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

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - March 30, 2021 - 8:46pm

MANILA, Philippines — Familiar warning signs of abuse by quarantine enforcement marked the first two days of the second Enhanced Community Quarantine in the Philippines.

For Laura*, a freelance writer and volunteer at an animal shelter close to her home, taking her bicycle to and from her workplace in Quezon City has been the norm amid the lack of public transportation. On Monday, she happened to forget her helmet — required of cyclists by a city ordinance. 

Unfortunately, she also happened to pass by a police checkpoint on the way home that day, where she presented her ID and license. 

More than a dozen other cyclists without helmets were already detained there by cops with long rifles. Some of the riders stayed because they were unable to pay the fine, she said, and were told to wait until 4 p.m., when they would be released. 

At 4, police suddenly walked back their promise and said the detainees would be released at 6 p.m. — the start of the uniform curfew — instead. Out of frustration, Laura took out her phone and started recording. 

"That really pissed them off. They were yelling all at the same time from different directions, and they asked me, 'bakit, sino ka ba? Media ka ba? Media lang ang puwede kumuha' (Are you media? Only media can take videos) over and over again. At that point we were just answering back at each other," she told Philstar.com in a phone call. 

It is in no way true that only media can take footage of government officials performing their official duties.

"Ang yabang mo! Bakit ka ba galit sa gobyerno (You are so arrogant. Why are you against the government)?" she recalled them asking her. 

They then demanded she show an ID from her workplace, and the situation only escalated when she explained she hadn't been issued one. 

Quezon City Ordinance No. 2942 requires the use of helmets for all bicycle riders and provides penalties for violations.

The ordinance mandates a fine of P1,000 for the first offense, P3,000 for the second offense, and P5,000 for the third offense. All violators also receive ordinance violation receipts.

The ordinance, however, says nothing about arrest and detention. 

RELATED: QC gov't to provide incentives for cops enforcing curfew, health protocols

During the ordeal, though, Laura recalled officers threatening her with arrest. As officers sat her down at the checkpoint tent demanding she delete her videos, others approached her bike to try to cuff it to the tent.

Yet, the officers themselves took photos of Laura during the scuffle, copies of which were even released to Philstar.com by Anonas police showing interrogating officers clutching their rifles as they surrounded the biker. Her face is clearly seen in the photos.

"Di ba kanina pa 'to? Pasakay niyo na 'to sa mobile. Sa presinto tayo mag-usap," Laura recalled the cops telling each other, all while they were filming her. 

(She has been here since earlier. Put her in the police car. Let's talk at the police station)

"It seems they wanted the narrative to be in their control and they didn't want any civilian narratives circulating about it...At that point they weren't just implementing the fine if that's what it was. Because we were being held," she added. 

She was never issued an ordinance violation receipt. 

'I don't feel safe reporting this' 

An entire day after the incident, the director of Laura's non-profit messaged her to inform her that cops came by looking for her.

"It's also such a dismaying waste of resources to send your police there over an incident this petty. I don't even feel safe reporting this now because my name will be on the report," she said in an online exchange. 

Philstar.com reached out to Police Lt. Elario Wanawan, the QCPD Station 9 officer in charge of the checkpoint that day, but he has not responded as of this post. 

Quoting Wanawan's official report, Police Lt. Col. Imelda Reyes, Anonas station commander, said the former described her as "makulit na pilit dumadaan at ayaw ibigay ang ID," though she opted not to comment on the situation. 

(A stubborn person who insisted on passing through and did not show an ID)

"Nag dirty finger pa sa amin pero pinalampas namin. Pinapunta ko ang tropa sa [shelter] at nalaman namin na volunteer siya dun and ang name," Wanawan is quoted as saying. 

(She even flipped me her middle finger. I told the police officer to come to the shelter and and we learned she is a volunteer and we found out her name.)

It is not clear why the cops thought to visit her workplace over a bicycle helmet violation, but Anonas police claimed Laura refused to show her ID.

Police Brig. Gen. Danilo Macerin, director of the Quezon City Police District, said they were directed to contact the shelter to "verify if they knew the female person who failed to be identified." Asked why this was necessary, he said: "Flexibility kaysa magkasakitan pa."

(Flexibility, so there won't be any violence)

"We vehemently deny the detention as claimed as we don't have any room or area to detain her," he said in a text message to Philstar.com. "Di naman siya na-detain. Ayaw nga magpakilala. Naging unruly na sya. Ikaw kaya ang "magtaas ng finger'."

(She was not detained. She did not identify herself. She became unruly and flipped her finger.)

"The presence of the violent uniformed [redacted] is not confined to our police, but that’s no excuse to tolerate them in our country," Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin tweeted in response to viral posts over the incident.

'I just wanted to eat'

Quezon City resident LJ Cabangis experienced much of the same treatment. 

