COVID-19 deniers, anti-vaccine protesters get 'warning' from PNP chief

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
COVID-19 deniers, anti-vaccine protesters get 'warning' from PNP chief
Photo shows members of Gising Maharlika at a protest opposing vaccination.
Gising Maharlika TV on Facebook


Philstar.com note: Vaccination against COVID-19 can help prevent transmission and infection but is not a guarantee that a vaccinated person will not get the coronavirus disease. Vaccines can, however, reduce the risk of contracting severe COVID-19 and reduce the need to get hospital treatment.

There have been cases of COVID-19 even among vaccinated health workers at the Philippine General Hospital but the cases have been mild.

The Department of Health has repeatedly stressed that vaccinated people should still practice safety measures like wearing face masks and face shields and physical distancing. People are also advised to stay at home to avoid the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

MANILA, Philippines — The chief of the Philippine National Police on Sunday "warned" individuals and groups who defied health protocols in protest of government guidelines against COVID-19.

Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar in a statement sent to reporters said that "while the PNP respects the belief of some individuals and groups not to believe on COVID-19 and the vaccination," they should also "learn to respect the belief" held by many Filipinos, "including those who died and became infected and especially our healthcare workers who are on the frontline of this battle."

The Philippines has been under varying degrees of community quarantine since March 2020 and health authorities have been reporting more than 20,000 new cases a day. 

"Holding protest actions to insist on what you believe in does not make it right. It is but plain and simple acts of defiance and irresponsibility because you are putting our personnel and other civilian population at risk of being infected," he added.

The PNP chief's warning is in stark contrast to the police's treatment of protesters and activists since the early days of the pandemic, when urban poor residents calling for food aid were arrested in Quezon City.

Strict implementation of pandemic protocols have been a huge part of the government's pandemic response and security officials have arrested people holding feeding programs and relief drives.

RELATED: 'San Roque 21' counsel sees long trial for urban poor nabbed seeking food aid | 'Non-cooperation' raps vs ten Marikina relief workers junked

What happened?

The PNP chief's statement comes after members of the group Gising Maharlika held a protest action at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila to oppose the vaccination program and pandemic response of the national government on Saturday afternoon.

"Lumabas na po tayo. Tama na 'tong lockdown, tama na (It's time to go out. This lockdown is enough)," one protester is seen calling in videos shared by Gising Maharlika's Facebook page.

Photos also show members of the group not wearing face masks in what the PNP said was an "apparent bid to emphasize that they do not believe in the coronavirus." Posters at the event read: "I do not consent to tyranny." 

The group on its Facebook page also acknowledged responsibility for the "peaceful assembly," while many of its members also posted photos of the event.

"Your police have shown maximum tolerance and respect for your beliefs when you staged a protest action without wearing protection, I warn you that you may not be tolerated if you repeat the insult to the beliefs of most of our countrymen and your insults in public health policies," said Eleazar.

PNP to 'monitor' and 'check'

Despite the video proof going viral on social media, Eleazar said that the PNP will "strictly monitor if there will be protest actions by those anti-vaccine groups and individuals that would violate the minimum public health standard."

Local police chiefs are tasked to check the situation on the ground regarding possible mass actions wherein the protesters would deliberately not wear face masks and violate the public health safety protocols.

This is also not the group's first time to hold such a protest. Gising Maharlika held a similar demonstration in May, where they trotted out tarps and placards suggesting the pandemic was "planned."

The PNP's response is in stark contrast to its arrests and confiscation of protest materials from progressive groups and activists on the day of President Rodrigo Duterte's State of the Nation Address earlier this year. 

“In the midst of the ever-increasing number of COVID-19 cases, we continue to plead to take our fight against the pandemic to heart because we have been affected by it for more than a year but thousands of violators are still being caught in the past few days," said Eleazar, who added that the PNP is "nearing" the completion of the vaccination of its more than 221,000 personnel.

Eleazar offered police camps and other facilities as vaccination sites as the national government starts to plan the inoculation of 12-17 years old population. 

“This will not discourage your PNP to continuously assist in the enforcement of these rules because this is one of the effective measures that we see to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus,” the PNP chief added. 

Vaccine hesitancy

Results from a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations from June 23 to June 26 suggest that about 45% of Filipinos are willing to get inoculated against the coronavirus. This was higher than the SWS survey from May, where only 3 out of 10 adult Filipinos were willing to get vaccinated. 

Earlier, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy as one of the top threats to global health in 2019, saying it "threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable disease."

As of September 12, some 21.9 million Filipinos have already received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. 

To date, health authorities have recorded 2,324,475 coronavirus infections in the Philippines. 

The country continues to battle a third wave of cases amid the threat of the more transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19. 

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