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DOJ: Law applied consistently during pandemic; 'known' personalities prosecuted too

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
DOJ: Law applied consistently during pandemic; 'known' personalities prosecuted too
File photo shows Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra in a press conference at the Department of Justice office in Padre Faura, Manila.
The STAR / Edd Gumban, file

MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday asserted that they applied the law uniformly amid criticism that arrests during the pandemic have "disproportionately" affected the poor.

“I wouldn’t really say that there is an inconsistent application of rule of law,” Guevarra said.

“It just so happen that a greater number of those arrested came from the income lower groups simply because they’re the ones who were caught on the streets and for that reason, since they have been found, or at the time of their arrest, found violating certain quarantine rules and regulations that’s why they are many,” the justice chief added.

Back in March, Guevarra said that violators of quarantine protocols may face arrest and face disobedience charges. He maintained this stance despite courts and DOJ operations being drastically scaled down due to rising COVID-19 infections.

Guevarra was one of the speakers in a Pre-State of the Nation Address Forum hosted by the Presidential Communications Operations Office on Wednesday.

The DOJ secretary noted that people in power are known to have been prosecuted too. Without identifying them, Guevarra cited the proceedings on the “celebrated case of one senator” and against “certain police officers.”

“Their cases have been filed with the prosecutor’s office,” he said.

Guevarra was referring to the preliminary investigation against Sen. Koko Pimentel for breaching quarantine protocols when he brought his wife to the hospital. This however stemmed from a complaint filed by a private lawyer.

While the National Bureau of Investigation in April said that they sent Pimentel a summons as part of a fact-finding probe, the bureau has yet to release update on whether they recommended filing of criminal complaints against the senator.

RELATED: DOH endorses quarantine breach raps vs Pimentel to law enforcers

Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas and 18 others are also facing complaints before Taguig prosecutor’s office over a "mañanita" birthday gathering held for him amid a ban on mass gatherings that the police themselves had been enforcing.

Despite violations that were documented by his own office and strong public backlash against Metro Manila’s top cop, Sinas remains in his post. He has since told the public to move on.

Guevarra said: “So it’s really a matter of perception because people in lower income levels are greater but it doesn’t mean at all that there is unfair application of the law.”

He stressed: “We apply this as uniformly as possible.”

Swelling detention centers amid fresh mass arrest order

The arrests will also continue, as President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday gave fresh orders to apprehend those without masks to “give [them] a lesson for all time.”

Rights group Karapatan said this latest directive, coupled with a “shame campaign” suggested by Interior Undersecretary Martin Diño will only worsen the pandemic’s effects.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said: “The continued use of militarist and punitive policing tactics through warrantless arrests and the alarmingly dangerous suggestions of DILG offices for police house-to-house searches and ‘shame campaigns’ would only further stigmatize patients.”

The arrests meanwhile disproportionately affect the poor, she said, and this “would only facilitate the spread of the highly contagious disease through the country’s cramped and congested detention cells and prisons.”

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said almost 200,000 were caught violating quarantine protocols. Of these, 112,826 were only warned and sent home, 34,134 fined and  64,814 were arrested for curfew disobedience,

 As of July 19, 3,059 remain in detention centers—and this are mostly the poor.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered that newly-arrested persons will now be brought to police station holding cells to stop COVID-19 from spreading in Bureau of Jail and Management Penology-managed jails.

Poor conditions and overcrowding have long plagued Philippine jail and prisons, long before the coronavirus pandemic. But the outbreak of the highly-transmissible disease in densely populated areas with lack of proper hygiene facilities — such as detention cells and prisons — pushed the DOJ and SC to craft guidelines to decongest our jails and prisons.

The DILG in a release on Wednesday said they released 21,858 persons deprived of liberty from BJMP facilities nationwide in a bid to decongest jails.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

EDUARDO ANO

MENARDO GUEVARRA

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