House bill seeks jail time for harassers of frontliners, coronavirus cases

The House Defeat COVID-19 committee passed a bill that would penalize with jail time of up to 10 years those who will assault frontliners, coronavirus cases, and other individuals affected by the pandemic.

On Tuesday, May 26, the panel approved the still-unnumbered substitute measure prohibiting the discrimination of the following individuals:

  • Confirmed, suspect, and probable cases of COVID-19
  • Recovered coronavirus patients 
  • Frontliners, including healthcare and essential service workers, responders, and recognized volunteers
  • Stranded individuals traveling from one local government unit to another
  • Repatriated overseas Filipino workers
  • Families and household members of the individuals mentioned above

The bill would impose certain punishments for discriminatory practices against them, including failure to give assistance, harassment or assault, stigmatization, and unlawful refusal to honor valid and existing contracts.

The initial proposal was that violators would be imprisoned for 6 months up to 5 years or would be fined between P50,000 and P500,000.

But during the hearing, Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez proposed to impose stiffer punishment on people found guilty of harassment or assault. He proposed to raise the period of imprisonment between a year and 10 years and to increase the fine from P200,000 up to P1 million.

No other lawmaker opposed Rodriguez's proposed amendment, so the panel adopted the stricter penalties.

The measure is expected to be sponsored during the House plenary session on Tuesday afternoon for its 2nd reading approval. It will have to go through 3rd and final reading before hurdling the lower chamber.

The bill will then need to go through 3 more readings in the Senate before President Rodrigo Duterte may sign it into law.

The anti-discrimination House bill is co-authored by the following:

  • Jose Christopher Belmonte, Quezon City 6th District
  • Raul Tupas, Iloilo 5th District
  • Narciso Bravo Jr, Masbate 1st District
  • Ferdinand Hernandez, South Cotabato 2nd Distric
  • Aurelio Gonzales Jr, Pampanga 3rd District
  • Frederick Siao, Iligan City
  • Robert Ace Barbers, Surigao del Norte 2nd District
  • Lucy Torres Gomez, Leyte 4th District
  • Strike Revilla, Cavite 2nd District
  • Bong Suntay, Quezon City 4th District
  • Vicente Veloso III, Leyte 3rd District
  • Faustino "Inno" Dy V, Isabela 6th District
  • Khalid Dimaporo, Lanao del Norte 1st District
  • Joseph Lara, Cagayan 3rd District
  • France Castro, ACT Teachers
  • Eufemia Cullamat, Bayan Muna
  • Stephen Paduano, Abang Lingkod
  • Manuel Sagarbarria, Negros Oriental 2nd District
  • Edgar Chatto, Bohol 1st District
  • Leonardo Babasa Jr, Zamboanga del Sur 2nd District
  • Kristine Tutor, Bohol 3rd District
  • Rosanna Vergara, Nueva Ecija 3rd District
  • Teodorico Haresco Jr, Aklan 2nd District
  • Xavier Jesus Romualdo, Camiguin

Several frontliners and COVID-19 cases have been experiencing discrimination in their communities in the past weeks. A health safety officer from the Philippine General Hospital and his sons were recently forced by their neighbors to leave their Quezon City home.

The Duterte government threatened to take legal action against those who will be discriminating against frontliners fighting COVID-19, which has infected over 14,000 people in the country as of Monday, May 25.  

On Tuesday, the House Defeat COVID-19 panel also approved a P1.3-trillion stimulus package and a bill providing aid to banks to help cushion the effects of the health crisis on the economy. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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