Meanwhile, NUPL laments why it took DOJ a yearlong season of arrests to reconsider placing harsher penalties.
Last April 3 saw the death of 28-year-old civilian Darren Manaog Peñaredondo after the Philippine National Police (PNP) forced him to do about 300 rounds of pulling exercises two days prior. His official cause of death was ruled as a stroke.
Peñaredondo was caught by police outside his residence on the night of April 1, during the imposed 6 PM to 5 AM curfew in light of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in NCR-plus, which covered Cavite among other areas.
He was only buying bottled water at that time. However, his return home turned out to be more a disaster than a relief for his family.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), through Atty. Jacqueline de Guia, slammed Peñaredondo’s death, calling out the national government for imposing such measures to serve as “punishment.”
“Excessive punishments and fines which are punitive in nature and disproportionate with the violation represent an overreach of the enforcement of quarantine rules and regulations,” Atty. de Guia said.
Not long after, in a major policy shift, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra recognized last April 5 that local ordinances – not national laws – should be the better legal bases. This was after he defended that the “gravity of the situation” allowed law enforcers to “effect arrests” on violators last March 2020. Back then, he cited Republic Act (RA) 11332 (Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act) among other laws as legal bases.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) acknowledged that the decision to move away from RA 1132, which penalizes uncooperative people suspected with COVID-19 with six months in prison and a P50,000 fine among other laws, as a “positive idea” – a point that they said to have been raised as early as March 2020 as well, but was met with multiple dismissals from judges.
Further in their statement, NUPL condemned the unjust and inhumane penalties given by authorities, and the imbalance of such punishments between the marginalized and the powerful.
“It is not only enraging but tragic that hundreds of our citizens who do not have the same entitlements as those in or close to the corridors of power had to endure this manifest injustice through a patently erroneous reading and misapplication of a vague law to justify harsh implementation of quarantine protocols at best and cover up repressive measures at worst,” NUPL said.
CHR added that they support Guevarra’s suggestions to replace such ‘punishments’ with community service, with which the commission said “only add hardships already being felt by members of the poor and vulnerable sectors”.
Loved ones demand justice
Peñaredondo’s live-in partner, Reichelyn Balce, recalled what happened in an interview with Rappler.
“Ang kwento niya [Peñaredondo] po sa akin, dinala sila [curfew violators] sa Plaza ng Malabon, sa tapat po ‘yun ng munisipyo [ng General Trias]. Tapos po, pinag-pumping daw sila ng mga pulis nang 100 times. Sabi pa po sa kanila [ng mga pulis], ‘pag ‘di sila sabay-sabay [sa pumping], pauulitin daw sila [mula sa simula],” Balce said, detailing that the exercise reached 300 repetitions because the violators failed to do pumpings synchronously.
In a Facebook post that was later taken down, Adrian Luceña, the victim’s cousin, shared that Peñaredondo arrived early in the morning the day after the punishment, already struggling to even make the slightest of footsteps. He then convulsed on the morning of April 3, until finally dying on that very night.
“Hindi kami papayag na hindi mabigyan ng hustisya ang pagkawala mo,” Luceña swore at the end of his removed Facebook post.
Rappler then confirmed on April 6 that Peñaredondo died of a stroke, based on his autopsy. It was also reported that he already suffered a heart disease prior to the incident, but the authorities were said to be unaware of his condition.
Despite these testimonies, General Trias Chief Police Lieutenant Colonel Marlo Nillo Solero denied imposing such punishments. Instead, Solero said that they were “conducting lectures”. On April 7, however, Solero was kicked from office because of affidavits from the other curfew violators that confirm that the police did implement such physical exercises as “punishments”.
Peñaredondo’s case was far from being the only time when authorities made use of extreme measures to penalize quarantine violators.
Anakbayan Laguna reported last Good Friday that a volunteer of security group Bantay Bayan Foundation Inc. opened fire on two residents from Dasmariñas City, Cavite after they were caught not wearing face masks, when they were just outside their residence. The two residents were appealing to the volunteer to let their neighbor go home. Their neighbor, however, was said to have been caught without a face mask. It was during this exchange when the volunteer opened fire on the two, with their current conditions unknown.
In March 2020, Eric Ambrocio, barangay captain in Santa Cruz, Laguna, posted photos on Facebook showing five violators, all minors, in a dog cage for going against the imposed curfew. Ambrocio sought to justify the said act by saying that the teenagers were “verbally-abusive” to authorities. At that time, they had also been rounding up stray dogs so they thought they might as well put the minors in the cage (READ: Barangay captain cages curfew violators in Laguna).
It was also reported in April last year that quarantine protocol authorities from Biñan City, Laguna implemented extreme measures against so-called violators. Biñan’s Public Order and Safety Office (POSO) sanctioned such people by forcing them to march at most nine kilometers with straw tapes tied to their waists. The city’s POSO Chief Rommel Mitra Lim defended such policies being imposed, saying that they just implement the Executive Order No. 17 s. 2020 of Biñan (READ: Biñan takes extreme measures to punish lockdown violators).
“[Ayon] sa aming pag-aaral, marami pa rin ang mga bumabalewala sa ipinatutupad na ECQ,” Lim said in an interview with Perspective last year.
Not long after that, in Parañaque City, Brgy. San Isidro Chairman Noel Japlos drew flak in social media after quarantine violators in his barangay were put under direct sunlight at noontime. Japlos denied that it is a form of punishment for violating quarantine protocols, saying instead that it was to place the people in an “open area for social distancing”.
A more fatal example would be with the case of retired Corporal Winston Ragos. He was shot dead by Police Master Sergeant Daniel Florendo Jr. of Quezon City Police District (QCPD) under the grounds of not staying at home during the imposed ECQ in Luzon last year. Ragos resigned from being a soldier after suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his service days.
While such policies are implemented to common Filipinos, some ‘very important persons’ were treated lightly when they reportedly violated the minimum public health safety protocols and quarantine guidelines.
Notable examples of ‘double standards’ at play included Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who was acquitted by DOJ despite violating his 14-day quarantine protocol. Another was TV host Tim Yap who was only asked to impose a fine of P1,500, despite hosting a grand birthday celebration where the attendees were seen not wearing face masks while also not observing proper physical distancing.
These double standards of quarantine guidelines implementation that draw a clear line between the marginalized and the rich drew flak from many Filipinos. Dr. Leonard Javier, a health advocate and medical frontliner himself, expressed his dismay with this unfair and unjust treatment to quarantine violators.
“We’re still dealing with VIP treatments [even up to this day], na ‘yung mayaman, madaling makapag-party, ‘yung mahirap, [kapag lumabag, kadalasang nauuwi sa] kulong,” Dr. Javier said in an interview with Perspective.
United Nations Human Rights Office (UN HRO) Director of Field Operations Georgette Gagnon criticized the government’s “highly-militarized” approach on quarantine violators, considering the arrest of some 120,000 Filipinos for violating community quarantine guidelines.
“We’ve also observed unreasonable or arbitrary detention for curfew violations [around the world] where thousands of people have been arrested or detained for curfew violations, which is an unnecessary and unsafe practice,” Gagnon told reporters. [P]
Photo by Isabel Pangilinan