By Phil Robertson
Deputy Asia Director
Human Rights Watch
The Philippine government announced this week that police will conduct house-to-house searches for people who might have been infected with the novel coronavirus and then forcibly relocate them to government-run isolation facilities. The authorities said they will look for people with symptoms of Covid-19, but worryingly will also rely on citizens to report others they believe are infected.
The move comes as the Philippines saw its biggest daily rise in Covid-19 cases, leading officials to conclude that home quarantines are not working. Officials claim the government will provide adequate facilities for those kept in isolation, such as single rooms with private toilets, and Wi-Fi connections. Nearly 59,000 people have contracted the virus in the country, with 1,614 deaths recorded as of July 15.
Sending police teams to people’s homes without warrants raises alarms because it resembles tactics used by the Duterte administration to target suspected drug users in its “war on drugs,” the ongoing anti-drug campaign in which police have brutally killed thousands of people. Moreover, police conduct in the government’s Covid-19 response so far does not inspire confidence that this campaign will respect people’s basic rights, or be an effective way to stop the spread of the virus. Since the government imposed lockdowns in various cities beginning in mid-March, police and local government officials have severely violated the rights of citizens who violated lockdown curfews and quarantine regulations.
House-to-house searches will make residents of impoverished urban communities even more vulnerable to police abuses. By urging residents to report neighbors they suspect of having Covid-19, the government is encouraging further violations. Officials have not provided public guidance to help residents determine if their neighbors have been infected.
These concerns are heightened by the Philippine government’s increasingly militaristic response to the pandemic – the Duterte administration has assigned former military generals to deal with Covid-19 and has sent police Special Forces to contain communities. Instead of expanding testing and adopting other public health measures, the administration seems intent on deploying the state security forces and “drug war” tactics that have already proven so catastrophic to Filipinos.
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