MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte's latest order to arrest and detain Filipinos caught improperly wearing face masks could lead to possible human rights abuses, the Commission on Human Rights and the Makabayan bloc in Congress said Thursday, with the latter urging the chief executive to backtrack on the policy.
"Magbubunga na naman ito ng katakot-takot na arrests at paglabag sa karapatan ng mga mamamayan. Sobrang napakalaking parusa ito sa mga tao. Sa halip na arestuhin, magbigay ng face mask," ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said in a virtual presser.
(This order could lead to mass arrests and violations of human rights. This is a punishment. Instead of arresting, just give the violators face masks.)
The Commission on Human Rights raised the same concern as well.
"In the absence of clear guidelines, we are concerned that such directive may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse," said CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia.
"Given the overcrowded conditions of jails and other detention facilities in the Philippines, detention may not be sound in preventing the further spread of COVID-19 in communities," she added.
De Guia said "intensive education and information campaigns" and "not fear" will result in better compliance with safety protocols.
"We may be in quarantine due to the pandemic, but rights should not be on lockdown," she said, even as she reiterated "the need for everyone to observe health protocols during the pandemic, including the proper wearing of face masks."
Duterte on Wednesday instructed police to arrest people who do not wear their anti-virus masks properly.
“My orders to the police are, those who are not wearing their masks properly, in order to protect the public . . . arrest them and detain them, investigate them why they are doing it,” Duterte said in a taped speech.
Castro said surveys have proven that most Filipinos have been compliant with the minimum health standards imposed by the government.
"Napatunayan ng survey na ang mga Pilipino ang pinakamasunurin in terms ng pagsusuot ng face mask... [Ang mga] mamamayang Pilipino, ayon sa survey, ay talagang sumusunod sa mga health protocols," she said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate highlighted the opposing approach between ordinary Filipinos and "VIPs," like China.
"Pag ordinaryong mamamayan, ang tugon nila pasismo, huli, kulong, and worst, maging biktima ka ng EJK. Sa kabilang banda naman, pagiging bahag, pagiging duwag sa mga VIPs mapa-China man yan o Gen. Debold Sinas," Zarate said.
(Ordinary Filipinos are dealt with an iron fist, while the admiration remains reluctant to go after VIPs like China and Debold Sinas.)
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said Duterte was "all talk" about health protocols but does not provide even the basic needs of Filipinos.
"Ang daming kuda ng Presidente pagdating sa face mask. Pero yung tunay na pangangailangan ng mamamayan natin para sa mga health measures, hindi niya maibigay... Ang alam lang ng administrasyong ito ay puro military measures. 'Wag naman po ganun," Brosas lamented.
(This president is all talk. He only knows military measures.)
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, expressed support to Duterte’s directive, saying there is a need to instill discipline among the public so that the country can improve on its fight against COVID-19, just like Vietnam, Singapore and Israel.
“Siguro okay lang yun. Sumunod tayo at matakot na makulong nang siyam na oras. May mga isyu at bagay na dapat eh strong arm ang dating eh... Ang daming matigas ang ulo eh,” Sotto said.
(I think that's okay. Let's follow and be afraid to be detained for 9 hours. There are issues and matters that require strong-arm approach... Many are stubborn.)
Duterte in February acknowledged he would sometimes take his face mask off.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra last month also urged the task force leading the country's pandemic response not to arrest or detain violators and impose community service instead, following the deaths of curfew violators at the hands of law enforcers.
- with reports from RG Cruz, Sherrie Ann Torres, and Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News