MANILA, Philippines — Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar yesterday barred policemen from imposing punishment or hurting people who are caught not wearing face masks properly and other violators of minimum public health standards.
“We can arrest them but we cannot punish them and we should not injure them. If you will (harm them), you will be answerable to me,” he said in a statement in Filipino.
In an interview over Teleradyo, Eleazar said making violators do physical exercises is already a form of punishment that is not allowed, stressing that only the courts or the local government units, based on existing ordinances, can impose penalties.
Last month, a man from Cavite died after policemen forced him and several other violators to do at least 300 squats as punishment.
President Duterte earlier ordered the police to detain and investigate persons caught not wearing their face masks properly as he reminded the public to strictly follow health protocols to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Eleazar said the order is reserved only for hard-headed people who repeatedly ignore health protocols.
He noted that at least 14,800 were accosted across the country for violating the face mask mandate and other health guidelines since Thursday. Only 1,001 of them ended up being placed under arrest while the rest were sent home.
“I understand the concerns of some people regarding the arrest of those not wearing face masks but this is a needed measure to ensure compliance of the people to observe the minimum health safety standard protocol,” he said.
He appealed to the public to strictly comply with minimum health standards which “have been proven effective in bringing COVID-19 cases down.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Bong Go, following the order to arrest mask protocol violators, urged the government to provide free masks as the country continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As chair of the Senate committee on health, I agree with a stricter implementation of the protocols to avoid the spread of the disease. But, beyond disciplining those who are not complying, we also need to show compassion for those who failed to follow either due to poverty or to the lack of information,” he said.
The senator pointed out during the launches of two newly opened Malasakit Centers in Mountain Province and Apayao last Friday that the PNP and the Department of Trade and Industry, along with his office, have already agreed to provide free masks to detainees who violated the health protocol.
“We (Eleazar and DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez) agreed to provide face masks for those who will be arrested. Maybe, they really don’t have the money to buy one. So, we will give them one. We don’t want a scenario where people get infected with COVID inside the detention cells,” Go said.
He noted a need for authorities to teach people the importance of complying with minimum health standards to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep communities safe from its threats.
Individuals who are not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 may still be carriers of the virus and spread it to others, thus making the wearing of mask a crucial act in preventing transmission, he added.
The senator cited the observation of medical experts that the proper wearing of standard masks reduces the risk of contracting and spreading the virus by 85 percent and, when coupled with the wearing of face shields and social distancing, is further reduced to more than 90 percent.
While he and Duterte empathize with Filipinos, especially those who cannot afford to buy masks, Go said the policy is aimed at stubborn individuals who refuse to comply with the health guidelines.