Multi-agency guidelines aim to harmonize enforcement of health protocols but leave out how to resolve conflicts

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 01 2021 11:53 PM

MANILA — Three government agencies on Tuesday signed a joint memorandum circular which provides for guidelines on how to implement health protocols across the country, with the goal of harmonizing the enforcement of laws and ordinances. 

But it left out a key provision — how to resolve conflicts between ordinances and laws, and varying protocols in different localities.

The heads of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Justice and the Philippine National Police all took part in the ceremonial signing of the 5-page guidelines.

The guidelines were to apply in all areas nationwide, regardless of quarantine classification 

KEY PROVISIONS

Under the guidelines, each agency is reminded of its existing mandates.

The PNP is to assist local government units (LGUs) in the strict enforcement of directives, laws and ordinances and must make sure that all arrests are based on local ordinances or laws. 

The police are to follow strictly the rules on criminal procedure, particularly on warrantless arrests and are told to immediately bring the person to a prosecutor for inquest.

The DOJ, for its part, should ensure immediate conduct of inquest proceedings for those who were arrested without a warrant, on the same day the case was endorsed.

Inquest prosecutors are told to release detained persons if arrest is invalid, dismiss case if there is no probable cause, or if there’s a need for additional evidence, release detained person for further investigation. 

“Ang mga guidelines na binibigay sa aming inquest prosecutors — madaliin lang itong mga ganitong klaseng kaso kasi there is a danger na magkaroon ng congestion kaya bigyan ng top priority,” Guevarra said during the press conference following the signing of the guidelines.

The DILG, on the other hand, is supposed to ensure that local chief executives were to enforce guidelines issued by the President and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), strengthen preventive measures such as prohibiting mass gatherings and ensuring participation of the barangays.

A new mandate for the DILG is to identify holding areas for persons cited for violations of health and safety ordinances so that they won’t be lumped together with others detained for crimes.

“Bago kayo mag-aresto, ang mga pulis natin, siguraduhin muna nila na meron kayong holding area, not necessarily sa police station but kung hindi pupwede dyan, coordinate with your LGUs and barangay para siguraduhin na ma-oobserve pa rin yung physical distancing pag yun ay dinampot niyo,” PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said. 

In keeping with the President’s order to arrest barangay chairpersons or village chiefs in areas where super-spreader events take place, the guidelines also contain a provision citing the Local Government Code and the Revised Penal Code as bases for holding local government officials accountable.

These 2 laws were earlier cited by the DOJ as basis for the arrest of LGU officials who fail to enforce health protocols.

“Kasama dito sa JMC natin ang holding erring officials accountable, whether they are violating themselves because no one is above the law. Or they failed to prosecute violators or they failed to enforce the laws. And then the responsibility of the barangay captains and the barangay officials, isinama din natin dito,” Año said.

LEFT OUT: HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICTS

But missing from the guidelines is a crucial provision on how to resolve potential conflicts between national laws and local ordinances or between varying protocols among localities. 

In a Viber message Tuesday night responding to a query, Guevarra acknowledged that there is in fact an existing conflict of protocols.

“Your question on conflict of protocols is exactly the situation in Cebu, where Governor Gwen (Garcia)’s quarantine protocols for arriving international passengers are not in harmony with the IATF-issued protocols,” Guevarra said in response to ABS-CBN News.

IATF protocols require testing of arriving passengers on the 7th day of their 14-day quarantine upon arrival while Garcia’s executive order in Cebu requires immediate testing upon arrival and release from hotel quarantine if the RT-PCR test turned out negative.

“The national guidelines of course will have to prevail. But sadly, this was not provided for in the joint guidelines. Our reasonable assumption kasi is that local ordinances will take the cue from the national guidelines. The Cebu case is an aberration,” he explained.

Asked how the issue will be resolved, Guevarra said that Garcia met with President Duterte on Monday but it was not immediately clear if the issue was discussed.

REACTIONS

Criminal law and criminal procedure expert Ted Te, on Twitter, questioned the need for the guidelines.

“Rule 113, section 5 (on grounds for warrantless arrests) is crystal clear, so too are the SC cases; what’s the point of the Guidelines?” he asked, while also commenting on the language used in the guidelines.

The guidelines are supposedly internal and addressed to law enforcers but are being made public to inform the people on what they could do should they get arrested, according to Guevarra. 

WHY ONLY NOW?

The guidelines came more than a year of arrests where thousands have ended up detained in various parts of the country on various grounds.

One ground initially cited by the DOJ is RA 11332 or the law on the mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases.

This was used to justify arrests of protesters and even those who organized a relief mission in cases which were eventually junked by different courts on the ground that this law applies only to those afflicted with diseases where they are required to report their status.

DOJ prosecutors eventually used the same reasoning in junking the complaint for violation of quarantine protocols against Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III who accompanied his pregnant wife to Makati Medical Center despite having undergone testing for COVID-19, the result of which later turned out positive. 

The guidelines come almost 2 months since a change of policy on the part of the DOJ, encouraging community service instead of jailtime and fines in cases of health protocol violations.

In March last year, the DOJ warned of arrests against violators of the Luzon-wide lockdown.

Why come up with guidelines now?

Año said they were initially confident that the Philippines would be back to normal after the first wave. 

But the number of cases became very alarming, especially during the surge in cases in March and April this year, and the advent of super-spreader events after.

“So what we did actually is just to tie everything up and then how we can actually enforce stricter controls,” he said.

He clarified there is not much of a difference between last year and this year but said that he and Guevarra thought it best that all protocols and linked to avoid confusion. 

“Yung sinasabi nating iba-iba yung ordinansa pero ang magpapatupad naman niyan ay ang local government pati Philippine National Police. As long as number 1, yung local ordinances ay naka-align sa national laws sa omnibus guidelines at saka mga directives ng Pangulo,” he said.

“Sabi nga ni Secretary Guevarra, kung malayo ang ordinansa mo, palitan mo. Ilinya mo dito sa sinasabi natin,” he added.

The guidelines are to take effect immediately.