Just days after SAF deployment, joint task force alleges 'significant improvement' in 'compliance'
Photo taken during an aerial survey of Cebu City shows Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar pointing at something
Release / JTF CV Shield
Just days after SAF deployment, joint task force alleges 'significant improvement' in 'compliance'
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - June 29, 2020 - 1:27pm

MANILA, Philippines — In the three days that special forces have been deployed in Metro Cebu, the quarantine enforcement arm of the government's coronavirus task force alleged that it has already seen "significant improvement" in the compliance of quarantine rules in the city. 

The Joint Task Force COVID Shield has issued two press statements asserting the necessity of the deployment, which took place just days before on Thursday when two companies of the national police's Special Action Force amounting to 150 personnel—and a number of armored vehicles—were deployed in the city despite already sending a 100-man augmentation force earlier.

Cebu City was earlier reverted to enhanced community quarantine in the wake of a new cluster of coronavirus cases. 

In a statement issued on Sunday evening, Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, commander of the JTF COVID Shield, said that most of the residents are now staying in their homes and not going out, which he attributed to the arrival of the SAF forces in the area "based on the discussion during a meeting in Cebu City on Saturday."

It is not clear who he met with.

“As what (sic.) we have observed in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon before, the deployment of SAF commandos resulted in the significant reduction of quarantine violators. We want to duplicate this success in Cebu City as part of our mandate to make prevent the spread of COVID-19 by containing the movement of the local residents and disallowing unnecessary travels,” said Eleazar.

“We are confident that the compliance of our kababayan in Cebu City to quarantine rules will be sustained especially now that we have started the deployment of SAF troopers in strategic areas of the City,” he added.

The deployment came "amid observations that one of the factors that contributed to the spread of COVID-19 is the complacency of some of the residents," the task force's statement read.

According to Eleazar, 11 drone patrol units piloted by personnel of the Cebu City Police Office were also deployed in the city to "monitor compliance" and shoot videos of areas where weak points and potential areas of quarantine violations would occur.

“Our SAF commanders, soldiers, and personnel of the Police Regional Office-7 are now working closely to monitor the compliance of Cebu City residents to the ECQ rules. The purpose of drone deployment is that if ECQ violations are observed in a particular area, troops will be immediately sent there to enforce the quarantine rules,” said Eleazar.

This comes despite the recent cluster of new coronavirus cases and even deaths within the PNP's ranks, most of which were from Central Visayas.

Commandos 'force' compliance from the 'hard-headed'

Time and again, critics have pointed out that the administration's coronavirus response was one of pronounced militarism—coupled with constant praise for the military and police, and a narrative that any uptick in cases (like that of Cebu City) would be the fault Filipinos being "pasaway" or stubborn—instead of medical solutions called for by experts. 

Human rights advocates have also said that the narrative of a nationwide "war" against the virus is an intentional move, saying this encourages dependence on the military and highlights their role in maintaining peace and order.

Eleazar himself, along with other government officials, has accused Filipinos of going out for leisure.

However, mobility data and Social Weather Stations surveys have shown that Filipinos generally stay at home and take the global pandemic seriously, only going out in times of necessity and the like.

RELATED: Gov't said Filipinos are 'pasaway' and violate quarantine, but data show otherwise | Government banks on 'discipline' as likely shift to GCQ nears | 'War' narrative in COVID-19 crisis fails to empower Filipinos, groups say

Eleazar again repeated his earlier reiteration that the rationale behind the deployment of commandos is to intensify police visibility "in order to compel local residents to stay home and for those who are allowed to go out to observe the minimum health safety protocols such as wearing of face masks and observing physical distancing."

He was also again careful to rectify what he tagged as "misconceptions and disinformation" that the deployment of SAF troopers and soldiers is "meant to bully residents of Cebu City."

The SAF is the elite arm of the national police, and its members are known to be among the most well-trained police personnel in the country.

While data from the task force showed a drop in quarantine violations after special forces were deployed and police visibility was intensified, cases of police personnel violating protocols piled up quickly over Metro Manila's own ECQ.

RELATED: 'By the book': A look at quarantine incidents and police operational procedures | Students allege harassment, procedural violations in Iligan City protest arrests

“We have no problem with most people of Cebu City who have been doing share in the fight against COVID by staying at home and avoiding unnecessary travel. What we have problem of are those hardheaded people who disregard these quarantine rules despite knowing the risk of infection to them, their family, and their community. This is the reason why the deployment of SAF and soldiers is necessary, for these hardheaded people to be forced to comply with the mere presence of uniformed personnel and their mobility assets,” said Eleazar.

“Your SAF and soldiers may be the toughest but they are also human beings who have the compassion to those who deserve it. They are known to strictly follow orders and among their orders is to exercise maximum tolerance. In return, we ask the people of Cebu City to reciprocate this good gesture by observing the quarantine rules and respecting the people who enforce these rules,” he added. 

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