Luzon lockdown: As DOJ threatens arrest, public health expert calls for psychosocial support

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 18 2020 05:43 AM

MANILA – As the Department of Justice threatened violators of the enhanced community quarantine with arrest, a public health expert warned taking a tough stance during a public health emergency may not work.

Dr. Susan Mercado, special envoy of the President for global health initiatives and who had previously worked for the World Health Organization, is urging providing psychosocial support instead.

“Any kind forceful implementation will of course have negative effects,” she said.


Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday night cited 3 laws which may be used as bases to arrest those who do not follow the restrictions imposed in the Luzon-wide lockdown.

These include resistance and disobedience to a person in authority and direct assault under the Revised Penal Code, which could lead to up to 6 months and 6 years in prison, respectively, aside from fines ranging from P100,000 to P200,000.

Guevarra earlier said warrantless arrests may be made only of a person who wants to go through a checkpoint assaults, slanders or bribes law enforcers. He made the statement in the context of the Metro Manila-wide community quarantine announced by the President last Thursday.

But with the imposition of the Luzon-wide lockdown Monday night, Guevarra said 2 other laws could become the bases for immediate arrests.

These are the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act or RA 11332 and the Quarantine Act of 2004 or RA 9271.

Among the offenses punished by RA 11332 are non-cooperation of the persons identified as having a notifiable disease and those who are supposed to report it.

The Quarantine Act meanwhile punishes non-compliance with the regulations set by the Bureau of Quarantine.

Violations of RA 11332 could lead to jailtime of up to 6 months and a fine of up to P50,000 while a person who violates the Quarantine Act could face up to 1 year in prison and a fine of up to P50,000.

“This will come into play only kapag talagang mayroong (only if there are) serious resistance or disobedience to our law enforcers. So I plead with everyone to just simply give your cooperation, this is something that is temporary, this is for the good of all of us, the police officers supported by the armed forces are not the enemy, they are not there to harass us but to protect us,” Guevarra said Monday night.

Guevarra said those who tested positive for COVID-19 or are under monitoring or investigation but who evade authorities may be arrested.

“These people may be charged for non-cooperation under the relevant provisions of the law on mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases and the Quarantine Law,” he said.


But Mercado is advocating for a more humane approach.

“Dapat nating unawain na ang taong may sakit, may kaba, meron din silang nararamdaman sa kanilang sarili at siguro nag-aalala din sila sa kung anong mangyayari sa pamilya nila,” she told ABS-CBN News over the phone.

(We have to understand that a person who is sick may be anxious, they dealing with emotions and worries about what will happen to their families.)

Mercado said that the failure to obey may mean lack of awareness, or fear or lack of acceptance.

“Kailangan po nating magbigay ng psychosocial support para dun sa ayaw sumunod…

Itong mga mental health workers natin, social health workers, psychologists, magvolunteer naman kayo na tumulong na,” she said.

(We need to provide them with psychosocial support for those who refuse to obey. To our mental health workers, social health workers, psychologists, please volunteer.)


On Tuesday, the Highway Patrol Group of the Philippine National Police started impounding hundreds of cabs which continued to operate despite the suspension of mass public transportation operations as the lockdown kicked off.

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said law enforcers could file both criminal and administrative cases – criminal against “those who insist on operating these facilities and disobey orders from law enforcers to desist from further operations” and administrative to go after the operators’ franchise.

“Action against the franchise becomes important since operators may force their drivers to continue plying routes. The possible cancellation, etc. of the franchise could deter operators from doing so,” Perete explained in a message to reporters.

But a sticking point is whether the mere act of stepping outside one’s house for a non-essential purpose could also lead to immediate arrest.

Perete said this is what RA 11332 provides.

“That is how the law stands, and the reasoning behind it seems pretty straight forward: in times of a health event of a public concern, an unfounded insistence to act in a way that imperils our collective health cannot be sanctioned,” he said.

But former Supreme Court Spokesperson Theodore Te is not convinced.

“Sec. 9 is too broad I think…I don’t think it would justify a warrantless arrest,” he said. Section 9 refers to the punishable acts which includes “non-cooperation.”

He urged authorities to come up with clearer guidelines to safeguard the rights of the public.

“Again, this is a very new law. It was passed during the time of President Duterte…The Supreme Court has not yet interpreted this law. So we don’t know the metes and bounds of the provisions of this particular law,” he said.

The Philippine government ramped up efforts to address the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in the country.

From 52 positive cases on March 12 during the announcement of the community quarantine, it ballooned to 140 cases on Monday, after only 4 days, with 11 recorded deaths.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health reported 45 new cases bringing the total to 187, out of which 14 died. Only 6 patients have successfully recovered so far.

Worldwide, there are now 194,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with more than 7,800 deaths and 80,000 recoveries, according to the Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Interactive Map, as of 2:30AM of March 18.

Around 40% of the number of confirmed cases and deaths are from China.