The Philippine National Police said Monday that quarantine violators would be arrested without warning, once the government decides to implement “a martial law-type” of lockdown.
The military on Sunday confirmed the authenticity of a leaked internal memo ordering the Air Force to prepare after President Rodrigo Duterte warned that the police and military would take a more active rule in enforcing quarantine restrictions similar to martial law.
In an interview over radio dzMM, PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said the President’s statements suggest that the police “would really make some arrests.”
So far, the police have merely issued warnings to some 96,000 out of 130,000 quarantine violators.
Arrests were avoided so as not to congest jails.
But Gamboa said he has asked Metro Manila police chief Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas to prepare facilities for quarantine violators once a “martial law-type” lockdown is imposed.
The PNP Highway Patrol Group also said Tuesday it has apprehended over 1,200 motorists who have violated ECQ guidelines since April 15. Most of them were so-called "authorized persons outside of residence" but their companions in their vehicles weren't.
Meanwhile, 40 staff at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) have tested positive for COVID-19, as director Dr. Celia Carlos said most of the infected staff were asymptomatic while under quarantine at the institute’s dormitory.
The RITM is the country's primary facility for testing samples from patients for possible COVID-19 infection. Carlos said the institute had to scale down its operations to make way for disinfection procedures.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said President Duterte is expected to announce this week whether to gradually lift, continue or extend the ECQ based on the recommendation of health and economic experts, including the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
Roque also brushed aside reports of a martial law-like ECQ extension, saying the martial law is declared during times of invasion and rebellion when the public safety requires it.
The first step should be to “locate, isolate, cure” persons suspected with COVID-19, to stop the spread of the disease, he said.
He said that under the modified ECQ, strict home quarantine and the use of pass is still a must.
“Large gatherings will still be prohibited, some establishments, schools and churches will remain closed, and border control checkpoints will be present,” Roque said during a televised press briefing.
He said people are encouraged to practice social distancing and most importantly, to stay home in order to save lives.
To date, the Philippines has 6,259 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 409 deaths and 572 recoveries.
On Thursday, Duterte threatened to order the military and police to take control of the country's capital if people do not start obeying a virus lockdown.
"The military and police will enforce social distancing at curfew… It's like martial law. You choose," he said.
Duterte's remarks came as nine inmates locked up at the Quezon City Jail in Manila–which is so overfull that prisoners have to take turns sleeping in staircases and open-air basketball courts–tested positive for the virus.
About 30 other prisoners at the facility were showing virus symptoms, sparking urgent calls from rights groups to avert "catastrophe" by easing congestion.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the source of an audio clip spreading false news that the national government would implement a total lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease.
“I will ask NBI to investigate this phone clip on social media that seeks to agitate and alarm the public with a falsehood,” Guevarra said, in a text message to reporters.
Besides the NBI, the Philippine National Police, through its Anti-Cybercrime Group, would also investigate the audio clip to determine those responsible for spreading the false news.
In the voice clip, a woman’s voice would be heard warning people about a supposed total lockdown.
Government officials, including Roque and Department of the Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, have already disowned the audio clip.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the number of new COVID-19 cases in the remaining days of April will be the final factor in determining whether the ongoing Enhanced Community Quarantine in Luzon be will extended or not.
Lorenzana said this is also the reason the government is worried over some Filipinos' continuous violation of quarantine protocols on social distancing and mass gatherings.
“These sights do not inspire confidence that we will achieve our objective by end of this month," he said.
He added that this is also why he has instructed Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff Gen. Felimon T. Santos Jr. to deploy more troops in Metro Manila and other areas with a high number of COVID-19 cases.
He added that military personnel will augment the police to strictly implement social distancing and Enhanced Community Quarantine.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said the expeditious delivery of assistance to low-income Filipino households, not martial law, will address the increasing number of violators of the Enhanced Community Quarantine.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, on the other hand, said a military role in enforcing the ECQ does not amount to martial law.
"Whatever it is, it is not martial law. It's a type of enforcement for the hard-headed ones," he said.
But Pangilinan said martial law is not the answer to the public’s hunger, delivery of the cash assistance is.
Citing Duterte’s report to Congress in relation to the government’s measures on the coronavirus pandemic, Pangilinan said that only 25 percent of 18 million beneficiaries of the social amelioration program has received the assistance.
