Malacañang on Wednesday clarified that there will be no house-to-house search for COVID-19 patients to force them to be confined in government health facilities.
“We don’t have a provision on house-to-house. Patients will have to be reported by the persons themselves, families, and the barangay,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a television interview.
READ: Door-to-door hunt for cases set
Roque made the clarification after Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said policemen and local government personnel will be going house-to-house to search for COVID-19 cases who should not be on home quarantine.
The Palace official urged patients showing mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 cases to voluntarily submit themselves to isolation facilities, enticing them by saying it would be like a “paid-for vacation.”
Under the new government strategy, mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 cases will only be allowed to undergo home quarantine if they meet three requirements: they have their own room, own bathroom, and there are no vulnerable persons in the same house.
If one of these conditions is not met, they will be brought to state quarantine facilities, where they are expected to stay for 14 days, Roque said. Some local governments began implementing this on Wednesday, TV news reports showed.
He said the government would convince patients with mild symptoms or those who are asymptomatic to go to state-run isolation centers, which are air-conditioned and have free Wi-Fi access. Food and lodging will be free throughout their stay, he added.
There will also be doctors and nurses to attend to their needs while under quarantine.
Roque said patients cannot refuse to be brought to isolation facilities, since public health is the government’s priority, and government retains the right to do so during a pandemic.
“There is inherent police power, that’s a very essential (power) in the establishment of the state, and if it is to protect public health, I think the isolation can be justified,” he said.
READ: No eased restrictions in NCR
The Palace official also recognized the observation of the World Health Organization (WHO) that the situation in the Philippines was alarming due to the continuing transmission of COVID-19.
“The WHO is correct. We have to intensify our tracing efforts. It’s not something we have actual, acquired specialization on, but I think we’re catching up,” he said.
Meanwhile, Año on Wednesday said local government units (LGUs) and health authorities would lead the isolation of reported COVID-19 asymptomatic patients and those with mild symptoms.
He said police officers would just assist in ensuring the proper transfer of COVID-19 patients to isolation facilities.
Año said this would happen only in areas placed under a localized lockdown or those with a high number of COVID-19 cases.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday said the plan of the government authorities to conduct a “house-to-house” search for persons infected with coronavirus has not been discussed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
READ: ’No to home quarantine’
But Guevarra said there was sufficient legal basis for transferring COVID-19 patients to government quarantine facilities if home quarantine is not possible.
“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,” the Justice secretary said.
“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 person’s home,” he added.
Guevarra said the IATF may discuss the house-to-house search issue in their next meeting.
He added that if the task force sees the need for such a measure, it should be done by barangay health workers, not police.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, meanwhile, said the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is authorized to monitor home quarantine COVID-19 patients through its Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs).
The plan to have health officials and police go house-to-house in search of mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 cases has been criticized for allegedly being prone to abuse.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines defended the house-to-house visits, saying it is in accordance with a law granting public health authorities the power to ensure quarantine and isolation.
Joint Task Force COVID Shield commander Police Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar also defended the measure, saying it is not anti-poor as critics claim.
Vergeire noted that home quarantine is allowed but the patients should have their own room, own bathroom, and must not be sharing the house with an elderly, pregnant, or person with illness.
According to her, ignoring these standards may cause community transmission of the virus.
On Tuesday, testing czar Vince Dizon announced the start of Oplan Kalinga, where patients who failed to meet the three qualifications will be escorted from their houses to government isolation facilities.
Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday likened the Oplan Kalinga to the controversial Oplan Tokhang, which involves operations against drug traffickers and uers.
‘This may actually discourage more people from reporting their status. We need to improve home- and community-based health care,” Hontiveros said.
The Commission on Human Rights also criticized the house-to-house search by the police, along with health workers for COVID-19 patients.
“The recent pronouncement of the government — to assign state security forces, police officers and local government unit representatives, to conduct house-to-house searches to look for and transfer COVID-19 patients under home quarantine to isolation facilities managed by the government — is susceptible to overreach in terms of guaranteeing the right to privacy and right of individuals to be secure in their abode,” it said in a statement.
Senators on Wednesday aired varied reactions to the house-to-house plan.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he doesn’t see any problem with the house-to-house search as long as it is done “within due bounds.”
“It appears that they are dead serious in truncating the spread of the virus,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, said the pandemic does not suspend the Bill Of Rights.
“There is no question that there is a need to protect the people but we should do it with due reference to the Constitution. The pandemic does not set aside the constitutional restrictions and protections under the bill of rights... which includes the protection against unreasonable search and seizures,” he said.
He also said that fears on possible abuse were “a manifestation of the distrust of the people.”
Militant lawmakers on Wednesday warned of possible widespread human-rights violations over Año’s order for policemen to do house-to-house searches for mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 patients.
“Is this move by the Duterte administration Oplan Tokhang COVID edition? This is a violation of our people’s basic right enshrined in the Constitution. Article III Section 2 states that ‘the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable,” said Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Isagani Zarate.
“Just like how the police implemented the anti-drug tokhang campaign, this order is prone for abuse and must be junked,” Zarate added.
Zarate asked how can the police know that a person is COVID positive if he or she does not have any symptoms or have mild ones. “All chances are that the policemen will indiscriminately drag people to quarantine facilities and find out later on that they made a mistake,” said Zarate.