Public told to report neighbors with COVID-19 as cops prepare to go house-to-house

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Public told to report neighbors with COVID-19 as cops prepare to go house-to-house
A fully-armed police officer patrols a residential area in Barangay Mauway in Mandaluyong CIty as the barangay is placed under "total lockdown" from May 11-13, 2020.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, file

MANILA, Philippines — Police are set to conduct house-to-house operations to find COVID-19 patients under home quarantine and transfer them to isolation facilities, Interior and Local Secretary Eduardo Año said Tuesday.

This comes as police enforcement of health protocols against the coronavirus takes a page straight out of the PNP's 2018 'anti-tambay' campaign, with police looking at intensified "discipline-based ordinances" and bans on loitering, drinking, and smoking as "tools" to clamp down on quarantine violators as the agency's focus shifts to the barangay level.

READ: Police set to use 'anti-tambay' template for quarantine enforcement | WHO asks local governments to make 'better use' of quarantine facilities

"What we're going to do now is that with the help of our local governments and the Philippine National Police, we'll be going house by house and we'll be bringing positive [cases] to our COVID-19 facilities," Año said in Filipino at an online press briefing.

“To our countrymen, if you know a neighbor who is COVID-19 positive and hiding, please report them to us. This is a law, RA 11332,” Año added. 

The Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act requires "reporting of a condition to local or state health authorities, as required for notifiable diseases, epidemics or public health events of public health concern". 

The law has also been used as justification to arrest people for holding protests or fo going on outreach programs during the quarantine.

RELATED: Court rejects 'non-cooperation' charge vs Bulacan relief volunteers

That same day, the Joint Task Force COVID Shield announced that it would be deploying over 300 cops, special commandos, and even soldiers to Navotas City to reinforce local police in implementing the lockdown order of the City Government.

"Our task is to contain the unnecessary movement of people and keep all residents at home except for the medical frontliners and other people who are authorized to go out," said Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, commander of the task force.

“Now that the government is easing quarantine restrictions to balance public health with the need to reopen the economy, we must institute measures to promote discipline and individual responsibility among our people through local legislation,” the interior secretary said.

Año is one among many public officials who pin the blame in the spread of the virus on the "discipline" and "failures" of the public despite data showing otherwise. 

READ: Gov't said Filipinos are 'pasaway' and violate quarantine, but data show otherwise | Task force: SAF a solution to Cebu City residents' 'failure' to follow health protocols

'Disiplina muna' 

In its statement, the interior department said the PNP would be launching a "national advocacy campaign" entitled 'Disiplina Muna.'

"The Disiplina Muna campaign is one of the DILG’s projects as Chair of the Cabinet’s Participatory Governance Cluster. It seeks to rebuild the culture of discipline among Filipinos to foster people’s participation as one of the tenets of good governance," the department said in a statement. 

According to a memorandum issued and signed by Police Gen. Archie Gamboa, the chief of the national police, the agency's commanders have been reminded to "ensure the strict implementation of laws and local ordinances through the arrest of violators such as those drinking and smoking in public places, roaming the streets without shirts, using karaoke beyond the allowed time, minors violating curfew hours, and others."

The same memorandum orders all police regional offices to "increase police visibility through optimized personnel deployment in all places of convergence."

Separate issuances have also seen the government's quarantine enforcement task force, which includes the PNP, urging local governments to craft more robust ordinances empowering barangay tanods or watchmen to more strictly enforce mandatory health protocols. 

“[The] proposal is good. It’s true that the police cannot police everyone all the time. Police can’t do it alone in making sure that all continue to follow health safety practices. Every Filipino must do his responsibility. If there’s an ordinance, it imposes a duty to obey, involves a sanction, promotes order, and benefits all,” the DILG chief said in a separate statement Tuesday.

“I encourage LGUs from provincial to barangay sanggunians to make use of their legislative power to enact ordinances on ‘discipline as the new normal’ to beat COVID-19. By instituting individual discipline, we can defeat COVID-19,” he pointed out.

Medical solutions, not military ones

In a tweet, Sen. Risa Hontiveros likened the prospect to the government's so-called war on drugs which slaughtered thousands, saying: "It's like tokhang, but for COVID."

"This may actually discourage more people from reporting their status. We need to improve home and community-based healthcare. Instead of police, what is more needed are doctors and health workers in barangays and homes. We need more, better barangay-based healthcare, not this," she added. 

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

Hontiveros earlier called on the government to rethink its "militaristic and police-centered approach" to the virus. Advocates have long been saying that the administration continues to perpetuate misplaced militarism in a time when medical solutions are needed. 

with a report from The STAR/Emmanuel Tupas 

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