Special Action Force commandos will be deployed in 10 areas in Metro Manila, where violations of home quarantine and physical distancing are rampant, a top police official said Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, commander of the Joint Task Force Corona Virus Shield said the deployment of police commandos has been approved by Philippine National Police chief Gen. Archie Gamboa, whose instruction is to ensure that the guidelines of the Enhanced Community Quarantine to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus are strictly enforced “anytime, anywhere.”
Eleazar said a total of 116 SAF commandos have been deployed in various areas in Metro Manila on board six medium troop carriers and six multi-purpose armored vehicles.
“They will assist the local police in enforcing the ECQ. We believe that the presence of our SAF commandos will further compel hardheaded people to behave and follow the ECQ because our SAF are tough and strict when it comes to discipline,” he said in a press statement.
He added that there will be no double standard in the implementation of the ECQ.
“Regardless of your social status, you will be arrested if you violate the home quarantine,” Eleazar added.
The military for its part has deployed 800 reservists in different areas in Metro Manila to fortify the enforcement of ECQ, particularly in populated places to include public markets, supermarkets and informal communities.
Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP’s spokesperson said 300 of the reservists will be posted in Pasay City, Paranaque City, Taguig City and Pateros while 500 of the personnel will be mobilized in various parts in Quezon City and City of Manila.
Earlier, local government officials requested the AFP to provide soldiers in their respective localities to assist in the enforcement of ECQ.
This included Cavite, where Gov. Jonvic Remulla said he sought the military’s help because about 10 percent of the province’s residents “disobey it and could spread the respiratory disease.”
“It’s infuriating! If the guidelines and requests are not enough, I will try to tighten the implementation,” Remulla said on Facebook.
It was a similar scene in Pasay City, as local officials placed Barangay 178 Maricaban under a total lockdown after residents defied stay-at-home orders amid the ECQ.
The barangay had only three coronavirus disease cases, but officials said the lockdown would be “indefinite.”
Manila City Mayor Francisco “Isko” Domagoso, meanwhile, has ordered a 48-hour “hard lockdown” of the entire Sampaloc district for disease surveillance, rapid risk assessment and testing.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Manila Public Information Office said Domagoso signed an executive order on Tuesday, April 21, to shut down the Sampaloc district from 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 23 until 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 25.
As of 5 p.m. on Monday, April 20, about 99 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 159 suspected persons were recorded by the Manila Health Department in the Sampaloc area.
The mayor said health authorities will be conducting disease surveillance, testing and rapid risk assessment. During the shutdown, Domagoso said all residents of the Sampaloc district shall be strictly confined to their residences and are prohibited from going out of their homes.
Eleazar said the SAF commandos were divided into 12 teams, with each team composed of eight members.
He said the initial deployment will be in areas where violations of home quarantine and physical distancing are unrestrained based on intelligence reports and monitored social media posts.
These include Blumentritt in Sta. Cruz, Manila; Libertad in Pasay City; Pasig Palengke; Napindan public market in Taguig; public market in Lower Bicutan, also in Taguig; Las Piñas City public market; North Caloocan; Alabang public market; Bagong Parañaque public market and Marikina public market.
“Initially, these areas are where they would be assigned to enforce the ECQ. But they can transfer to other locations depending on our monitoring of areas where home quarantine and physical distancing are violated,” Eleazar said.
He said they could also increase the number of SAF commandos.
“We are assessing the situation on the ground on a daily basis. With the approval of our Chief PNP, we could increase the number of our SAF personnel in the coming days depending on the situation on the ground,” Eleazar added.
Meanwhile, SAF director Maj. Gen. Amando Clifton Empiso said they have enough standby forces to augment local police forces in enforcing the ECQ guidelines not only in Metro Manila but also in the provinces.
“Your SAF has always been in the frontline in any kind of battle, we are willing to do our share to win this fight against COVID-19, this time, in helping in the enforcement of the necessary measures to ensure that the virus is contained,” he said.
Eleazar also disclosed that they have stepped up the intelligence operations in Metro Manila to identify other areas where ECQ guideline violations are prevalent.
Monitoring of social media posts relating to ECQ violations has also been intensified.
