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.