Confusion stirs amid conflicting statements on 'house-to-house' search for COVID-19 patients
Police seen along Galicia Street in Bangkulasi, Navotas on July 14, 2020. The area was placed under lockdown since July 10 due to the surge of COVID-19 cases.
The STAR/Michael Varcas

Confusion stirs amid conflicting statements on 'house-to-house' search for COVID-19 patients

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - July 15, 2020 - 12:37pm

MANILA, Philippines — Fear and confusion grew like plaque Wednesday amid a flurry of conflicting statements after the Palace claimed the national police will not be going house-to-house in search of coronavirus patients after all, despite other officials saying otherwise and another saying he was not made aware of the prospect. 

In an interview with ANC, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said: "We don't have a provision for house-to-house. Only the political critics of the government, again, weaponizing this very important task of tracing."

"(Patients) will have to be reported by the persons themselves, their family or the barangay," he added.

This directly contradicted an earlier pronouncement by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a former military general, on Tuesday that the tactic, reminiscent of the Philippine National Police's Oplan Tokhang, would be used to weed out any coronavirus patients. “To our countrymen, if you know a neighbor who is COVID-19 positive and hiding, please report them to us," he said then. 

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

But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told Philstar.com that he was not even consulted on the house-to-house search for COVID-19 patients before it was announced, saying that it could be taken up in their next meeting.

"I am not aware of any 'house-to-house' search for COVID-afflicted persons. we have not discussed this matter in the IATF, nor have I been consulted about it, but there is ample legal basis for transferring COVID-infected persons to government quarantine facilities if they are incapable of voluntarily isolating themselves," he told reporters. 

"Should the IATF agree there is a need for a house-to-house search of COVID-infected persons, it should be the barangay health workers, and not police officers, who should do that. Health workers are in a better position to determine if transfer to a government quarantine facility is appropriate," he said.

'Discipline first'

Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, commander of the government's quarantine enforcement arm, also said that same day that house-to-house operations would indeed take place under the government's Oplan Kalinga program, albeit not under the leadership of the Philippine National Police. 

Speaking in an interview over ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo, the general said in Filipino: "The police will help, but it's not going to be us leading this. We won't take the initiative or go knocking on houses on our own. We're going to wait for the guidance and request of the LGU."

"We don't know who tested positive for the virus...we're doing so many other things right now," he added. 

Although Palace denies it, the national police also seems to be trending in that direction after a memorandum issued and signed by Police Gen. Archie Gamboa, the chief of the national police, reminded police regional offices and commanders 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."

RELATED: Task force to LGUs: Intensify ordinances, enforcement of health protocols

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

The interior department, under which the PNP is an attached bureau, has also encouraged local governments to craft more robust ordinances to empower barangay watchmen against anyone found to be violating minimum health protocols. 

Cities like Cebu and Navotas have already witnessed the deployment of fully-armed military troops and special commandos numbering in the hundreds, purportedly to assist in the enforcement of community quarantines and to "keep people inside." The former also saw the deployment of armored vehicles and drones.

Eleazar said that contrary to the sentiment that the program was anti-poor, it would actually help families who would otherwise not be able to afford proper isolation for coronavirus patients. As of the health department's July 1 update, the government has 119 quarantine facilities taking in patients.

'No warrant, no entry'

Echoing Sen. Risa Hontiveros' earlier sentiments, Sen. Franklin Drilon in a statement issued Wednesday morning slammed the measure, saying the government's strategy against the coronavirus thus far has failed "through incompetence, negligence, and an abject refusal to to do mass testing and extensive contact tracing." 

That government should look into medical solutions instead of its current approach of deploying state forces is not a new sentiment: advocates have long been saying that the administration continues to perpetuate misplaced militarism in a time when medical solutions are needed.

The nation's charter also reads in Article III:

Section 2. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

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

"For the past few months, our government officials have failed over and over again to flatten the curve...as a last resort and with a total lack of imagination, the [Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases] is about to embark on violating our rights," Drilon said. 

"I urge the government to revisit their decision to invade our people's homes We need health professionals to contact trace those affected, not the police to sow fear and panic. We need officials to he creative in their solution, not fascist actions to demand submission which by the way hos not worked for the past few months," he added. — with a report from Kristine Joy Patag 

DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT JOINT TASK FORCE COVID SHIELD NOVEL CORONAVIRUS PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE SEN. RISA HONTIVEROS
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