Task force sends out more cops, claims 'continuous defiance' of MECQ rules
Members of the Manila Police District set up a checkpoint along an almost empty España Boulevard in Manila as the modified enhanced community quarantine takes effect on August 4, 2020.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman
Task force sends out more cops, claims 'continuous defiance' of MECQ rules
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - August 5, 2020 - 5:05pm

 MANILA, Philippines — The COVID-19 quarantine enforcement task force will be sending out more personnel in public areas to "compel" compliance with quarantine rules that surveys suggest people are already following.

The move goes against calls by some medical workers for a "medical quarantine" that would replace "militarist, Duterte-style lockdowns." 

Over the weekend, medical groups led by the Philippine College of Physicians called for a "time-out" for frontliners and urged the government to recalibrate its quarantines led by law enforcement and instead institute a medical quarantine as part of a "public health, pro-people response."

Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine, stricter than the previous General Community Quarantine but more lenient than the Enhanced Community Quarantine that locked Luzon down in March, has been declared in Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan.

Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, commander of the Joint Task Force COVID Shield, said that all police commanders in areas now under modified enhanced community quarantine have been directed to send more cops to public markets and other places of convergence for the enforcement of stricter quarantine rules. 

READ: 'Medical quarantine, not ECQ': Health professionals call for change in 'militaristic' lockdowns

This is a departure from the JTF CV Shield's earlier pronouncement from just two days ago.

In an interview aired over ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo on Monday, Eleazar said that the bulk of the task force checkpoints would be along the boundaries of cities and municipalities to stem the flow of people passing through.

According to the task force on Wednesday, "the visibility of both the police and LGU enforcers is important in compelling the people to act and conform to the minimum health safety standard," which it saw as a necessity after "the first-day assessment of the MECQ enforcement revealed that some people and business establishments continue to violate the guidelines."

'Hardheaded Filipinos'

The task force also claimed in its statement on Wednesday that "the continuous defiance of some people to observe the minimum health safety standard protocol is seen as one of the major reasons why the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise."

It is not clear where this claim is founded on; earlier releases from the task force have said that this was based on "observations on social media," and the modified ECQ was declared because the medical groups called for the government to re-examine its approach to the pandemic.  

The idea, though, is nothing new. Public officials have long pushed the narrative that Filipinos are “pasaway”—or are stubbornly ignoring quarantine guidelines—and are to blame for the rising COVID-19 infections in the country.

Data from tech giants Google LLC and Apple Inc., along with UK-based think tank YouGov and local surveys from the Social Weather Stations refute this.

RELATED: Gov't said Filipinos are 'pasaway' and violate quarantine, but data show otherwiseHontiveros: Stop blaming coronavirus surge on 'pasaway' Filipinos

"This kind of behavior under a pandemic situation should not be tolerated and must immediately be addressed because they are not only compromising their health safety but also their respective families and people in their communities until it would become an additional burden to our medical health workers and eventually to the government," Eleazar said.

With policemen themselves leading the barangay and local government personnel, Eleazar stressed in an earlier statement that this "would send a strong message to every member of the community that they should conform and adhere to the quarantine rules, or face the consequences of their complacency or hardheadedness."

Doctors: Unscientific 'community quarantine' only oppresses Filipinos

One manifesto signed by Second Opinion, a collective of medical doctors and registered nurses,

This was separate from the initial statement signed by the Philippine College of Physicians, which called for a return to enhanced community quarantine and which the president slammed in a public address after he perceived their valid criticisms as a call to revolution. 

READ: Duterte tells frontliners: No need to raise hands as if calling for revolution

While data from the task force indeed shows a significant drop in quarantine violations after special forces are deployed and police visibility was intensified, cases of police personnel violating protocols piled up quickly over Metro Manila's own enhanced community quarantine.

"Doctors and healthcare workers must reclaim quarantine for what it should be: A public health measure aimed at saving lives by stopping the spread of disease. We must reject the distorted forms of 'community quarantine' being imposed on us, as these are devoid of scientific sense and health purpose, and serve only to oppress our people," they said.

"If we are to implement a quarantine, it must be a medical quarantine, with healthcare workers in the lead and with clear health goals and outcomes. To truly benefit our overburdened healthcare workers, a new framework and new leadership direction than the ones we currently have are imperative," they added. 

The Coalition for People's Right to Health also said that "a militarist handling instead of a medical approach to the pandemic wreaks fear among the people and proliferates human rights violations—while doing little, if not nothing, to curb the number of cases and spread of disease."

In his statement, though, Eleazar said: "The national government and the local government units should work together in reducing the coronavirus infection rate to a significant level. Otherwise, the intent of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s approval of MECQ [would] be futile."

On Wednesday, presidential spokesperson warned Filipinos against the "wrong view" that cases are rising in the country; this is because, he said, cases are rising in other countries, too. 

Gamboa urges public: Stay at home 

In an earlier release sent to reporters, Police Gen. Archie Gamboa, chief of the national police, said that "police frontliners will do everything by means of stricter checkpoints operations to effectively contain the spread of COVID-19."

READ: CHR reminds officials: Quarantine meant to save lives, affirm human dignity

“We appeal to the public in areas under MECQ to stay at home. This is to help your medical frontliners, police frontliners, and barangay guards and staff who have been fighting the pandemic for almost five months,” he reiterated. 

“We are asking for your full cooperation, to help save lives and to ease the burden of your health and police frontliners.”, he said.

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