“We are also encouraging the public… to report to us any violation of the home quarantine and social distancing. We assure you that we will immediately act on your complaint or report. Whether violators are on streets or common areas of gated subdivisions or condominiums, we will act on them quickly,” he said.
In a media advisory, the National Capital Region Police Office said condominiums and private gated villages in Metro Manila are now under the strict monitoring to ensure that no one will go outside their residences during the ECQ.
In a memorandum order, NCRPO director Debold Sinas tapped all police district commanders in Metro Manila to ensure compliance of ECQ protocols, especially inside exclusive communities in close coordination with their respective local government units.
This developed as the Bonifacio Global City-Police Community Precinct 7 said it was considering filing charges against the management of a condominium in BGC for allowing residents to go outside their homes and disregard the ECQ protocols.
The management of Pacific Plaza Towers Condominium Corp., meanwhile, said it is also planning to take legal action against “uniformed, armed, and apparently agitated policemen” who entered the property and “accosted and shouted” at residents.
It said four police officers led by precinct commander Maj. Joseph Austria entered the compound on Sunday afternoon “without some form or warrant or authorization, which would be trespassing.”
Before the incident, the NCRPO said, Austria’s office received a phone call from the office of Taguig City Mayor Lino Edgardo Cayetano regarding a complaint about a quarantine violation inside Avida Towers, Serendra and Pacific Plaza.
“This prompted elements of the BGC Taguig PCP to conduct validation. They requested for incident reports from the management of the establishments and the two establishments complied except for Pacific Plaza,” the NCRPO stated.
Austria’s team went to the area where they saw a number of persons hanging around the swimming pool of Pacific Plaza. The team also noticed that some residents were not wearing masks and were not observing social distancing.
Sinas defended Austria’s team, saying his men are merely acting on the complaint from the City Hall and that “violators are not excused nor exempted from the national directive to use face masks, observe social distancing and the like.”
Earlier, Mayor Lino Cayetano warned that they will not hesitate to arrest people who violate quarantine.
“We will strictly enforce the ECQ for the protection of all. We will not tolerate any abuse from law enforcement personnel implementing the ECQ,” he said.
Cayetano said the city government implements the same rules in Bonifacio Global City and in any subdivision, and residential area in Taguig. “Our rules do not distinguish social economic class or race,” he said.
This was the second time Taguig City officials warned BGC residents about violating quarantine protocols. The local government received copies of video footage, photos and reports showing individuals jogging and doing leisure activities outside their homes in BGC.
Members of the Taguig City Police Station already arrested and charged more than 15 individuals, including foreigners, for violating ECQ guidelines in BGC.
Throughout the city, the authorities have apprehended more than 1,000 violators.
As of April 20, there were 194 individuals tested positive for COVID-19 in Taguig City and the area of Fort Bonifacio had the highest number with 42 cases.
Stressing that they respect human rights, Eleazar said their main concern is to uphold the people’s right to life and safety from COVID-19 in this “extraordinary time” the country is facing.
Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for Filipinos to strictly abide the policies set by his administration to cease from wandering outside of their homes and observe proper social distancing, the numbers of quarantine violators continue to rise.
The PNP reported that for the past 35 days of the ECQ, violators totaled to 136,517—with 31,363 arrested, 6,168, fined and 98,986 warned. Some 24,248 cases have been filed in court.
“We should learn from the experience of other countries that prematurely relaxed the enforcement of their lockdown which caused a resurgence of infection, so please let us not be complacent and let us do this together correctly the first time and not regret having the surge of cases and deaths like what happened in countries severely hit by COVID-19,” PNP chief Francisco Gamboa said.
The deployment of military personnel started Sunday with 200 Air Force and Army men conducting “speaker operations” in communities in Quezon City and Valenzuela to dissuade residents from going outside of their homes.
However, the mayor’s executive order exempts the following: health care workers, police and military personnel, government employees, service workers (pharmacies, drug stores and funeral parlors), barangay officials and media practitioners accredited by the Presidential Communications Operations Office and the Inter-Agency Task Force.
“All other commercial, industrial, retail, institutional and other activities not mentioned in above exemptions in the said district shall be suspended within the specified period of the shutdown,” the executive order stated.
“Station commanders of police stations in the said district are hereby directed to employ and deploy officers and personnel in strategic locations and areas in the district necessary for the effective implementation of the shutdown,” it added.