MANILA, Philippines – Human rights groups on Thursday, April 2, condemned President Rodrigo Duterte’s “dangerous” shoot-to-kill order against quarantine violators amid the novel coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Duterte's new threats should not be viewed as empty, considering the thousands killed under his anti-illegal drugs campaign.
"At the very least, Duterte gives the police all the justification they need to commit human rights abuses against people who may be violating these COVID19 regulations because they needed to find work or food," Carlos Conde of HRW said in a statement.
Instead of threatening the poor, Conde said the government should instead give them the necessary assistance in the face of the outbreak.
"Duterte may feel exasperated by the incidents of people breaking curfew regulations but he has to understand that, for the poor affected by this crisis, it is a matter of survival," he said.
Karapatan also believes that Duterte’s order may lead to more violations, like what happened under his deadly anti-illegal drugs campaign.
“We are seriously alarmed that the President’s words will translate to worse and more brutal forms of human rights violations, repression, and state violence in the days to come,” the group said.
“Indeed, there is a much deadlier virus than COVID-19. It is being wielded by no less than the President, who is responsible for the thousands of lives lost borne out of his murderous, brazen and anti-poor policies,” Karapatan added.
Duterte on Wednesday night, April 1, ordered police and soldiers to "shoot" people causing "trouble" during the government's lockdown. (READ: 'Shoot them dead': Duterte orders troops to kill quarantine violators)
This comes after urban poor residents from Sitio San Roque held a protest, calling for government aid to fill in the gap left by weeks of no work and pay. The Quezon City Police District arrested at least 21 people for protesting without a permit.
Prioritize the hungry
Amnesty International (AI) said that Duterte’s rhetoric further shows the “oppressive approach” of the government on those struggling with basic needs.
“Deadly, unchecked force should never be referred to as a method to respond to an emergency such as the COVID 19 pandemic,” AI’s Philippine section director Butch Olano said.
AI called on Duterte to immediately cease the “dangerous incitement to violence” and instead initiate a dialogue with communities over the issues of much-needed relief in the face of the Luzon-wide lockdown.
“The lives of those most at risk must be considered a priority, in the effort to minimize the threat of the virus,” Olano said.
Confederation for Unity, Recognition, and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), meanwhile, urged the President to focus on enhancing efforts for the poor and hungry in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Kung ano-anong sinasabi ng Pangulong Duterte, lalong gumugulo ang magulo nang sitwasyon,” Manuel Baclagon, COURAGE secretary-general, said. “Sana unahin niya na lang munang asikasuhin kung paano ba masisigurong darating ang ayuda sa mga nagugutom na mamamayan.”
(President Duterte’s statements make things worse than how it already is. He should focus on finding a way to make sure relief will be given to hungry citizens.)
The group warned that protests will continue and rise in numbers until needs are met.
“Dumudunog kami para sa agarang aksyon ng kinauukulan, hindi marahas na dispersal kundi matinong tulong pagkain at pinansyal para sa mga maralita,” he said.
(We’re calling on the government that violence is not the answer, but food and financial assistance.)
Luzon is nearing its 3rd week under the enhanced community quarantine or lockdown, a bid to contain the spread of the virus in the Philippines. But the government is still struggling with its guidelines, particularly in the absence of a clear-cut approach for the massive income loss of many daily-wage earners.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on the coronavirus ordered its technical working group to finalize guidelines on the extension, expansion, modification, or lifting of the Luzon lockdown.
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.