Rights group says militarist quarantine a fertile ground for more rights violations

Amid the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, human rights group Karapatan asserted that while it “recognizes and understands the necessity of implementing stringent quarantine measures for the interest of public health and safety,” the implications of an “enhanced” community quarantine for the entirety of Luzon — which Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo and Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año earlier described as a “total lockdown” — “should be a cause for concern in light of the government’s militarist response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The first two days of the general community quarantine in Metro Manila exposed the lapses of the government’s decision to prioritize militarist solutions over public health measures. And yet, instead of an enhanced public health response, the Duterte government is greenlighting more militarist and draconian yet vague measures in an 'enhanced' community quarantine instead of urgently addressing the socio-economic dimensions of this public health crisis. We raise alarm that such vague pronouncements are fertile incubating ground for human rights abuses and violations,” Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor said.

“We are gravely alarmed by the implications of the heightened deployment of uniformed personnel, especially after statements from top-ranking police officials and government agencies dismissing concerns over human rights violations in the implementation of draconian and unnecessary measures such as curfews and warrantless arrests of so-called violators,” Clamor continued.

The Karapatan official further asserted that “the COVID-19 pandemic is primarily a public health issue. Checkpoints should primarily be medical in nature. Why does it seem that personnel manning the checkpoints are fully armed with M-16 rifles instead of functioning thermal guns, personal protective equipment, and disinfection facilities? When you have a government that has neglected the people’s right to health in favor of neoliberal economic policies and authoritarian responses to their legitimate issues, it is certainly a situation of grave concern for the public.” 

“When we say we need medical and not military solutions, we are demanding comprehensive, people-centered and holistic solutions. We need efficient, accessible health services such as free mass public testing, quarantine and isolation facilities, mass distribution of basic medical necessities such as face masks, sanitizers, and disinfectants especially in vulnerable and marginalized communities, free treatment and hospitalization, support and hazard pay for frontline health workers and other medical professionals, coupled with economic policies such as social protection for workers and vulnerable communities and groups, price control on basic commodities and services such as water, electricity, medicine, and food,” Clamor asserted.

“Asserting people’s right to health amid this pandemic should be foremost of our concerns. Upholding the rights to life and to security should and does not compromise other basic rights and civil liberties. Karapatan urges the government that, above all, it should work to protect the most vulnerable in this pandemic: the poor, the homeless, the farmers, and the workers. The people should work together to uphold the right to health amid this public health crisis, hold accountable the government’s neglect, and resist all schemes to exploit this crisis to stage more fascist attacks on the people,” the Karapatan official ended.