Local police commanders across the country have been instructed to coordinate with their local government units in the transport of COVID-19 patients from their homes to government isolation facilities.
Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, commander of the Joint Task Force COVID Shield, said coordination has been made with Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Police Gen. Archie Gamboa based on the instruction of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año for local police commanders to come up with guidelines on the role of the police under “Oplan: Kalinga.”
Oplan Kalinga is a program of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 in which all confirmed COVID-19 patients, either showing mild symptoms or asymptomatic, should be transferred to the government isolation facilities to protect their family members from being infected.
The program has been criticized in social media. Netizens accused the government of militarizing the approach against COVID-19 and even likened the strategy to the bloody drug war under the “Oplan: Katok” campaign.
Eleazar said that it is not the police that will take the lead in fetching COVID-19 patients from their homes.
“As per the instruction of Secretary of the Interior and Local Government (SILG) Eduardo Año, it is the health officers of the LGUs who will lead the fetching of the COVID-19 from their homes. The local police forces’ presence is only in the form of assistance for any eventuality and especially in escorting the patients to the isolation facilities,” said Eleazar.
Eleazar said local health workers will be tasked to identify the houses of COVID patients and explain to them and their family about Oplan Kalinga.
“It is not the policemen who will do the explaining and the police will not even the one who would knock on the doors of the houses of COVID-19 patients. Our personnel would just be on standby unless they are invited inside the house or their presence is needed inside,” said Eleazar.
He said that policemen tapped to assist local health workers will be provided with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment.
Eleazar added that part of the coordination between the local police and the LGUs is the identification of vehicles that will be used in fetching the COVID-19 patients, including involvement of other agencies like the Bureau of Fire Protection which has the capability to handle the transportation of COVID-19 patients.
Critics in social media argued that the Oplan Kalinga is anti-poor since it would only target poor residents.
But Eleazar said that contrary to criticisms, the program is actually the other way around since it would provide the poor COVID patients the opportunity to isolate themselves and not compromise the safety of their families and impose quarantine on a facility that would provide everything that they need for free.
“And this is not anti-poor as some people would say. This is in fact pro-poor because we would be prioritizing COVID-19 patients who have no means to isolate themselves inside their houses because of the reality that they do not have a room to spare for self-quarantine,” said Eleazar.
He added that Oplan Kalinga is also for the protection of the COVID-19 patients and their family from discrimination and other forms of harassment from their neighbors who see them as threat to community health.
Based on the initial rules set by the NTF Against COVID-19 for its Oplan Kalinga program, there are three criteria which are the allowable and conducive place for self-quarantine inside the house.
First, there should be a room that could be used for self-quarantine; second, is that the room should have is a comfort room inside; and, third, there should be no member of the family inside the house who are considered as vulnerable to infection like senior citizens or those with pre-existing medical condition.
The LGUs, through their health workers, should also take the lead in assessing if the designated isolation room inside the house is ideal for self-quarantine.
“We assure the public that we are implementing this for the sake of public health, for the protection of everybody. Police intervention will always be the last resort because we believe that on the issue of isolation and treatment of COVID-19 patients, everybody is willing to cooperate,” said Eleazar.
But Eleazar expressed belief that resistance on the part of the patients and their families is unlikely since everybody knows how serious the threat of COVID-19 is.
“Nobody in his right mind would want to expose his family to COVID-19. This is the reason why President Duterte has ordered the construction of more isolation facilities in order for the government to take care of as many patients and eventually contain the transmission. And this is what we are doing under Oplan Kalinga,” he said.