GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS on Wednesday clarified the supposed plan to conduct house-to-house searches, to be led by the police, for coronavirus patients with mild or no symptoms and compel them to move to a quarantine facility.
“We don’t have a provision for house-to-house. It’s only political critics of the government again, weaponizing this very important task of tracing,” Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said in an interview with ANC on Wednesday.
Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año on Tuesday said policemen and local government personnel will conduct the search for patients who are not supposed to be quarantined at home due to lack of isolation space.
Mr. Año’s pronouncement raised concerns from various sectors who likened it to Oplan Tokhang, the administration’s flagship anti-drugs program where police officers knock on the door of suspected drug personalities and persuade them to stop their illegal activities.
The program has been linked to drug-related extra-judicial killings.
Lt. Gen. Guillermo T. Eleazar, police deputy chief for operations, explained that the house-to-house search under Oplan Kalinga will be led by local health authorities.
“It is not the policemen who will do the explaining and the police will not even the one who would knock on the doors of the houses of COVID-19 patients. Our personnel would just be on standby unless they are invited inside the house or their presence is needed inside,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Human rights group Karapatan, on the other hand, said it will just further facilitate state terror and police brutality in communities.
“These searches would only intimidate patients and their families and what are the police going to do when patients refuse to come with them, shoot them dead and peddle the ‘nanlaban’ (fought back) narrative? Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
The Department of Health (DoH) has said home quarantine for mild and asymptomatic patients is allowed if there is a bedroom and bathroom that can be used solely by the infected household member.
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra, meanwhile, said the inter-agency task force (IATF) in charge of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response has not discussed such a “house-to-house” program.
“I am not aware of any ‘house-to-house’ search for COVID-afflicted persons. We have not discussed this matter in the IATF, nor have I been consulted about it,” he told reporters via Viber.
The justice chief said should there be such an undertaking, village-level health authorities must take the lead, not police officers.
“Health workers are in a better position to determine if transfer to a government quarantine facility is appropriate,” he said.
Mr. Guevarra, however, noted there is “ample legal basis for transferring COVID-infected persons to government quarantine facilities if they are incapable of voluntarily isolating themselves.”
He said that under the law on mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases, “it is the duty of the person afflicted or his family to report or give notice of his communicable disease to prevent any contagion.”
“On the other hand, it is the duty of the government, for public health reasons, to place the afflicted person in a quarantine facility if there is no adequate isolation area in such a person’s home,” he added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, among those who raised the alarm over the interior secretary’s statement, said the coronavirus pandemic does not suspend the effectivity of the provisions under the 1987 Constitution.
“There’s no question that we need to protect the people, but we should do it with deference to the Constitution because the pandemic does not set aside constitutional restrictions and constitutional protection under the bill of rights,” Mr. Drilon said in an online briefing on Wednesday.
He said the plan to search houses for asymptomatic patients could “run afoul with our right to unreasonable search and seizures.”
Mr. Drilon said what is needed for tracing is an effective tracking system, which the government has failed to do since mid-March, when the Luzon-wide lockdown was imposed.
“The problem is, four months after, we have no effective tracking system and, therefore, we do the shotgun approach of declaring a general lockdown. To be more effective in this fight, we urge that the matter of our tracking system should be improved,” he said.
Senator Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva, in a separate briefing, said the house-to-house plan is “impractical.”
“I think this plan is impractical and again, as a lot of us would say, may run against the constitutional prohibition on warrantless searches and seizures,” he said.
Senator Ralph G. Recto, meanwhile, recommended that health-related announcements be left to medical professionals to encourage more people to comply.
“If the positivity is borne by test results, then the address and contact details of the patient are on record, which cancels the need for boots on the ground to do a house-to-house sweep,” Mr. Recto said in a statement. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Gillian M. Cortez, Charmaine A. Tadalan, and Emmanuel Tupas/PHILSTAR