NGO chatbot provides legal advice to more than 9,000 during COVID-19 quarantine

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
NGO chatbot provides legal advice to more than 9,000 during COVID-19 quarantine
Members of the public, detained for roaming the streets without relevant passes amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, squat at a distance from one another as they are processed outside a police station at Quezon City in Manila on April 14, 2020.
AFP / Maria Tan

MANILA, Philippines — With the string of new ordinances aimed to keep people at home and curb the transmission of the deadly coronavirus enforced for most of 2020, the public has gone online for legal advice on how  these new rules affect them and their rights.

The Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS) said Tuesday that more than 9,000 people have sought their assistance since they started offering free legal advice in May 2020.

IDEALS, in partnership with The Asia Foundation, launched human rights chatbot Tisya Hustisya as the Philippines entered its second month of lockdown.

At the time, law enforcers had been apprehending people for allegedly defying quarantine protocols like curfews and prohibitions on mass gatherings. Some who were caught violating curfew were made to sit under the heat of the sun while some were put inside dog cages.

In the same month, authorities arrested social media users for posts offering "rewards" to anyone who can kill President Rodrigo Duterte. The posts, possibly made out of frustration over the government's response to the pandemic, were treated as security threats.

RELATED: HRW: Philippines must enforce quarantine without 'cruel, inhuman' treatment

The STAR reported last October that 123,994 quarantine violators had been detained since March, with most arrested of them arrested for resistance and disobedience.

Access to legal services crucial in face of restrictions

Lawyer Ansheline Bacudio, IDEALS program manager for human rights, said they recognized the need for critical access to legal services and information "ät a time of uncertainty and unrest" and with travel restrictions enforced.

Since the launch of Tisya Hustisya, the group said their legal team have served 9,403 clients, averaging 53 daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Most of the questions to the IDEALS legal team were for legal advice on local ordinances, cyber libel, labor rights and actions for those subjected to curfew violations during the pandemic.

"We saw firsthand how the pandemic not only took lives, but also gave birth to an array of social problems and highlight already existing inequalities," Bacudio said.

IDEALS said they also aim to raise awareness for Filipinos to claim their rights. They urged those needing assistance to reach them through their Facebook page or through hotline numbers 0953-382-6935 for Globe and TM and 0951-0774412 for Smart, TNT and Sun subscribers. 

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