MANILA — An official from the Department of Justice on Thursday said there is a need to study the legal bases cited by President Rodrigo Duterte and his chief legal counsel in ordering the arrest of barangay chairpersons in areas where super-spreader events take place.
“This is new to us. I actually heard it last night. We will look into it. And when cases are filed, you can all be sure that the Department of Justice will study this very carefully,” Undersecretary Adrian Sugay told ANC's "Rundown".
Duterte had said barangay chairpersons may be arrested based on provisions of dereliction of duty under the Revised Penal Code which, according to him, punish government officials who are not doing their jobs.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo suggested they could also be punished as a form of reckless imprudence under Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code.
Reckless imprudence refers to the voluntary, but without malice, doing or failing to do an act from which, through inexcusable lack of precaution, leads to material damage.
“We really need to look into it, whether or not these will be applicable with regard to cases where violators are caught in flagrante delicto (in the act) with regard to barangay officials caught, you know, I guess, so to speak, sleeping on the job,” Sugay said.
He explained that under Philippine laws, only a judge can issue an arrest warrant but in "caught in the act" cases, there can be warrantless arrests which should be made strictly in line with provisions of the Rules of Court and Supreme Court decisions.
In a separate interview on Headstart, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said warrantless arrests can apply if barangay leaders are present in super-spreader events as that would indicate personal knowledge on their part that an illegal activity is happening.
Asked how should law enforcers take the President’s arrest order even as the DOJ will still have to study its legal bases, Sugay said there are municipal and city ordinances that penalize violations of minimum health standards, including unauthorized social gatherings or illegal social gatherings.
“There are in fact laws in place already, and the police officers and our law enforcement agencies have actually been implementing these laws these past few months. So we see no reason why there could be any confusion with regard to the matter of the President’s directive,” he said.
Sugay pointed out that the DOJ and the DILG are in the process of coming up with a joint memorandum circular or a set of guidelines with regard to violations of health protocols.
In a message to reporters Thursday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has agreed in principle to approve joint guidelines on arrest, detention, and investigation of health protocol violators as drafted by the DOJ.
The guidelines could be ready for signing by Friday.
This is not the first time Duterte, a former prosecutor, ordered the immediate arrest of health protocol violators.
Earlier this month, he ordered the arrest of those who improperly wear masks.
But the DOJ had taken a different view — impose community service instead of jail time or fines for quarantine violators.
Mass gatherings have recently been reported in Caloocan City, Quezon City, Bulacan and Zamboanga City despite restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.
At the Caloocan incident, 20 guests of the Gubat sa Ciudad resort earlier this month tested positive for COVID-19. A complaint has been formally filed against the barangay chairman who has jurisdiction over the resort.
In Quezon City, more than 50 people who attended a pool party tested positive for the virus, and a show cause order has been issued against the concerned barangay chairman.
Officials of a barangay in Bulacan were also asked to explain after many residents held a picnic and went swimming in a river last weekend.