Mass arrests don’t address mass hunger amid community quarantine —Karapatan

Human rights group Karapatan strongly condemned the arrest of 20 residents of the urban poor community of Sitio San Roque in Brgy. Bagong Pag-asa, Quezon City after the community’s protest along EDSA was violently dispersed by the police. The residents of Sitio San Roque were demanding urgent action and relief such as food and social services from the local government as the country grapples with the socio-economic impact of the imposition of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine to combat the spread of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The homeless and the urban poor are bearing the brunt of this government’s continuing neglect of social services amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They are facing threats both to their health and livelihood and they are being driven to mass hunger — but instead of addressing their urgent and legitimate demands for aid, the State is lightning quick to unleash ruthless violence and repression upon the people,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said. 

From March 17 to 29, 2020, the Philippine National Police reported that a total of 17,039 individuals have been arrested nationwide for supposed violations of curfews and other policies imposed as part of the enhanced community quarantine against the pandemic. Palabay averred that this punitive State policy of mass arrests disproportionately targets the poor.

“Where is the human compassion of the law for the poor who are already suffering tremendously from this crisis? Their health is already compromised and vulnerable to diseases because of the lack of access to basic health care services. The homeless cannot even abide with home quarantine measures while physical distancing is next to impossible for urban poor families living in single-room shanties. The suspension of work also means many of them have no food to put on their tables. Where is the 200 billion pesos worth of aid for low-income families promised by the government? Without the needed government aid, their empty stomachs are already grumbling of unbearable hunger as they face threats of warrantless arrests and cruel inhumane punishments of authorities if they dare to even just go out of their homes,” she stated.

Last March 27, 2020, 55-year-old public school teacher Juliet Espinosa was arrested in General Santos City and was charged with inciting to sedition for her alleged Facebook post which also aired her grievances on mass hunger. The Karapatan officer continued that “the Duterte administration is merely exposing its hypocrisy in allowing its allies like Senator Koko Pimentel to blatantly violate quarantine measures with impunity while the poor are immediately handcuffed and thrown behind bars in their desperate attempt to provide for their families.”

Mass arrests will not and do not address mass hunger caused by the government’s own neglect of people’s welfare. We demand the release of the arrested residents of Sitio San Roque. In failing to deliver on promises of socio-economic aid for the marginalized and meeting their demands with arrests, violence, and human rights violations, the Duterte administration is only exacerbating social unrest and the people’s discontent with his anti-poor and fascist rule,” she ended.