QUEZON CITY, Philippines – Armed elements from the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) stormed Sitio San Roque Monday, April 6, 2020, intimidating some of the residents who were conducting a community kitchen program.
The program, called Kusinang Bayan, was launched by the residents in partnership with the urban poor rights network Save San Roque Alliance.
According to the said alliance’s Facebook post, armed men from QCPD’s Station 2 showed up around 10 AM at the Balicanta and Ilang-ilang areas within San Roque, where the program was being held. The officers proceeded to question the residents about the program and the placards displayed in the vicinity. They confiscated and tore up the placards, before leaving with the torn-away placards.
One female resident who was present at the time of the incident, and who refused to identify herself, questioned the presence of the armed men in their community.
“While waiting for the food to finish cooking, the police arrived and tore our placards…[The placards] simply said that we were hungry and that we are grateful to all those who have given us aid during this lockdown,” she said.
“They (police) shouldn’t have done that. We are simple residents cooking food for our community since the aid from the government has not been enough.”
“Nanay Inday (Bagasbas) of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) in San Roque and I responded to an alert over the radio that the incident had happened.
And when we got there at the scene, we saw the armed men placing some torn signs in a sack. There were around 15 to 20 of them,” said Shamina Balan, a volunteer for Save San Roque.
“They told us that we could not display those, because the calls will only encourage the people to rebel against the government. Nanay Inday was negotiating with them that we would take down the calls if they would just leave,” she adds.
The “Kusinang Bayan” was launched on Saturday, April 4, as a response to the delayed efforts of the local and national governments to give aid to more than 6,000 families within the community whose livelihoods were affected by the ongoing enhanced community quarantine, or ECQ, ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“When the residents went out of their homes to call for aid, they were arrested and harassed. And now that they have come up with a solution- a grassroots initiative from the cash donations from private individuals- they still receive the same response. It is very clear now that protecting the Filipinos, especially the most vulnerable ones, is not the state’s priority,” said Jmar Atienza, one of the conveners of Save San Roque.
Just last week. Wednesday, April 1, twenty-one individuals from San Roque were arrested and eventually detained at Camp Karingal for ‘violating quarantine protocols’ for allegedly staging a protest in front of the Avida showroom along EDSA, which is just outside the community. The detainees, now dubbed ‘San Roque 21,’ were officially released on April 6 after posting bail at the Quezon City Hall of Justice.
In response to the allegations, Police Lieutenant Johanna L. Sazon, chief of the QCPD’s Public Information Office (PIO), explained that the officers in question were only doing a regular patrol of the area and that the community kitchen program was in fact in violation of Republic Act 11469, more commonly known as the “Bayanihan to Heal as One” Act, and the ongoing ECQ.
“Mass gatherings are not allowed during the ECQ. The residents were approached by the officers because the former [were] not observing proper social distancing,” she said.
She also addressed the complaints about the firearms carried by the policemen and the alleged destruction of the placards displayed during the feeding program.
“The standard-issue firearms are a part of our official uniform; there was no intent to shoot. Furthermore, our officers did not destroy any placard,” she said.
Based on the guidelines of the ECQ released last March 16, mass gatherings are prohibited during the one-month period.
It did not, however, clarify what can be considered as mass gatherings, such as a community kitchen program.
On the other hand, the ‘Bayanihan to Heal as One’ Act did not include a prohibition on mass gatherings.
“If a law includes prohibitions, it must be clear in identifying what acts would be considered as prohibited. But due to the vagueness of the ECQ guidelines, these cannot be applied. The residents’ right to conduct the program will prevail over the vague provision of the law. Besides, a community kitchen is not a mass gathering,” clarified lawyer EB Cortez, secretary-general of the National Union for People’s Lawyers.(davaotoday.com)