Recent events have shown the Philippine National Police’s utter lack of understanding of the reasons for the coronavirus disease-2019 (Covid-19) lockdown and the gravity of the health emergency. They abuse their policing authority to the hilt.
On Friday, Bahaghari, an LGBTQIA and allies group held a Pride March in Mendiola, calling for the recognition of their rights as LGBTQ, and their rights as Filipino citizens. It was a peaceful assembly, and all of those who joined the march wore masks and practiced social distancing. They called for equal treatment and against discrimination. They called for free mass testing, and the junking of the draconian Anti-Terror Bill. But without justified reason and without citing any laws, the police arrested 20 of the protesters.
With several incidents of arrest of community relief volunteers and protesters happening during lockdown – Sagip Kanayunan 6, Sitio San Roque 21, Marikina 10, Iloilo 42, Cebu 8, the Piston 6, and just now, the 20 arrested participants of the Pride March, now referred as the Pride 20 – it is evident how the government has used the lockdown as a weapon against critics, against dissent, against civilian activities that criticize social inequalities and government corruption. Law enforcers treat lockdown policies as punitive actions to be arbitrarily implemented, instead of what they should be: measures to protect the public and the health of Filipinos. Consider the sight of them pushing against each other as they rush to arrest protesters who by themselves strictly adheres to physical distancing protocols.
Protests Can be Done Safely
Wearing masks, handwashing, and physical distancing are done to prevent the spread of the virus. There are indicators that medical practitioners, policy makers, and decision makers look at to base their actions and guide their decisions. One of them is the reproduction rate of the infected. As of now, reproduction rate is at 1:1 to 1:3, meaning, one Covid-19 infected person statistically infects one or more persons.
But with the lack of better strategies from the government to test, identify, isolate and treat individuals possibly infected with Covid-19 — accessibility of PCR testing for those needing it not just in Metro Manila and effective contact tracing in place — the spread of the virus continues, and at a very fast rate. Just look at what happened with the ill-conceived Balik Probinsya Program of Sen. Bong Go and its effects in Ormoc City. The difficulties in containing the virus are clearly brought on by incompetence and bungled, ineffective, ill-conceived measures of the government. As we enter the fourth month of the lockdown, experts suggest that people need to do more outdoor activities. Activities such as walking in the park, in the streets, biking, and other exercises while practicing physical distancing and other health protocols are important, since maintaining a sedentary lifestyle weakens the immune system, even if one doubles the intake of vitamins. We also need the benefits provided by direct exposure to sunlight.
Experts also say that there is lesser chance for the virus to spread in open spaces compared to enclosed spaces or spaces that are not well ventilated. As long as people wear masks and practice social distancing, outdoor activities are encouraged, and therefore, should not be prohibited. All the more, assemblies to promote solidarity and people-oriented governance should never be grounds for arrest. Even in a pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) believes that public protests are important. But they encourage protesters around the world to do it safely by following health protocols.
Rights Remain During the Pandemic
As an institution of law enforcers, the PNP should be called out and its members reminded to perform their constitutionally-assigned duties to protect the public good, uphold the law, and respect the rights of civilians. They should do these, instead of what they are doing now: mechanically implementing draconian measures, practicing fascism in varying degrees of intensity with alarming regularity. The people’s right to freedom of expression, the right to engage government in debates to make policies and programs serve the public good, and the right to assemble are enshrined and protected by the Constitution; these are what the PNP continues to ignore and violate at turns.
Human rights never ceased to exist in the time of a health emergency. As long as health protocols are observed such as what the 20 arrested LGBTQIA Pride March participants did, the police have to respect protests and acts of legally-recognized civilian dissent.
The activists who took to the streets today to protest against the continuing government abuse and neglect of the rights of the LGBTQIA community. They point out that the lockdown never stopped violations from happening – including acts of homophobia and discrimination.
Last April 5, barangay officials of Pandacaqui, Pampanga punished five LGBTQIA quarantine violators by forcing them to do degrading acts such as making them kiss each other on video. Duterte and his men are known to spout comments that fuel homophobia and misogyny.
Also, essential to add, the pride marchers took to the streets to be one with the rest of the Filipino people in condemning the appallingly poor government response to the Covid-19 pandemic. With over 30,000 people infected, the government still chooses to ignore calls for mass testing, calls for the effective management of the pandemic, and calls to continue and improve social amelioration programs. After being out of work for 100 days due to lockdown, jeepney drivers are still banned from plying the streets, causing hardship and hunger to the thousands of jeepney drivers, operators and their families. Instead of providing medical/health solutions and economic aid to the people, the government imposes military solutions and submitted as urgent bill The Anti-Terror Bill that gives the Anti-Terror Council the power to surveillance and arrest anyone, without due process. Those critical of the government and its corruption and abuse risk being considered a terrorist under the amendments of the Anti-Terror Law.
Fanaticism Breeds Monsters
Fascism and fanatic loyalty to the president are the order of the police, instead of serving Filipinos, and protecting their welfare with integrity. By blindly following Duterte, they use the health emergency as a way to terrorize all perceived critics of Duterte – human rights activists, champions of civil rights, journalists. Public officials and law enforcers who have undisputedly broke quarantine regulations, such as Sen. Koko Pimentel, Mocha Uson, and police chief Debold Sinas have been allowed to get off the hook, their violations dismissed.
As law enforcers blatantly break the laws they are sworn to uphold, create scenarios that serve to spread the virus, and remorselessly violate the rights of the citizenry, the LGBTQIA community through Bahaghari on the other hand, courageously defend not just their rights but the civil, political, and human rights of all Filipinos. They also demand accountability from the government and offer alternatives to the mismanagement of the counter-pandemic programs. More than ever, the pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of the existing political and economic system, including the fascist practices and orientation of the police institution. The Pride Movement is one with the rest of Filipinos in calling out this system and demanding changes.