CHR reminds gov’t: Human rights not suspended in fight vs coronavirus

Jodesz Gavilan
CHR reminds gov’t: Human rights not suspended in fight vs coronavirus

(UPDATED) Human rights should be 'at the center of government efforts' against the novel coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Commission on Human Rights reminded the government that both human rights and the writ of habeaus corpus are not suspended even during the fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Tao pa rin tayo sa gitna ng anumang sakuna kung kaya ang ating mga karapatang pantao ay nananatili bagama’t limitado,” CHR said. “May obligasyon pa rin ang gobyerno na tratuhin ang kanilang mga nasasakupan ng patas, makatao, at sang-ayon sa batas.

(We are still humans in the middle of any crisis, that’s why human rights are still in place, even if limited. The government still has an obligation to treat citizens with respect to the law and their human rights.)

The commission was reacting to a statement by Department of the Interior and Local Government Undersecretary for Barangay Affairs Martin Diño made in a March 21 interview with DzBB.

Asked about possible rights abuses over arresting individuals, Diño said that human rights and the writ of habeas corpus are suspended during a national emergency.

Wala na hong karapatan… Tandaan niyo, state of emergency ngayon, ang karapatang pantao nawawala kapag state of emergency (There are no rights. Remember, it’s state of emergency now. Human rights disappear under a state of emergency),” he said.

In a statement, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said that human rights should be “at the center of government efforts” against the virus. (LOOK: Vulnerable citizens in the time of enhanced community quarantine)

“In implementing policies and actions in support of the enhanced community quarantine, government officials must always be conscious of not violating any rights,” she said. “The protection of our human rights is the very reason why we fight COVID-19.”

The commission also reminded the public to be always be on guard for human rights violations in the conduct of measures. “We then urge the public to support measures that would help us address this pandemic, but always mindful of your rights and vigilant against possible abuses,” De Guia said. 

What the DILG memo says

Diño’s statements also contradict the DILG’s own Memorandum, which lays out the guidelines of the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon. (READ: No, DILG Usec, privilege of writ of habeas corpus not suspended)

Section 5.2.10 of the DILG Memorandum Circular 2020-062 explicity states that there should be no human rights violations.

The memorandum states that “[local government units] are to ensure that no violations of human rights are committed by any border patrol staff or any employee or officer granted authority by it to perform tasks relative to the implementation and maintenance of the enhanced community quarantine.”

 EXPLICIT. The DILG memo states that there should be no human rights violations under the community quarantine in Luzon. Screenshot from DILG Memo 2020-062

Human rights under a pandemic

Despite the guidelines, there have been reports of alleged abuses across Luzon, involving citizens who were found defying restrictions, such as curfews. (READ: ’24 hour-curfews are unconstitutional and excessive’)

In Laguna, a barangay captain placed curfew violators in a small cage meant for stray dogs. He said that they cursed officials and resisted orders.

Many of alleged violators of restrictions are workers and household heads who are breadwinners of their respective families, according to news reports. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said implementing strict measures to contain the outbreak can still be done with utmost respect for human rights. The two are not mutually exclusive. 

“While the Philippines government needs to protect the health and welfare of the people, any interventions must be in line with international human rights standards, including the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of people in custody,” HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said on Thursday, March 26. 

“Any mistreatment should be immediately investigated, and the authorities responsible held accountable,” he added.

HRW in its report about human rights dimensions of COVID-19 response, reminded governments that there “sweeping and overly broad restrictions on movement and personal liberty” should be avoided.

It recommended that governments should make sure that needs are met, especially of vulnerable communities, when an area is placed under lockdown. 

“Government strategies should minimize disruption in services and develop contingent sources of comparable services,” HRW said. “Disruption of community-based services can result in the institutionalization of persons with disabilities and older people, which can lead to negative health outcomes, including death,” the human rights group added.

As of Monday, March 23, the Philippines has recorded 462 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with 18 recoveries and 33 deaths. – 

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.