A draconian directive

" It only reflects the national government’s propensity to blame the public for its missteps and incompetence in coping with the pandemic."

Mr. Duterte’s order for the police to arrest those without face masks or wearing them improperly while outside their residence appears to be another imposition made without much thought, as it looks more like a mere knee-jerk reaction to the recent surge in coronavirus cases.

What it will not achieve by itself, from our vantage point, is to considerably reduce COVID-19 cases. Without the requisite mass testing, aggressive contact tracing, additional isolation, quarantine and treatment facilities, as well as accelerated vaccinations to achieve herd immunity as soon as possible, the order to arrest and detain ordinary citizens not wearing masks in public is yet another arbitrary and whimsical exercise of executive power that will only open the floodgates to more abuses and human rights violations by the police and other persons in authority, such as barangay tanods.

Duterte’s draconian order reflects the national government’s propensity to blame the public for its missteps and incompetence in coping with the pandemic. No wonder we are the second worst-performing country in the Southeast Asian region in so far as controlling the spread of the coronavirus is concerned.

Judging from their immediate reactions to Duterte’s order, at least two of his subordinates did not seem very eager to immediately implement it to the hilt.  

The Department of Interior and Local Government said they “may need to do some recalibration and make the necessary preparations because if we do make arrests, we also need to prepare our detention cells because there may be a larger number of people detained than before.”

While defending Duterte’s order as necessary to stop the spread of the disease and to accelerate the full opening of the economy, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said authorities should make arrests based on local ordinances and observe due process. Last month, he urged the task force leading the country’s pandemic response not to arrest or detain violators but make them render community service instead.

Far more convincing is the position taken by the Commission on Human Rights, which said Duterte’s order could lead to “excessive discretion and abuse” of authorities. CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said that while they recognize the need for everyone to observe basic health protocols, reasonable disciplinary measures must be imposed on violators, “in the absence of clear guidelines, we are concerned that such a directive may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse.”

From another direction, there’s also the critical views expressed by militant lawmakers who warned that Duterte’s order to arrest individuals not wearing face masks in public would result in human rights abuses. The President’s directive “is too cruel,” said ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, while Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas slammed the national government’s failure to provide assistance much-needed by Filipinos during the health crisis.

Myanmar coup leader deceived ASEAN

Last April 24, leaders of the Association of  Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) convened in Jakarta to discuss the crisis in Myanmar and try to work out an acceptable solution.

In the meeting, the representative from Myanmar, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, agreed to proposals for the immediate cessation of violence, the start of constructive dialogue among all parties, access to humanitarian assistance, and the appointment of a special ASEAN envoy who would be allowed to visit the country.

The junta chief, however, ignored the call for the release of political prisoners, including the leader of the ousted civilian government, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Moreover, the agreement did not specify a timeline for ending the crisis.

Nevertheless, the meeting generated hopes that the violent suppression of the civil disobedience movement  by the Tatmadaw, or the Burmese military,  would stop and usher in a return to democratic processes.  

This did not happen.

In fact, the military did not return to the barracks as the coup leader had promised the ASEAN leaders, and instead even intensified their violent crackdown on protesters and critics.  

The human rights monitor, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported last week that the death toll from the military crackdown since the beginning of the coup had already reached 772, with nearly 3,800 currently detained or already sentenced by military tribunals.

With the Myanmar military now saying that they would agree to dialogue and negotiations with protest leaders only after the situation has “stabilized,” that is, they have completely consolidated power—and perhaps stashed away billions in profits made by business corporations they now control—then the likelihood that they would eventually hand over power to a civilian government is next to impossible at this point. 

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Topics: Ernesto Hilario , President Rodrigo Duterte , draconian order , COVID-19
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