Containing the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been the paramount objective in the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine. Our current COVID-19 figures show that we are still at the peaking stage of the pandemic, the threat to public health is still growing, and the challenge to our public health system remains daunting. As we have posited from the start, restrictive measures—the enhanced community quarantine and other stringent social distancing policies—are justified given that the primordial right to health and life is at stake.
Recently, the Chief Executive warned of Martial law-style enforcement if compliance does not improve. The Chief of the Philippine National Police, as well as some local officials, also made similar remarks. The Office of the President clarified that this was a verbal warning and not a formal declaration.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) recognizes that such remark intends to direct strict enforcement to law enforcers while deterring non-compliance and ensuring cooperation from the public. We have equally urged for cooperation and solidarity from the very start for these are crucial in preventing transmission and to gradually flatten the curve.
Proper enforcement and public cooperation are indeed expedient. The best way to achieve these is through a humanitarian approach that ensures peace while protecting public health. For a thorough implementation, we reiterate the need for clear-cut guidelines for law enforcers on the ground that will provide scenarios, do’s and don’ts, and commensurate penalties. This will also serve as a safeguard against abuse of authority, guarantee respect for rights, and prevent undue panic.
We note that the quarantine guidelines underscore the need to respect human rights in the implementation. We recognize the intention to ensure balance in protecting public health while respecting human rights. As we have pointed out in our earlier advisories and releases, measures for protecting the general populace that necessitates limiting rights and freedom must be proportionate to the attainment of clear objectives, lawful, and respectful of human dignity among others.
As a public health measure, the quarantine rules are still bound by legal standards. Any warrantless arrest should be within legal ambit, which strictly provides specific circumstances when it is merited. Further, the measures must be strictly motivated by public health reasons and must not be used to target any group nor to repress dissent or critics. Needless to say, fundamental rights remain even as some necessary measures need to be taken.
In a state of public emergency, it might be convenient to resort to sweeping measures that provide shortcuts. However, protecting public health entails due diligence and nuancing such that all factors are considered and no human dignity is trampled upon. Our right to health can only be fully protected through the continuing exercise of the wide array of other rights, such as the right to information, food, free speech, and economic security. Hence, we continue to call for a holistic approach that will ensure public health while upholding human rights and dignity.
As we endeavor to heal as one, we must continue to foster rule of law and human rights to facilitate the emergence of a healthier and more humane society after this crisis.
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