Back to 'disiplina'? With rising COVID-19 cases, gov't scrambles to enforce health protocols anew

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Back to 'disiplina'? With rising COVID-19 cases, gov't scrambles to enforce health protocols anew
Members of the Quezon City Police District keep their post on Jose Abad Santos Street at Sitio 5, Barangay Sta. Lucia in Quezon City after it was placed under a special concern lockdown on March 9, 2021.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — It's back to square one for the coronavirus-induced community quarantines in the Philippines. 

Despite the Palace's claim of an "excellent" pandemic response, Filipinos might soon see a return to intensified police deployment — and sanctions for quarantine violations — to "compel" citizens to comply with minimum health standards to quell the spread of the coronavirus. 

Much like the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the Department of the Interior and Local Government on Wednesday directed local governments and the Philippine National Police to implement "a crackdown on quarantine violators" and intensify the enforcement of minimum health standards in all barangays.

The department ordered the coronavirus task force's implementing arm, the Joint Task Force COVID Shield which includes the national police and the military, to increase police deployment and strictly enforce minimum public health standards in Pasay, Malabon, Navotas, Cebu City and Cebu Province, which have registered a spike in cases.

"Our LGUs, as well as the PNP, have become complacent in the enforcement of our minimum health standards so I instruct our local officials along with the barangays and the police to vigorously implement basic health protocols in all barangays in our country," DILG Officer-in-Charge Bernardo Florece said.

“Violators should be fined or otherwise penalized for violating all health protocols,” he added.

'Excellent response' 

The approach is nothing new. During the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines, critics pointed out that the administration's immediate response to a health crisis was one of pronounced militarism and a narrative that any uptick in cases would be the fault of Filipinos being "pasaway" or stubborn.

At the time, cops on the street were a common sight, and the joint task force went as far as deploying fully-armed special forces to Cebu City, once a hotspot for the pathogen. The Special Action Forces personnel arrived with long firearms, aerial drones and tanks in tow. 

By mid-November, over 134,000 were arrested for "disobedience" and violating curfew and quarantine protocols, according to data from the JTF CV Shield. Human rights violations were well-documented

Daily COVID-19 cases dropped for a time since then.

Today, they're back on the incline. For a five-day stretch this week, the day-by-day increases plummeted back to over 3,000 new infections every 24 hours, prompting cities like San Juan and Caloocan to bring back city-wide curfews in an effort to arrest the spread of the virus. Two foreign variants of which have since been confirmed in the country. The capital city also locked down three of its barangays while Quezon City, the nation's largest, locked down twelve "special concern areas." 

These developments come as Malacañang continues to spin the coronavirus situation to the government's credit, going as far as lying about how its "excellent" response "controlled the spread of the disease, especially when compared to richer countries."

Gov't highlights discipline again 

Interior Spokesperson Jonathan Malaya stressed the important role of forming "Barangay Disiplina brigades" in communities to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Let us politely call out each other if we observe simple breaches of health protocols. Let's not put the entire responsibility on the government and the police. Let's look out for each other so that all of us are following health protocols," he said in mixed Filipino and English.

"We'll be wasting an entire year of sacrifice if we relax now. We should all be responsible in being disciplined and not being stubborn," he also said, adding that a small breach in protocols could lead to higher transmission of the virus more cases and possibly deaths.

The pronouncement is consistent with the government's earlier tactic of placing the responsibility of curbing the spread of COVID-19 on Filipinos by showing "discipline" despite the fact that data showed that people were doing their part and staying home.

When medical collectives called for a "time-out" in August 2020, they slammed the "militarist handling instead of a medical approach to the pandemic" which they called "devoid of scientific sense and health purpose."

"[This] 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," the Coalition for People's Right to Health said then.

RELATED: After curfews, checkpoints threaten to stage a comeback

Yet police checkpoints might be making a return as well. Police Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, the spokesperson of the Philippine National Police, told Philstar.com in a phone call that the return of checkpoints and tight enforcement is not completely off the table yet, with local government units going back to imposing curfews and lockdowns in their localities once again. 

In a separate statement, Police Gen. Debold Sinas announced that he had ordered police officers to take on the responsibility of "strengthening" the enforcement of health guidelines, particularly in "public transportation where crowding is prevalent."

“We cannot afford to lower our guard against the virus, especially at this point when the cure is already within reach,” Sinas said.

Senators mixed on return to form  

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, himself a former PNP chief, supported the return to heightened police presence. 

"There is a noticeable spike in the past few days, and the government must use its police power under the Constitution to make sure that the further spread of the virus is prevented or controlled. That said, civilians should also do their part by cooperating with lawful instructions and following the proper health protocols. This is the key to minimizing the spread of the coronavirus," he said in a statement. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros had much stronger words for the move, calling it "a repeat of the mistakes of the past."

"Aren’t we learning that mass arrests don’t work or help? People will just crowd the jails which are especially contagious," she said in Filipino. 

“If the police are deployed, they should even hand out face masks, face shields, or remind them of physical distancing and hand washing. It's not just those who arrest and abuse their power,” she added.— with a report from Bella Pe rez-Rubio





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