8 business groups slam quarantine inequity
MANILA, Philippines — Eight business groups criticized the government for its double standard in implementing the law wherein thousands of people were arrested but public officials were left unpunished for violation of the same COVID-19 protocols.
“Many of those arrested suffered detention, costs, humiliation, and inconveniences, and some endured unwarranted jailtime when unopened courts or government offices, or even limited bank branches, could not process their bail in a timely manner,” the groups said in a joint statement on Sunday.
“We are therefore greatly disappointed — even appalled and dismayed — about news reports of public officials violating with impunity the [Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases] and [Department of Health] protocols intended to protect public health,” they added.
“The compounding economic hardships and unfamiliarity with new rules resulted in many people languishing in detention centers for many days, thus risking exposure to the virus in overcrowded facilities,” they said.
According to the latest available data of the Philippine National Police, more than 130,000 individuals have been arrested or fined for violating the quarantine law.
“Upholding the law and ensuring faith in our justice system stand as the bedrock of our democracy, and will enable the economy to survive and recover from these most trying times. The sacrifice of our people deserves nothing less,” they said.
The groups were the Management Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Institute of Solidarity in Asia, Institute of Corporate Directors, Judicial Reform Initiative, American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines.
Serve as role models
The groups said they hoped local and national officials would demonstrate the highest standards in observing and enforcing the law and serve as role models in discipline.
The statement mentioned Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas only in passing and did not mention the cases of Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who was called out by officials of the Makati Medical Center for endangering lives when he went to the hospital to accompany his pregnant wife while under quarantine.
Also left unpunished was Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Deputy Administrator Margaux “Mocha” Uson, who posted false news on social media in violation of the Bayanihan law, which penalizes quarantine violations, spreading false information, hoarding, profiteering and other manipulations of prices.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One law, or Republic Act No. 11469, was signed into law last March 25 and expires on June 24 but Senate President Tito Sotto had said the Senate would likely approve RA 11469’s extension until September.
Sotto said the three-month extension would allow President Duterte to continue realigning the budget, among other extraordinary powers, to be able to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, however, said he would seek the repeal of the penal provision in the law because it was being used by the police to arrest people without warrants and other police abuses, like the fatal shooting of mentally-ill Army veteran Winston Ragos in Quezon City on April 21.
“The Bayanihan Act is not a penal statute per se, the principal purpose of the law is to address an emergency and not punish a crime … My proposal is to delete the entire Section 6 because the acts in Section 6 are likewise punished in other laws,” Drilon said.
Among the envisioned changes in the Bayanihan is a standby allocation reaching P600 billion for emergency subsidy to workers, cash-for-work program, prevention and control of other diseases, large-scale COVID-19 testing, capital infusion to government banks, support programs for impacted sectors, support for the agricultural sector and funding for realigned programs and projects.
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