MANILA - The Philippine National Police (PNP) said Wednesday a group that spread false information was behind the commotion in Quezon City that led to the arrest of several residents who were calling for government aid amid the Luzon-wide lockdown.
Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, deputy chief for operations of the PNP, said a group had spread false information to residents in Sitio San Roque, Barangay Pag-asa about the supposed distribution of food aid and other assistance.
"Sa tingin natin, mayroong grupo na para bang gustong mag-instigate ng kaguluhan," he told radio DZMM.
(We believe there's a group who wants to instigate trouble.)
Police have identified the group, but Eleazar declined to give details pending investigation.
He said they would coordinate with the Quezon City government if the protesters should be charged for violating guidelines of the enhanced community quarantine, which barred public gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
"Kami'y magiging seryoso at manghuhuli ng mga tao na nagba-violate ng curfew at quarantine rules natin," said Eleazar, who also heads Joint Task Force Coronavirus Shield.
(We will be serious in arresting people violating curfew and quarantine rules.)
Eleazar earlier said a hefty fine and possible jail time await those behind spreading fake news on social media about the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and Luzon lockdown.
Those arrested will face charges, specifically for violation of the Revised Penal Code’s Article 154 or the unlawful use of means of publication and unlawful utterances, he said.
The Luzon group of islands, home to about half of the country's 100 million people, is under lockdown until April 12.
The Philippine government has scrapped public events, closed schools, urged people to work from home and suspended public transport to limit gatherings in a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Responding to the incident, the Quezon City government refuted the residents' claim, saying food packs have been distributed in the area.
"In fact, there is continuous distribution of food packs throughout the city, both from the local government and the barangays to ensure that affected families are looked after during this crisis period," it said in a statement.
"As per COA (Commission on Audit) guidelines, all recipients of food packs must be properly documented and the city government wishes to assure the public that this is strictly being complied with, and documents are available for scrutiny in the interest of transparency," it added.
The Quezon City government said the residents were allegedly informed by an individual purportedly from a TV crew that food packs and other assistance would be distributed in the area.
"After reaching the area, the residents discovered that there was no food or cash distribution," it said.
"Instead, they were allegedly instigated by yet to be determined personalities to hold a rally and claim that the local government has not distributed any food packs in their area," it added.
For humanitarian reasons, the city government urged police to release the detainees.
"The sectors most affected by the enhanced community quarantine are reminded that if they have not yet received their food packs, they may report this to their respective barangays," it said.