Amid confusion on arrest order, DOJ chief tells public to just wear masks properly

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Amid confusion on arrest order, DOJ chief tells public to just wear masks properly
Elite policemen patrol a market while people shop during a government imposed enhanced quarantine as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Manila on April 21, 2020.
AFP / Maria Tan

MANILA, Philippines — As government agencies scramble to come up with guidelines following President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest arrest order for quarantine violators, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra advised the public to wear masks properly and follow the law.

Guevarra on Thursday afternoon said the Departments of Justice and of the Interior and Local Government are crafting guidelines on Duterte’s latest order to detain those who are not wearing masks properly for nine hours.

But even without these guidelines, the DOJ chief stressed that Duterte’s order takes effect immediately.

“Existing laws and ordinances define the prohibited acts and impose the corresponding penalties therefor, and the relevant rules of court govern the procedure. The best way to avoid being arrested while the guidelines are being formulated is TO WEAR A FACE MASK AND OBEY THE LAW,” Guevarra said in a message to reporters.

In recorded speech aired on Wednesday night, the president told police to arrest people for not wearing their face masks properly and to investigate them.

"They have nine hours," he added, although it is unclear what the basis of this time period is. It is also unclear what people will be investigated for.

Under Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, authorities must deliver detained persons to judicial authorities, for filing of complaints, within 12 hours for crimes punishable by light penalties; 18 for crimes punishable by correctional penalties and 36 hours for offenses punishable by afflictive penalties.

This is not the first time for law implementers to leap to enforce a spoken order from Duterte without guidelines or even a written document. In 2018, the Philippine National Police rounded up “tambays” or loiterers, following the president’s order.

In July 2019, Duterte threatened arrests for those who seek his impeachment and for the PNP shut down gaming outlets of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. Implementation of that order saw police padlocking and spraypainting PCSO outlets to let the public know that they are closed.

In November of the same year, the PNP said they were ready to book vape users following a spoken order that Duterte gave at a late night address.

Scramble for space

DILG spokesperson Jonathan Malaya, in an interview with ANC on Thursday morning, acknowledged that when they enforce arrests, the government also need to prepare detention spaces “because there may be a large number of people detained than before.”

Guevarra said jail space will also be considered in the guidelines the two departments are drafting.

“Fully aware of the complications that may arise from effecting arrests of persons not wearing face masks wereR required (such as the problem of congested jails or detention centers), the president has directed the DOJ and the DILG to come up with guidelines for the proper enforcement of his latest directive,” he explained.

RELATED: As Duterte orders arrest of people without masks, government scrambles to find space for detainees

In July 2020, four months into the lockdown and arrests of quarantine violators, the DILG resorted to asking the Supreme Court to be allowed to bring newly-arrested Persons Deprived of Liberty to police station holding cells instead of local Bureau of Jail Management and Penology jail units, to avoid spread of COVID-19 in detention areas.


Malaya earlier explained that LGUs have passed ordinances in compliance with health protocols from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. Violators may face a warning or a fine, while in cases of resistance, complaints may be filed, he added.

Guevarra said the guidelines will cover the “procedure of arrest and detention until the filing of charges.”

In April, or a year of arrests for “non-cooperation” and disobedience complaints, Guevarra said he recommended to LGUs to impose community service as an alternative to fines or imprisonment. The Metro Manila Development Authority also concurred with this proposal, he added.

Duterte’s latest order, the DOJ chief noted, is “part of the government’s strategy of strictly implementing health protocols, such as wearing of face masks, so that the spread of the disease is put under control and the full opening of the economy is accelerated.”

But National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers President Edre Olalia slammed Duterte’s arrest order as “cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment disproportionate to the evil sought to be supposedly addressed and even discriminatory.

In a statement, Olalia also pointed out that the legal justification for the order and the cited allowable period of detention without charges is wrong.

“Shouldn't simply providing facemask for free to those who cannot afford them and launching massive popular information drives do the trick rather than overpacking our already cramped and congested jails?” he added.

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