By Gillian M. Cortez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters
PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Wednesday night ordered police to shoot troublemakers amid a Luzon-wide lockdown meant to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.
“My orders to the police and the military, if anyone creates trouble, and their lives are in danger: shoot them dead,” Mr. Duterte said in a late-night speech in mixed English and Filipino.
His order came just hours after residents of a slum in Quezon City protested along a highway near their shanties, complaining that they had not received food packs and cash aid from the government since the lockdown started two weeks ago.
Police broke up the protest and arrested about two dozen people after they refused to go home.
“Let this be a warning to all: Follow the government at this time because it is critical that we have order,” Mr. Duterte said in his speech.
National police chief General Archie Francisco Gamboa said they would not follow Mr. Duterte’s order.
“Of course not,” he told the ABS-CBN News Channel. “Probably the President just overemphasized on implementing the law in this time of crisis.”
“We see the strong message and I think all the Philippine National Police personnel understood it,” Mr. Gamboa said.
In his speech, Mr. Duterte warned leftist agitators not to exploit the poor by instigating them to stage riots.
“Do you understand? Dead. Instead of allowing you to sow trouble, I will just bury you dead,” Mr. Duterte said. “Don’t try the government because this government is not inutile.”
Critics condemned the arrest and urged the government to speed up the release of cash aid promised under a P200-billion program to help the poor and workers who lost their jobs.
“Using excessive force and detention will not quell the empty stomachs of Filipinos who, up to this day, remain denied of the promised P200-billion cash aid for the poor,” rights group Gabriela Women’s Party said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Mr. Duterte on March 16 ordered a lockdown of the entire Luzon island, suspending classes, work and public transportation to contain the virus that has sickened more than 2,600 and killed more than 100 people in the Philippines.
Eleven more patients died, raising the death toll to 107, while one more patient recovered, bringing the total of those who have gotten well to 51, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said at a news briefing.
The Health chief said the Lung Center of the Philippines and Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium have started admitting COVID-19 patients.
The Lung Center has 21 patients who tested positive for the virus and 29 persons under investigation, while Jose N. Rodriguez has 14 positive patients and 13 patients under investigation.
The community quarantine facility of the Quezon Institute will start admitting patients on April 6, Mr. Duque said.
Mr. Duque also said there are now two testing laboratories in the Visayas region after Western Visayas Medical Center got certified to test samples for the COVID-19 virus, along with the laboratory of Vicente Sotto Medical Center.
He also said he expects St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City and Taguig City, Victoriano Luna General Hospital, Bicol Public Health Laboratory and Armed Forces Research Institute for Medical Sciences to be certified for testing soon.
“Because of this, we can process more specimens and speed up the release of results,” he said in Filipino.
The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City can test as many as 1,000 samples daily, while subnational laboratories can test as many as 200 samples a day.
Meanwhile, the Philippines will join the drug trials of the World Health Organization to test treatments for COVID-19.
Marissa M. Alejandria of the Philippine Society for Microbiology will represent the country, while Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire will be the official liaison of the Health department during the trial.
WHO earlier said that the “solidarity trial” would compare the effectiveness of four drugs and drug combinations against the COVID-19 virus.
The organization said the trial would include participants from Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, France, Iran, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and Taiwan. The first patients in the drug trial have been enrolled in Norway and Spain, WHO officials said last week.