BUSINESS groups on Sunday called on the government to uphold the highest standards in observing and enforcing the rule of law after state officials themselves breached lockdown protocols intended to safeguard the public’s health.
In a statement, the business groups lambasted public servants who violated the guidelines on health and safety issued by the Interagency Task Force and the Department of Health. They said the rules were put in place to protect public health and should be adhered to by everyone, more so by people mandated to implement them.
They argued the quarantine restrictions affected the lives of millions of people, especially those living near or below the poverty line, in terms of livelihood and freedom of movement.
They added the seeming confusion and varying interpretations of the protocols resulted in thousands of quarantine violations. Citing official data, the business groups said close to 30,000 violators were arrested between March 17 and April 17—of which 6,616 had to undergo inquest and 23,016 are to face charges—and that number jumped to about 41,000 on May 1.
This matter had led Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon to point out on Friday, at a marathon Senate hearing on the proposed Bayanihan Law extension, that the second phase of the measure should exclude the penal provisions for quarantine violations, since Bayanihan is meant to help people in the pandemic, not punish them for minor infractions that can very well be prosecuted under the Revised Penal Code.
It was reported, the main business groups said at the weekend, that many of the arrested individuals suffered detention, costs, humiliation and inconvenience, and some even endured unwarranted prison time on failure of unopened courts and government offices to process their bail in a timely manner, the business groups lamented.
“Above happened even with the Supreme Court’s recently issued administrative circulars that reduce bail and allow recognizance as among the means of releasing the accused. The compounding economic hardships and unfamiliarity with new rules resulted in many people languishing in detention centers for many days; thus, risking exposure to the virus in overcrowded facilities,” they said.
As such, they find it disappointing to the point of dismay that a number of public officials violated the very rules they were supposed to implement for the welfare of their constituents.
“Upholding the law and ensuring faith in our justice system stand as the bedrock of our democracy, and will enable the economy to survive and recover from these most trying times. The sacrifice of our people deserves nothing less,” the business groups argued.
One of the most controversial cases of this kind was the early-morning birthday party, also known as mañanita, thrown for National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Chief Debold Sinas on May 8, photos of which were released by the NCRPO Public Information Office itself on its Facebook page.
The now-deleted images showed Sinas celebrating his birthday with his men in spite of a state order prohibiting the conduct of mass gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was also observed in the photos that police officers who attended the party failed to practice physical distancing and some of them were not even wearing face masks.
In spite of the violation, Sinas was instructed to maintain his position as Metro Manila police chief by none other than President Duterte himself.
The call to uphold the rule of law in the ongoing crisis was made in a joint statement by the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Institute of Corporate Directors, Institute for Solidarity in Asia, Judicial Reform Initiative, Management Association of the Philippines and the Makati Business Club. Joining them in this call were the business chambers of American and Canadian firms.