Amid calls for public 'discipline', officials reminded to follow own quarantine rules

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Amid calls for public 'discipline', officials reminded to follow own quarantine rules
Photo, which has since been taken down, shows Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas celebrating his birthday at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.

MANILA, Philippines — Business groups on Sunday expressed extreme disappointment over reports of government officials "violating with impunity" rules meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus as millions of Filipinos have been out of work and have had their movements restricted by the same rules.

This comes just a day before Metro Manila is set to enter general community quarantine, when thousands are expected to return to work after over two months of strict quarantine rules that included curfews and the shutdown of mass transportation.

The joint statement was signed by the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, FINEX Philippines, the Institute of Corporate Directors, the Institute for Solidarity in Asia, Judicial Reform Initiative, the Management Association of the Philippines and Makati Business Club. 

"The restrictions under the IATF guidelines have affected millions, in terms of livelihood and freedom of movement. The impact has been much greater on families living near or below the poverty line, despite government's extension of financial aid. Additionally, the seeming confusion and different interpretations of rules led to numerous quarantine violations," the groups said.

"We are therefore greatly disappointed—even appalled and dismayed—about news reports of public officials violating with impunity the IATF and DOH protocols intended to protect public health."

No officials were named in the statement although violations by public officials have been well documented and officially played down.

Sen. Koko Pimentel and Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, for instance, both breached quarantine protocols in the past two months.

Pimentel visited public areas, including a hospital, while he was waiting for results of a COVID-19 test even though people who may have the disease are supposed to be in isolation. The senator is facing a complaint, filed by a private lawyer, for breaking quarantine, but has otherwise not been sanctioned for what he did. 

Sinas, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office, was criticized for holding a birthday gathering in the middle of the quarantine, when mass gatherings are prohibited. He faces criminal and administrative raps that will likely by dismissed.

President Rodrigo Duterte has virtually cleared Sinas, saying Metro Manila's top cop should not be blamed that a gathering was held for his birthday. He said Sinas' guests at the gathering could not be expected to wear face masks because food was served there.

In his last statement on the incident, Sinas asked the public to "move on" from the issue as he himself had already moved on. 

On Saturday, the major general, along with other ranking NCRPO officials, underwent a second round of COVID-19 swab tests at Camp Caringal as part of a "preventive measure" against the disease, according to Police Brig. Gen. Ronnie Montejo, Quezon City Police District director. 

'Pasaway' narrative

Since the outbreak began in the Philippines, public officials have been trumpeting the narrative Filipinos are "pasaway"— or are stubbornly ignoring quarantine guidelines—and are to blame for the rising cases of COVID-19 due to their lack of "discipline" and "cooperation."

On Sunday, the Palace called on the public to "cooperate" with quarantine protocols when Metro Manila shifts to GCQ.

"The government cannot fight COVID-19 alone. We need the concerted effort of everyone. The sacrifices of our people in the past 70 or so days are laudable and we must not put these to naught," the Palace said, even as experts from the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas said the country needs to improve its testing and contact tracing to prevent surges in COVID-19 cases.

Government officials have said on separate occasions that the responsibility of organizing shuttles for workers as well as testing them before going back to work, would be on employers.

"As the country rides this tide of uncertainty, we trust that our leaders at the national and local levels, will demonstrate beyond doubt, the highest standards in observing and enforcing the rule of law, and serve as role models in discipline and moral ascendancy," the groups said in their statement. 

"Upholding the law and ensuring faith in our justice system stand as the bedrock of our democracy, and will enable the economy to survive and recover from these most trying times. The sacrifice of our people deserves nothing less."

As of the health department’s latest, and late, tally, the current number of active cases in the Philippines stands at 12,466, with the total number of cases soaring well past 17,000 with 590 new cases.

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