PNP tapped as contact tracers anew â Malacañang
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
PNP tapped as contact tracers anew — Malacañang
( - August 5, 2020 - 11:54am

MANILA, Philippines — Taking the lead of Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong, the government is once again looking at deploying police officers for contact tracing efforts, the Palace said Wednesday. 

"We need them as soon as possible but learning from the experience of Baguio, Mayor Magalong did not have to recruit additional personnel. He's using actually the [Philippine National Police] for contact tracing, which is something that we will also implement here," Roque said in an interview over CNN Philippines.

Despite calls from medical collectives against what they said were militarist and unscientific 'Duterte-style' lockdowns amid the global pandemic, the administration continues to lean heavily on police deployment as part of its coronavirus response.

Magalong, who has been designated "contact tracing czar" of the government, has admitted that past contact tracing efforts have been lacking and have prompted the government to recalibrate its approach, though using elements of the national police for the task is nothing new.

When the cops first handed the task of leading contact tracing during the first enhanced community quarantine in April, Police Gen. Archie Gamboa, the chief of the PNP, also said that cops would no longer issue warnings before arresting quarantine violators. 

One need not look far to find cases of overzealous law enforcement over the past 140 days of community quarantine and it has been common for apprehending officers to break their own operational rules only to be defended by their superiors later on. 

READ: No more warning before arrest under 'tighter' ECQ as PNP leads contact tracing

Roque in the same interview added that police leadership agreed with the prospect and was already "in the process of training the police officers that will act as contact tracers."

"While local governments can hire and pay for additional contact tracers... the police, since they are already employed by the government, can be tapped to do the same chore without additional remuneration," he said. "That has been the experience of Baguio, where there is no additional cost for contact tracing."

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año in mid-July said that the country currently has a total of 65,574 contact tracers nationwide, though the World Health Organization has also expressed concern over the "slow" progress of contact tracing in the Philippines.

With the implementation of MECQ in Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces, the Joint Task Force COVID Shield, the quarantine enforcement body including the military and national police, announced it would be mobilizing its personnel for strict enforcement once more.

Quarantine checkpoints are also being set up as well by the task force, the bulk of which they said will be along the borders of municipalities to stop the flow of people crossing boundaries, while only workers or frontliners with quarantine passes will be permitted to cross.

As it stands, the country has been under community quarantine for 141 days — marking the longest quarantine period in the world. — Franco Luna

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