“So you have 75 percent of your people not being able to cope with loss of jobs, who are not earning anything today, who are going hungry and they would have to go out to figure out how to address the hunger,” Pangilinan said.
“Between a martial law-type of crackdown and fast-tracking the assistance, I think the right direction is to fast-track the assistance and make sure the cash assistance and relief goods reach those in lockdown,” the senator added.
He said the national government should release the funds and necessary resources already to local government units and monitor the releases.
"I would trust the local governments. Let’s trust the local governments because they are the ones accountable to their constituents. Let us give our local governments wider support."
"If there are corruption issues, then monitor them. If there are beneficiaries who are not receiving the assistance, then report it. But the funds have to be released to them,” he added.
Under the recently passed Bayanihan law, poor households will be given P5,000 to P8,000 a month for two months during the lockdown period.
Earlier, the DILG directed barangay chairmen to make public the names of their community’s beneficiaries for the social amelioration program to promote transparency in the process of releasing funds for the needy.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, proposed a modified ECQ that is still compliant with social distancing.
He said this would balance the issue of public health and the effects on the country's economy.
Lacson called for an Economic Risk Assessment and Action Plan to look into the effects of the lockdown, particularly on small- and medium-sized businesses.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, on the other hand, said any lifting of restrictions should be done gradually to prevent any large scale outbreaks.
He said this would also allow certain more essential services and industries to operate–some public transport, some stores and smaller establishments but with strict guidelines.
"This must be done after fully preparing local governments down to the barangay level for the do’s and don’ts," he said.
Pangilinan proposed a “calibrated partial lifting” of the ECQ in Luzon.
If the quarantine will be fully lifted, he said it would only result in another wave of infections. However, a partial lifting of the quarantine especially for essential services can be in place.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the ECQ should be extended in areas where there are many infections, and a modified ECQ in areas that have fewer cases.
But he said such an arrangement can only be done after massive testing, isolation and treatment.
"Lifting the lockdown in certain areas with low or no transmission will allow people to work, earn and provide for their families. That will help in restarting our economy," he said.
Party-list lawmakers on Monday backed proposals for the government to implement a modified ECQ after April 30.
"I am for extension of the Enhanced Community Quarantine but with modifications," said Rep. Angelica Natasha Co of BHW party-list. "For example, areas with currently admitted COVID-19 positive patients and COVID-19 confirmed but under home quarantine should still be in ECQ," Co said.
But ECQ for areas with no more positives in a hospital or at home and with no new confirmed cases or COVID-19 free for two weeks may be lifted, Co said.
Deputy Speaker and 1-PACMAN party-list Rep. Michael Romero, president of the Party-list Coalition Foundation, Inc. in the House of Representatives, also said the agricultural sector or establishments primarily engaged in crop and rice production, animal production, harvesting of fish and other agricultural support activities should resume their operations after April 30. "Otherwise, our food production will have a problem in a few months’ time. Crops, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture and forestry must start by May 1, 2020 but with COVID-19 safety protocols," said Romero.
While Co and Romero supported a modified ECQ, Rep. Alfred delos Santos of Ang Probinsyano appealed to the Department of Trade and Industry to consider exempting small business owners from paying rent for the period covering the ECQ.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, for his part, pushed for another two-week extension of Luzon's Enhanced Community Quarantine, saying the reopening of the Philippines' most populous island despite the continuous spread of the coronavirus "would be willful neglect."
"Lifting the Enhanced Community Quarantine amounts to carelessly exposing the entire population to infection, no matter what residual social distancing," Salceda said in a statement.
"We’re simply not there yet no matter how much we wish this pandemic to end," said Salceda, who co-chairs the House Economic Stimulus Cluster.
"It would be almost willful neglect to say that the country can now reopen," he said. With about 130,000 COVID-19 tests expected to be conducted by April 30, the government has only tested 0.1 percent of the population.
The leftist bloc in the House of Representatives, however, denounced the alleged "martial law-type of lockdown" to be enforced by the government after April 30.
"Let's call a spade a spade. Mobilizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines to impose the lockdown is nothing else but martial law, not a type of martial law, not just like martial law, it is martial law," said Rep. Ferdinand Gaite of Bayan Muna.