013 ruled in Aguilar vs Department of Justice et al., a case that involved a suspect being killed in police custody, that "when the accused admits killing the victim, but invokes a justifying circumstance, the constitutional presumption of innocence is effectively waived and the burden of proving the existence of such circumstance shifts to the accused."
 
Watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also called on Philippine authorities to respect the basic rights of people detained for violating the government’s coronavirus regulation.

In a statement released last March, the group said police and local officials have confined those arrested to dog cages and forced them to sit in the midday sun as punishment, among other abuses. Most of the arrests, HRW said, are for violating curfew but some are for violating “social distancing” and quarantine regulations.

"Any mistreatment should be immediately investigated, and the authorities responsible held accountable.” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW, said.  

“While the Philippines government needs to protect the health and welfare of the people, any interventions must be in line with international human rights standard, including the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of people in custody,” he added. 

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