Rights groups: Arrests over facemasks could mean abuse, COVID risk in crowded cells

Rights groups: Arrests over facemasks could mean abuse, COVID risk in crowded cells
Police officers check compliance of motorists to health protocols as they pass the boundary of San Mateo, Rizal and Marikina City on Thursday, May 6, 2021. President Duterte ordered the arrest of violators who are not wearing face masks properly.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights on Thursday stressed the need for "reasonable and humane disciplinary measures" for quarantine violators after President Rodrigo Duterte issued an order for their arrest. 

The Departments of Justice and of the Interior and Local Government are still crafting guidelines on the president's order to detain those who are not wearing masks properly for up to nine hours, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

However, he has also said that Duterte's order, issued during a public address Wednesday night, takes effect immediately. 

"In the absence of clear guidelines, we are concerned that such directive may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse,"  CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said. 

"We note that certain local governments have passed ordinances penalizing the act of not wearing face masks in public. However, first-time offenders are often reprimanded, fined, and/or asked to perform community service." 

READ: Back to 'disiplina'? On second day of ECQ, stories of power-tripping enforcers

Rights group Karapatan slammed the directive as "brazenly unscientific and ineffective."  

It added that mass arrests and detentions "run counter to the purpose of quarantine protocols which is to protect and uphold people’s health." 

"We have seen the arbitrary and often violent enforcement of these policies that have disproportionately targeted the poor and even political dissenters — while affording a double standard to this administration’s allies and lapdogs," Karpatan said. 

De Guia also called for "intensive" education campaigns which she said was the best way to achieve higher compliance with pandemic protocols. 

'Inhumane' conditions in jails  

Citing overcrowding in jails and other detention facilities, CHR warned said detention "may not be sound in preventing the further spread of COVID-19 in communities." 

Meanwhile, Karapatan emphasized that the "inhumane conditions in the country’s detention facilities already pose risks to the health of prisoners." 

"[D]etaining hundreds of alleged violators in these cramped facilities where physical distancing is impossible to observe would only facilitate the rapid spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19." 

"We may be in quarantine due to the pandemic, but rights should not be on lockdown," De Guia said. 

— Bella Perez-Rubio with reports from Kristine Joy Patag 

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