DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Human rights groups slam the Department of Justice’s appeal for compassion for Senator Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel III as “double standard” in its implementation of strict lockdown and quarantine.
This comes after the Senator breached his protocol for self-quarantine as a person under investigation for COVID-19 when he went to Makati Medical Center (MMC) on Wednesday to join his wife who was supposed to deliver their child.
The Senator later learned his test revealed he was COVID-19 positive and left the hospital. But the MMC said his actions had forced 22 doctors and health workers to go under quarantine.
While the public raised outcry calling for Pimentel’s resignation and prosecution, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra in an interview said they will only investigate Pimentel for his breached of quarantine protocol if there will be a formal complaint.
Guevarra also said “during abnormal times… the DOJ will temper the rigor of the law with human compassion.”
In reaction, Jay Apiag, secretary-general of Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region said that Guevearra’s statement shows “double standard and hypocrisy” of the government amid their imposition of lockdown to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Apiag said the government shows “no such compassion for the poor, homeless and vagrants” that reportedly violated the government’s quarantine and curfew rules in Metro Manila.
He cited reports online of violators subjected to “inhumane” punishment such as being squeezed into dog pound cages, made to sit under the sun or beaten back home.
Apiag said government’s soft stance smacks of privilege.
“Other people do not have the privilege that Koko Pimentel has of being a Senator, a former Senate President, and a party-mate of the President. (These) other people include the 11 million workers, daily wage earners and informal settlers in Luzon who now fear two things: not being able to work to bring food on the family’s table, and risk being arrested for trying to go out and find money for food,” Apiag said.
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Lawyers of the Philippines, also criticized the DOJ for inconsistency with this statement.
“Credibility requires consistency. It cannot be the law is harsh but it is the law for the poor and powerless and then the law must be tempered with mercy and compassion ONLY for the powerful and privileged,” he said.
The government’s Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) had earlier warned of warrantless arrests for violators of enhanced quarantine, citing the Republic Act 11332 or the Law on Reporting Communicable Disease.
The international rights group Human Rights Watch meanwhile urged authorities to respect the basic rights of people detained for violating the government’s COVID-19 regulations.
“While the Philippines government needs to protect the health and welfare of the people, any interventions must be in line with international human rights standard, including the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of people in custody,” said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson. (davaotoday.com)