Looking at the inconsistencies of Palace, gov’t agencies’ statements on house-to-house search order

July 15, 2020 - 2:38 PM
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A police from the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) (PNA photo by Joey O. Razon)

A day after the Department of Interior and Local Government announced the house-to-house search scheme to trace COVID-19 cases, Palace denied that police will conduct such operations amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The national government earlier announced that police will conduct house-to-house operations called Oplan Kalinga to find individuals infected with COVID-19 and transfer them to the government’s isolation facilities.

Interior and Local Government Eduardo Año, also the vice-chair of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, even appealed to the public to help report to law enforcement any COVID-19 positive individuals who are undergoing home quarantine, whom he described as “hiding.”

He cited that this is in compliance with the Republic Act 11332 or the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act”.

COVID-19 response Deputy Chief Implementer Vince Dizon, also the testing czar, likewise added that the Oplan Kalinga program already started inthe cities of Navotas and Malabon.

What Palace and the Department of Justice said

In an interview with ANC on Wednesday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque clarified that there will be no “house-to-house” search contrary to Año’s order.

Instead of being searched, Roque said that COVID-19 patients, who were reported by their family members or neighbors, will be fetched from their houses and transferred to state-run quarantine facilities.

“We don’t have a provision for house-to-house. Only the political critics of the government, again, weaponizing this very important task of tracing. They will not go house-to-house,” Roque said.

“They will have to be reported. They will have to be reported by the persons themselves, their family or the barangay,” he added.

Roque encouraged asymptomatic and mild cases to voluntarily “surrender” and isolate themselves in designated isolation venues.

When asked what would happen to those who refuse to come, Roque said that the state “can isolate them.”

“Sentido common. It’s a very communicable disease. And if they refuse to be isolated, the state, of course, can isolate them,” he said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said that he is not aware of the new directive and argued that this was discussed with the IATF.

“I am not aware of any ‘house-to-house’ search for COVID-afflicted persons. we have not discussed this matter in the IATF, nor have I been consulted about it, but there is ample legal basis for transferring COVID-infected persons to government quarantine facilities if they are incapable of voluntarily isolating themselves,” Guevarra said.

He also said that health workers should be the ones to transfer afflicted persons, not police officers.

“If I may add, should the IATF agree there is a need for a house-to-house search of COVID-infected persons, it should be the barangay health workers, and not police officers, who should do that. health workers are in a better position to determine if transfer to a government quarantine facility is appropriate,” Guevarra said.

Different views on home quarantine

Last Monday, the Department of Health said individuals with COVID-19 symptoms are allowed to undergo home quarantine for the mandated 14 days provided that they are closely and regularly monitored.

“We are not discouraging home quarantine. There is even a joint administrative order allowing it but with conditions. If it could not be followed, home quarantine should not be the option, the patient should be taken to temporary treatment and monitoring facility,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire was quoted by reports as saying.

However, if the patients do not have enough spaces at home, they are advised to go to quarantine treatment centers to prevent transmissions.

These statements differed from the remark of Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles who discouraged home quarantine altogether during a radio interview.

“Ang dangerous kasi sa home quarantine, magkakahawaan. Mas malaking chances na magkahawaan dun sa kanyang pamilya o kung saan siya nakatira,” Nograles said in a radio interview on Sunday.

Medical solutions first

Rep. Sarah Elago (Kabataan Party-list) stressed on Twitter that helping the health sector and the local government units in their response efforts to COVID-19 should be prioritized instead.

“What we need now is to step up efforts to support the local officials and barangay health workers in empowering the people with education and information about community-based management of COVID-19,” Elago said.

“What we need now is mass hiring and mobilization of the health workforce with the government’s full support and commitment to properly compensate and protect them in the conduct of their duty,” she added.

Chel Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group, also noted that infected people are medical patients, not criminals.

“Dapat sugpuin ang COVID, pero baka magkalat lang sila ng takot, at baka pati COVID e mag house-to-house rin. Those with COVID are not police targets, they are medical patients. Dapat silang tratuhin na may dignidad at pagkalinga,” Diokno said.

Human rights advocate Sen. Risa Hontiveros likened this planned house-to house search to the bloody drug war or the “Oplan Tokhang,” which killed thousands of Filipinos and might even discourage the public from reporting cases.

Various civic organizations such as the National Union of People’s Lawyers, the Philippine Medical Students’ Association and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines also expressed opposition against the PNP’s new scheme, citing fears of human rights violations.

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