On a busy Monday night, the criminology student decided to treat himself with take-out at around 9:30 p.m. The Grab driver arrived a half-hour later and called him on the phone asking for directions.

Just a few steps outside his gate, barangay enforcers suddenly began to chase him. It seemed like they were waiting, he said.

"Akala siguro nila tambay-tambay lang ako. Kaso hindi sila naniwala sa akin," he said in a phone call with Philstar.com.

(Maybe they thought I was just hanging out. But they didn't believe me)

"Sir sige na. Pagkain lang po ito. Di po ba puwedeng bigyan nalang ng konsiderasyon?" he pled with enforcers. They forced him into a van anyway.

(Sir, please. This is just food. Can't you give me some consideration?)

Even when the rider arrived with his food, the watchmen insisted he come with them. 

All he had was his phone and his meal, so Cabangis took to Facebook Live to document the ordeal. 

In response to having a camera recording, they asked him to prove he was innocent. He pointed to his dinner.

"Naka-mask ka, curfew ka naman. Oo, nasa tapat ng bahay, pero curfew," the enforcers are heard telling him in the video. "Dapat sa harap ng bahay 'yan."

(You're wearing a mask, but it's curfew. Yes, you were next to your house, but it's curfew. You should have picked it up at your front door.) 

"I just wanted to get my GrabFood and they arrested me. It was harassment. They were very aggressive with me then. They were trying to grab my phone and make me delete it," he said in Filipino. 

Though it was barangay enforcers who picked him up, Cabangis was taken to a police precinct. Unsurprisingly, they told him to delete his video, claiming it was illegal and that they could sue him over it. 

"They let me out last night. The police said it was 'reasonable'," he said, but this was only after he was made to delete his video. He made sure he could retrieve it later on. 

"I want people to be aware...I hope our volunteers understand the situation first before they arrest. And I hope they pay attention during their orientation. It seemed like they didn't know what they were doing, they just want to keep arresting."

ECQ 2.0? Been there, done that 

Memories of past abuse are still fresh. 

During President Rodrigo Duterte's first enhanced community quarantine over a year ago, military personnel and elite police troopers manning quarantine points were commonplace all over Metro Manila. 

Cases of aggressive and overzealous enforcement piled up over the ECQ in the name of "punishing" the public for its "stubbornness" and "complacency" with quarantine regulations—the same rules that a number of government officials have, themselves, failed to follow and walked scot-free regardless. 

One former soldier was shot by cops in the back; it was later found they planted evidence on him. Another quarantine violator was beaten with sticks. Even other phone-grabbing cops were documented. Most cases languished and ultimately went unsolved. 

Over a year later, it's the same scenario. More than 9,000 police personnel have been deployed to man the 1,106 quarantine control points within the so-called NCR+ bubble to strictly implement protocols amid the ECQ and uniform curfew.

On the first day of ECQ alone, the PNP disclosed that nearly 2,600 were arrested for various quarantine violations across Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal.

This comes on top of the over 17,000 who have already been apprehended for supposed quarantine violations since the PNP started deploying cops to enforce uniform curfew hours in the capital region.

READ: Thousands apprehended on first night of Metro Manila curfew

What happens now?

LJ is set on filing a complaint, but he says he isn't sure where. Until then, the 21-year-old fears for his safety at home, after he was picked up right outside his gate. He fears they might retaliate.

"I'm sure I want to file, but it would still be at the barangay [with the same people.] It would be traumatizing to see them again," he said in Filipino. 

Laura said she plans to file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and the Quezon City government.

"It was heavy-handed enforcement. The penalty is you're fined and you get to go. The response in itself is disproportionate [and] misguided that in the middle of a pandemic they will detain people for this many hours over something that has nothing to do with the pandemic," she said. 

"There's a lot that didn't connect. The punishment and the way we want to go about this pandemic was really just about scaring people to keep them in line."

The Quezon City local government said it would investigate the incidents. 

"One thing is for sure, while we understand the need for strict enforcement to contain the further spread of the virus, abusive behavior of policemen will never be tolerated," lawyer Ralph Calinisan, executive director of the QC People's Law Enforcement Board, told Philstar.com in a text message. 

"Harassing citizens will never be a policy of the local government unit. We will investigate the matter," he added. 

Until her complaint comes to fruition, Laura is staying put at home. 

"I also am largely in charge of my household, so not being able to leave without fear of harassment or detention puts us all at risk. What if there's an emergency and we need to see a doctor or a vet?" she said. 

"If they are working in the interest of public safety and public health, it is deeply disturbing that this is the only way they know how to do it. They are only successful at instilling a culture of fear."

--

Disclosure: Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte is a shareholder of Philstar Global Corp., which operates digital news outlet Philstar.com. This article was produced following editorial guidelines.

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