Manila calms fears over police ‘house-to-house’ searches for COVID-19 patients

Healthcare workers take blood samples from a bike rider at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) drive-thru testing center in Manila, Philippines, July 15, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 July 2020

Manila calms fears over police ‘house-to-house’ searches for COVID-19 patients

  • Patients moved to isolation centers should treat quarantine stay as ‘paid vacation’: Government official

MANILA: Filipinos with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) forced to quarantine in government centers have been urged to treat their isolation stays as being “like a paid vacation.”

Government officials on Wednesday dismissed fears among sections of the population that police would be conducting house-to-house searches to root out COVID-19 patients.

Following an announcement on isolation measures by the country’s Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Malacanang issued reassurances that strong-armed tactics would not be used against infected individuals.

However, President Rodrigo Duterte’s office pointed out that the state had inherent powers to move individuals – especially those who had contracted highly communicable diseases such as COVID-19 – to an isolation center to limit the spread of the virus.

Presidential spokesman, Harry Roque, said: “Let me make it clear: There will be no house-to-house searches for COVID-19-positive patients. They (patients) will have to be reported by the persons themselves, other members of the household, or their barangay (village) officials.”

He added that if patients were unable to self-quarantine, they would “be fetched” from their homes and “transferred to a government facility.” Local health workers would lead the initiative and the police presence would merely be “to provide support or assistance in the transport of patients and the implementation of lockdown in the affected area.”

In a television interview, the official urged patients who were asymptomatic or had only mild symptoms to “voluntarily surrender and confine themselves in isolation centers,” adding that they had nothing to worry about as it would be “like a paid vacation.”

Roque said: “We are enticing them with the fact that these are air-conditioned centers, free lodging, free meals three times a day and with free Wi-Fi, and with a graduation ceremony to prove, after the 14-day quarantine period.”

However, he noted that if a patient refused to be moved to a quarantine center, the state had the authority to isolate them.

“There’s inherent police power that is essential to the establishment of the state. It is to protect public health and I think isolation can be justified. But I don’t think it will go to that extent.”

On Tuesday Filipino Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said police would conduct house-to-house searches for COVID-19 patients to prevent the spread of the virus in a country that has so far reported 58,850 COVID-19 cases and 1,614 deaths.

But the following day, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he was “not aware” of the move. “We have not discussed this matter in the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases), nor have I been consulted about it.

“Still, there is ample legal basis for transferring COVID-19-infected persons to government quarantine facilities if they are incapable of voluntarily isolating themselves,” he told reporters.

“Should the IATF agree there is a need for a house-to-house search for COVID-19-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 added.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), however, cautioned the government against assigning state security forces to do house-to-house searches to look for and transfer COVID-19 patients under home quarantine to isolation facilities managed by the government.

The CHR said such a move would be “susceptible to overreach in terms of guaranteeing the right to privacy and right of individuals to be secure in their abode.”

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said: “We have reached a crossroads in our fight against the (COVID-19) pandemic that our very government is set to flagrantly violate the very rights that we, the people, have always held to be sacred.”

Senator Risa Hontiveros said any such actions would discourage people from reporting their status. “We need to improve home and community-based healthcare,” she added.

Lockerbie bomber appeal starts in Scotland

A total of 270 people from 21 countries were killed — 243 passengers, 16 crew, and 11 people on the ground — in what remains Britain's deadliest terrorist attack. (File/AFP)
Updated 7 min 57 sec ago

Lockerbie bomber appeal starts in Scotland

  • Convicted bomber Al-Megrahi's family claim the US and UK governments have “lived a monumental lie for 31 years.”
  • It has been widely claimed that the bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by a Syrian-based Palestinian group

GLASGOW: The family of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmet Al-Megrahi on Tuesday began a posthumous appeal in Scotland hoping to overturn the former Libyan intelligence officer’s conviction for downing a Pan Am flight in 1988, killing 270 people.
Lawyer Claire Mitchell told five judges in Edinburgh that “no reasonable jury, properly directed, could have returned the verdict that it did.”
The case was referred to Scotland’s highest criminal court by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) in March on grounds a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
The SCCRC said there were grounds an “unreasonable verdict” was returned in that it could not be proved Megrahi bought the suitcase containing the bomb that was loaded onto the flight.
It also highlighted “non-disclosure” of evidence to Megrahi’s defense team.
Megrahi is the only person convicted of bombing Pan Flight 103, which was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie as it flew from London to New York on December 21, 1988.
Three Scottish judges sitting at a special court in the Netherlands jailed him for life in 2001, recommending he serve at least 27 years.
He was released from a Scottish prison on health grounds in 2009 and returned to Libya, where he maintained his innocence until his death in 2012.
A total of 270 people from 21 countries were killed, including 11 people on the ground, in what remains Britain’s worst terrorist attack.
But Megrahi’s family maintain there are widespread doubts about his conviction.
A successful appeal would vindicate their belief the US and UK governments had “lived a monumental lie for 31 years” by imprisoning an innocent man and punishing Libya’s people, they said.
Lawyer Aamer Anwar said before the appeal began that he had spoken to Megrahi’s son, Ali, who was eight years old when his father stood trial.
“The Megrahis regard their father as the 271st victim of Lockerbie,” he said.
“Finally there is hope that we are coming to the end of a very long journey in nearly 32 years of their struggle for truth and justice.”
Megrahi’s first appeal was dismissed in 2002 and a second abandoned after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Five judges including Scotland’s most senior jurist, Lord Justice General Colin Sutherland, are hearing the case, which is due to last until Friday with a ruling at a later date.
The family’s legal team are taking part remotely from Glasgow.

It has been widely claimed that the bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by a Syrian-based Palestinian group in retaliation for a US Navy strike on an Iranian Airbus six months earlier in which 290 people died.
Late last Friday, the High Court upheld a secrecy order signed in August by UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab to withhold intelligence documents related to the case on grounds of national security.
The documents are thought to allege a Jordanian intelligence agent within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) built the bomb.
The PFLP-GC has been designated a terrorist group by several countries, including Britain and the United States.
Lawyers acting for the Megrahi family believe the documents are central to their appeal, which is backed by some of the victims’ families.
They also said they would disclose “significant material about the role of individuals, nations and their politicians” at the end of the appeal.
“There can never be a time limit on justice or the truth emerging,” said Anwar.
In 2008, then-foreign secretary David Miliband also refused to release the papers before Megrahi’s second appeal.