MANILA - Philippine National Police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar on Saturday ordered his men to prepare detention facilities following President Rodrigo Duterte's order to arrest people wearing face masks improperly.
Eleazar said physical distancing must still be observed in detention cells, where violators can only be held for a maximum of 12 hours unless charges are filed against them.
The newly-assigned PNP chief also told policemen to "observe maximum tolerance in arresting violators and warned them against abusive behavior."
“One of the concerns that need to be addressed is the availability of our detention cells. Alam naman natin na bago pa ang direktibang ito ng ating Pangulo, may mga pagkakataong kinukulang na talaga ang ating mga pasilidad kung kaya’t dapat natin itong paghandaan,” Eleazar said in a statement released Sunday.
(We know that even before the President's directive, we have a lack of facilities so we need to prepare for this.)
“Makipagtulungan tayo sa mga lokal na opisyal, kasama ang barangay, para malaman natin kung aling mga lugar sa bawat komunidad ang maaari nating gamiting detention facilities para sa mga sadyang pasaway,” he added.
(Let's coordinate with local officials and the barangay to know which areas we can use as detention facilities for violators.)
The Department of the Interior and Local Government earlier said it would reconcile Duterte's order with local ordinances on mask-wearing and subsequent penalties for violations.
Vice President Leni Robredo said violators should be taught how to use a face mask properly and other possible penalties besides jail time.
Robredo cited Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra's statement last month that quarantine violators should be penalized with community service instead of fines or jail time.
The Commission on Human Rights and members of the Makabayan bloc in Congress have warned that the order to arrest and detain face mask violators could lead to possible human rights abuses.
"We may be in quarantine due to the pandemic, but rights should not be on lockdown," CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said, even as she reiterated "the need for everyone to observe health protocols during the pandemic, including the proper wearing of face masks."
On Saturday, Eleazar said policemen may not enforce physical exercise to quarantine violators as only courts or local government units may impose penalties or fines.
The police force continues to remind unit commanders that quarantine violators must go through the right process, he said.
“Hindi tayo pwedeng magbigay ng penalty. Only the court can give the penalty or in the case of the LGUs, itong mga fines, mga multa nila. So hindi pwedeng pag-exercisin 'yan. Hindi pwedeng bigyan ng anumang punishment 'yan,” said Eleazar, former Joint Task Force Covid Shield commander.
(We cannot impose a penalty. Only the court can give penalty, or in the case of the LGUs, fines. So we don’t allow physical exercise, we can’t give other punishments.)
The Philippines on Saturday reported 6,979 new COVID-19 cases, bringing its total to 1,094,849, of which 63,376 were active infections.
The OCTA research group on Sunday identified the following cities as "areas of concern" following a rise in COVID-19 cases: Puerto Princesa, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga City, and Bacolod.
OCTA research fellow Guido David said daily virus cases in Metro Manila has declined to an average of 2,100 from a peak of 5,500, while virus reproduction rate has gone down to 0.67.
Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal were placed under enhanced community quarantine from March 29 until April 11, and then under modified ECQ from April 12 until May 14.