Philippines: Residents seeking COVID-19 relief charged
Some of the San Roque protesters © Save San Roque Alliance
UPDATE OF JUNE 29:
Police have so far continued to pursue legal action against the San Roque residents who protested when the aid to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 did not arrive. August 28 is when the residents expect to hear the charges. They fear imprisonment and/or hefty fines, especially at a time when many are unable to earn a living during the pandemic.
Police violently dispersed a peaceful protest by resident in San Roque, Quezon City who had gathered to demand government aid during the COVID-19 community quarantine. Twenty-one protesters were arrested, detained, and released on bail five days later. Amnesty International calls on the police to drop all charges against them as they are either contrary to international human rights law or carry penalties that will disproportionately affect the group. The authorities must also investigate the police’s use of force to disperse the protest.
On 1 April, residents gathered on a road where a private company was supposed to distribute aid. When this did not happen, they decided to peacefully protest to call for government aid. Since the implementation of a community quarantine on 17 March to address the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Filipinos have been unable to earn a living.
Community leaders said residents and bystanders were violently dispersed by the police who hit them with wooden sticks. A man and his child, who were not protesting but were in the area, were injured. Following the dispersal, 21 individuals were arrested and detained for five days before being released on bail.
Those arrested face various charges, including “unlawful assembly” and “non-cooperation in a health emergency”, with combined penalties of up to 20 months in jail and fines of over PhP 1.1 million ($30,500 CDN) each. Amnesty International calls on governments not to jail people solely for breaching public health restrictions as imprisonment is a disproportionate measure in the current context. The charges are contrary to international human rights law or carry penalties with a disproportionate impact on them.
It is alarming that Philippine authorities have responded to the resident’s pleas with violence, detention and potential criminal penalties. A community kitchen set up in San Roque by a local group for the resident’s daily food needs has also been dismantled by the police and prevented from continuing, as it was supposedly in violation of the government’s quarantine orders in relation to gatherings of groups.
Please send a fax or email to the Police Brigadier General (no mail service to Philippines during the pandemic).
- Start with Dear Police Brigadier General Montejo and a sentence about yourself to make your message unique.
- Share your concern about the use of force to disperse a peaceful protest and the charges against 21 residents of San Roque village, Quezon City.
- Call on his office to drop all charges against the 21 residents of San Roque village. Explain that the charges are either contrary to international human rights law or carry penalties that will disproportionately affect this group.
- Ask him to ensure that a prompt, independent and impartial investigation is launched into the police’s use of force and bring to justice anyone found responsible in a fair trial.
- Urge him to ensure that all residents of San Roque have prompt and adequate access to food, medicines, and other basic needs, and are empowered and supported to comply with the community quarantine.
PBGEN Ronnie S. Montejo
Director, Quezon City Police District
21 Makadios Street, Diliman
Quezon City, Philippines 1101
Fax: 011 632 8925 8326
Her Excellency Petronila Garcia
Ambassador for the Republic of the Philippines
30 Murray Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 5M4
Fax: 613 233 4165
According to the group Save San Roque Alliance, on 1 April 2020, residents of San Roque village in Quezon City gathered along a portion of EDSA – a major highway in Metro Manila – upon receiving news that relief items were to be distributed there. When the distribution didn’t happen, the residents stayed in the area to stage a protest to demand relief from the Quezon City government.
Members of the police supposedly asked the residents to leave the area and then, according to reports from civil society organizations and the police, resorted to force to disperse the protest and arrested those who refused to leave. The Save San Roque Alliance maintains that the police violently dispersed the protesters and hit people with wooden sticks. Amnesty International spoke to one leader of the group who said that victims included a man and his child, who were in the area to collect financial aid from his company whose office was also along EDSA.
A total of 21 protesters were detained at the headquarters of the Quezon City police. According to a group leader, relatives were prevented from talking or delivering food to them following several hours of detention. Five days later, on 6 April 2020, the 21 individuals were released after posting bail amounting to PhP 367,500 ($10,000 CDN) that was raised through donations. They face charges of “unlawful assembly”, “resistance to authority”, “spreading false information”, “non-cooperation in a health emergency” and “impeding road access”.
International human rights law allows for limitations on the right to peaceful assembly for the protection of public health, but restrictions need to be necessary and proportionate. In that sense, police must apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force, which may be used only if other means have proven to be, or are likely to be, ineffective. Moreover, the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment is non-derogable, even at times of emergency.
Given the elevated risks of transmission of COVID-19 in certain prisons and other places of detention, enforcement of prison sentences is likely to further compound the public health problems caused by the pandemic and would fail to meet the test of necessity and proportionality. Therefore, individuals should not be imprisoned solely for breaching restrictions imposed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The implementation of fines can also have particularly adverse effects on specific groups, even if provisions are presented in neutral terms. In considering the application of fines for violating the conditions of the restrictions imposed, authorities must consider the circumstances of groups at risk who may be disproportionately affected and consider alternatives to alleviate the disproportionate impact of fines.
The residents said they launched the protest after they did not receive any form of relief from the government. The local government of Quezon City has disputed this, and said that while relief distributions were ongoing, it will review the list of recipients to ensure no one is left out. In responding to COVID-19, the government has promised P200-billion cash aid for the poor, many of whom have lost their means of income under the lockdown. The cash aid includes provision of a monthly allowance of $140 to $220 CDN to those in need. On 6 April 2020, the government said it will need more funds in order to fulfil its cash aid pledged to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
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