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Home / World / Philippine Coronavirus: Critics accuse government of using blockades to crack down on dispute

Philippine Coronavirus: Critics accuse government of using blockades to crack down on dispute

Protests against job losses and food shortages during that period were met with a strong police response and mass arrests. In April, Duterte said publicly that police should “shoot … dead” anyone who violated the limits of the virus.

Although restrictions were eased in June due to economic concerns, coronavirus cases have risen since the Philippines currently reported the second highest number of confirmed cases in Southeast Asia.

The country reported the highest jump in a day in new coronavirus infections on Sunday, according to CNN subsidiary CNN Philippines, with 5,032 cases confirmed in 24 hours. The Phlippines now have more than 1
00,000 cases of coronavirus in a population of 106 million.
Elite police patrol a market as people during a government imposed enhanced quarantine as a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Manila on April 21st.
The capital Manila will turn into a modified blockade by midnight Tuesday, with people under the age of 21 or over 60 required to stay home, along with those at high risk of infection.

But like millions of Filipinos return to closure, Critics of the President claim that the new anti-terrorism legislation can be used to further deceive dissent – especially about the virus.

Supporters of the law, which greatly expands the definition of terrorism, say it is necessary for national security and a valuable tool to protect the Philippines from terrorist attacks. Opponents claim the government has used the blockade as a pretext to coerce through its introduction with minimal resistance.

“If (this) were to happen at a time when we were not quarantined, there would be mass protests outside,” said Maria Ressa, a journalist and critic of the Duterte administration.

“For Filipinos, doing so means risking not only the virus, but risking arrest. And if the virus does not catch you, you will be jailed.”

Register unemployment

By March, half the country was under a complete blockade as coronavirus cases began to spread rapidly.

Before the virus hit, nearly one in five people in the Philippines already lived below the poverty line – the closure only made it worse.
Strict coronavirus measures devastated the country’s economy, prompting the Duterte administration to pass the “Health as One” act in March, which aimed to help support millions of low-income families during the pandemic by providing compensation cash for two months.

But the law also gave Duterte emergency capabilities, including the ability to take over private medical facilities and public transportation. Under the new law, anyone violating quarantine restrictions faced up to two months in prison or a $ 20,000 fine.

Despite trying to defuse the shock to the economy, millions of workers lost their jobs in closures as a result of restrictions — which without suspended public transport, international flights were stopped and non-core businesses closed.

And as the blockade continued, tensions began to rise.

A resident bicycles her armed soldiers along a road in Navotas on the outskirts of Manila on July 16 after the local government remodeled a blockade in the city due to rising COVID-19 infections.
On April 1, some Manila residents rallied to protest what they saw as a lack of support from authorities, calling for increased food aid. Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing 21 protesters by truck. The government denied the allegations of lack of food relief, saying there was a steady distribution across the city.
Thelma Cachola, whose husband was arrested in the protest, told CNN Philippines that they would not have come out if they had received relief goods. “We will starve to death, not Covid-19,” she said.

Video from the rally appeared to show protesters being violently dispersed by police officers, including some elderly citizens. It was the same day that Duterte made his “shoot to kill” speech.

In total, between March and July, police said more than 70,000 people were arrested for violating Covid-19-related public health rules, so much so that authorities said they had to be gentle because they did not have “adequate facilities jail”.
Many were fired with a warning for breaking a curfew or given a fine, but thousands were still formally arrested.

Human rights groups have claimed that several arrested people were singled out for public humiliation at the hands of local police, including LGBT youths saying they were forced to kiss each other in custody.

Police in disguise arrest protesters during a LGBTQ pride march in Manila, Philippines, Friday, June 26th.

The nationwide blockade was extended

As of May 1, community quarantine had been extended across the country, including mandatory temperature controls and the wearing of masks, house arrest warrants for more than 60 years, and a curfew for people who do not need to leave home. for work.
Later that month, the government tried to introduce its controversial anti-terrorism bill, eventually passing it into law in early July.

The law, which the government is enforcing, is necessary to combat the growing Islamic militancy in the south of the country. expands the legal definition of terrorism and allows suspected terrorists to be arrested without warrant and detained for up to 24 days.

“The signing of the aforementioned law shows our serious commitment to get rid of terrorism, which has plagued the country for a long time and caused unimaginable grief and horror to many of our people,” said Secretary of the Presidency Harry Roque. .

The Philippine government has not responded to CNN requests for comment on allegations of police conduct and claims anti-terrorism laws could be misused.

In May, ABS-CBN, one of the Philippines’ largest television networks, was also forced to shut down after its broadcasting license was not renewed. Critics describe the ruling as a blow to press freedom, coming at a dangerous time during a pandemic when public information is more important than ever.
Face-wearing protesters take part in a protest against President Duterte on July 27 in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines.

The nationwide blockade officially ended on June 1 after 80 days – longer than the restrictions in Wuhan, China, from where the blast erupted.

Maria Ressa, who was convicted of cyberlibel in June for an article she published in the local publication Rappler, compared Duterte’s tactics during the epidemic to those during his infamous drug war.
Since the President took office in 2016, thousands of people have been killed by police as part of the Duterte narcotics crackdown.

“President Duterte likes to say he likes the government using violence and fear. This has certainly been irritated by Covid,” Ressa said.

The anti-terror law in particular has caused concern about its potential misuse and widespread enforcement.

“The Anti-Terrorism Act is a human rights disaster while doing so,” said Phil Robertson, Asia Deputy Director at Human Rights Watch. “The law will open the door to arbitrary arrests and long prison sentences for people or representatives of organizations that dislike the president.”

Proponents of the law have distanced themselves from such concerns, however, noting that under the law, protests, advocacy and dispute are protected as long as they do not “pose a serious threat to public safety”.

A police officer stands guard as Filipinos out of work due to the coronavirus blockade queue to receive government money gifts on May 11 in Rodriguez city, Rizal province, Philippines.

Back to closing

At least 21 million people will return to a modified blockade on Tuesday, with explosions appearing in major population centers like Manila. A large number of businesses will be ordered to approach to test and prevent additional infections.

Medical professionals had pushed for the restoration of restrictions. At least 80 medical associations signed a letter Saturday urging the President to tighten restrictions. “We are exhausted, both physically and mentally. Most of us are already becoming infected with Covid-19,” College of Physicists President Mario Panaligan said in the letter, according to CNN Philippines.

But with new restrictions come fears from critics, such as Ressa, that authorities will take further advantage of the crisis.

Ressa said she is concerned that the new emergency forces deployed to prevent the epidemic will remain in place even after the pandemic is over.

“This is death with a thousand cuts. … (The government) takes power away from you and you will not regain those rights. This is what we have learned in the last four years. That is why we continue to we say I have to keep the line, “she said.

CNN’s Emily Liu contributed to this article.

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