MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the mandatory arrest of all those who violate coronavirus disease (COVID-19) health rules, saying it was “criminal” to risk spreading the virus to other people.
In a speech broadcast on Wednesday night, Duterte said he was fed up of reports of gatherings taking place despite the pandemic, and permitted police to use “reasonable force” to arrest individuals who defy health protocols.
The announcement followed a series of mass events in the capital region, Metro Manila, and nearby provinces, that resulted in dozens of attendees contracting COVID-19 earlier this month.
The first incident was reported at the Ciudad sa Gubat resort in Caloocan City, where, after a party for some 500 guests, at least 20 tested positive for the virus.
The second incident was a three-day community pool party in Barangay Nagkaisang Nayon, where 54 participants were infected. Another event took place last week with over 2,000 people swarming the Bakas River in Barangay Matictic, Norzagaray, for a picnic.
On Wednesday, 6,000 people showed up to receive food assistance from the office of one Quezon City councilor, observing no social distancing.
“Most of you are committing a crime because you know that after a gathering, after swimming together, a lot of you will (test) positive for COVID-19. You are ignoring appeals from the government and it’s criminal for you to get coronavirus and pass it on to another innocent person. It is really a crime,” Duterte said.
“Much as we would like to reduce the COVID-19 cases, if that’s what you are doing, there will never be an end to this,” he added.
“Beginning tonight, if there’s one more (incident), the barangay captain (village chief) will be the first one to be arrested.”
Duterte said failure by local authorities to enforce restrictions was a dereliction of duty punishable under the Revised Penal Code.
“Arrest them all; have them investigated and detain them,” he said, as he ordered the Department of the Interior and Local Government to enforce pandemic safety rules through arrests and encouraged the use of force.
“Do not be afraid to use force. You can use force, reasonable force,” he added. “If there is resistance, you can hit hands or feet, but not the head. You can do that because you have to put them under your authority.”
On Thursday, the Philippines reported nearly 6,500 new COVID-19 cases, making its total tally cross the 1.2 million mark.
About 20,400 Filipinos have died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.