Court clears activists in quarantine case, use of ‘broad’ law improper

Lian Buan

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Court clears activists in quarantine case, use of ‘broad’ law improper
(UPDATED) This is the first known case where the justice department's interpretation of the public health law is thrown out by a court

MANILA, Philippine (UPDATED) – A Bulacan court has cleared activists, including former Anakpawis representative Ariel Casilao, of charges relating to violation of lockdown rules, and for the first time this quarantine, offered an interpretation of the broad public health law – Republic Act 11332.

“The Court finds that RA 11332 is not the law violated in this point…The Court is constrained to dismiss the case,” said Norzagaray Municipal Trial Court Judge Julie Rita Suarez-Badillo in a decision dated May 13 but which was released to media on Wednesday, June 10.

Republic Act 11332, or the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act,” authorizes the Secretary of Health or the President to declare a state of public health emergency.

Under Section 9 of the law, “non-cooperation” in a health crisis is punished. This was used by the Department of Justice (DOJ) at the start of lockdown as the legal basis to charge, and even arrest without warrant, those who violate lockdown rules.

Casilao and 6 others were arrested on April 19 when they were distributing relief packs in Norzagaray. Activists claimed they had proper passes and observed physical distancing as well as wore face masks, but police said they had no government permits to go outside of their homes. (READ: In PH pandemic: Due process for allies, warrantless arrests for the rest)

Provisions of the law 

Prosecutors charged Casilao and company under Section 9(d) of the law which punishes “non-cooperation of persons and entities that should report and/or respond to notifiable diseases or health events of public concern.” (READ: In Duterte’s Philippines, lawyers are pandemic frontliners too)

Human rights lawyers raised alarm over such a broad law to arrest and charge people who violate quarantine rules. 

Judge Badillo said that Section 9(d) only punishes the non-cooperation of people who should report or respond to the health crisis – and these do not include the activists who were distributing relief packs.

“RA 11332 therefore makes obligatory the reporting of a condition to the implementing agency….RA 11332 refers to the mandatory reporting of health information about the notifiable diseases as well as cooperation to the response systems to health related events,” the court said. (READ: DOJ sticks to arrest policy, but rolls out electronic inquest)

The court added: “It is therefore the findings of this Court that the facts charged in the information do not constitute an offense under Section 9(d) of RA 11332.”

However, there is another section also cited by the DOJ – Section 9(e), which covers people that are “affected” by the health crisis. 

Section 9(e) punishes the “non-cooperation of the person or entities identified as having the notifiable disease, or affected by the health event of public concern.”

Other charges

The DOJ will pursue other charges of inciting to sedition and usurpation of authority against the activists.

Usurpation of authority is usually filed against public officials, but police accused Casilao of misrepresenting as an incumbent congressman.

Police said the group was found with anti-government fliers, the basis of an inciting to sedition indictment.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the activists will be arraigned for inciting to sedition and usurpation of authority on June 24.

As of June 8, the police have arrested a total of 193,779 people for quarantine violations since March 17. Of this number, it had charged 58,848 and detained 15, 307. As of writing, 2,637 remain in congested 

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.