After a year of ‘non-cooperation’ arrests, Guevarra pitches community service for ‘quarantine violators’

MANILA, Philippines — After a year of arrests for “non-cooperation” and disobedience raps, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he recommended to local government units to impose community service on “quarantine violations” instead of imprisonment.

Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal — an area now called 'NCR Plus' — are again subjected to Enhanced Community Quarantine as the government grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases. With stricter protocols enforced come reports of arrests of quarantine violators.

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In a briefing at the Palace, Guevarra said he informed the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases that local ordinances would serve as a better legal basis on enforcing health protocols as “these are very direct to the point.”

"For statutes like mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases, there is a provision on non-cooperation, but you know it does not exactly fit the bill, it is not very exact to the actual violation," he said in English and Filipino. "So we are relying more on ordinances issued by the local government units rather than a nationwide general statute like Republic Act 11332."

'Life is so difficult in ECQ'

The DOJ chief said he recommended stricter enforcement of local ordinances and asked local government units to consider imposing community service rather than imprisonment or fining arrested quarantine violators “because life is so difficult in ECQ.”

Guevarra, in a separate message to reporters, said Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Benhur Abalos said he would immediately request all metro mayors and councils to review their ordinances on the enforcement of health protocols.

He added that Abalos will ask the Metro Manila mayors to “seriously consider imposing community service as an alternative penalty for violation of such ordinances.”

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‘Non-cooperation’ arrests

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers President Edre Olalia welcomed Guevarra’s statement, noting that they have been raising this since a year ago.

“Yet, looking back, it is not only enraging but tragic that hundreds of our citizens who do not have the same entitlements as those in or close to the corridors of power had to endure this manifest injustice through a patently erroneous reading and misapplication of a vague law to justify [the] harsh implementation of quarantine protocols at best and cover up repressive measures at worst,” Olalia added.

When the community quarantine measures were first announced in March 2020, the government stressed that violators may face criminal and administrative raps.

Among the laws that DOJ chief Guevarra mentioned as basis for arrets were Disobedience to Authorities under Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code and, “considering the gravity of the present situation,” for violating RA 11332 or the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.”

Police data showed that from March 17 to Nov. 14, 2020, 538,577 people "accosted" for quarantine violations, such as disobedience and curfew violations. Of these, 185,471 were given a warning and 218,808 were fined. There have also been 134,298 quarantine violators haled to court.

Among those who will face trial are 21 urban poor residents of Quezon City who only went out on April 1, 2020 after hearing rumors that relief will be given to them.

They face five charges before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 38: “Non-cooperation” under RA 11332, Batas Pambansa 880 or the Public Assembly Act, disobedience under Art. 151 of the Revised Penal Code and two under the RA 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act—signed a week before they were arrested.

Sen. Aquuilino "Koko" Pimentel III, sued for an alleged breach of quarantine protocols, was cleared by the prosecution after they held that reporting requirement under RA 11332 is only for public health authorities.

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