Guidelines on the arrest, detention and investigation of persons who are either not wearing or improperly wearing face masks may be out this week, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said on Monday, May 10.
Guevarra said both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) have finished the draft guidelines.
“The DOJ is ready with its guidelines and we’ll just have to coordinate with the DILG in the next couple of days,” he said.
Last week, President Duterte ordered the arrest, detention and investigation of persons who are found not wearing or improperly wearing face masks in public places.
Explaining the President’s directive, Guevarra said “it is part of the government’s strategy of strictly implementing health protocols, such as wearing of face masks, so that the spread of the disease is put under control and the full opening of the economy is accelerated.”
But even without the guidelines yet, Guevarra last Thursday, May 6, stressed that the police may start arresting persons. “The President’s directive takes effect immediately even without the guidelines,” he said.
Guevarra reminded that local government units (LGUs) have “existing ordinances pertaining to health protocols and imposing penalties for violations thereof.”
“The best way to avoid being arrested while the guidelines are being formulated is to wear a face mask and obey the law,” he advised the public.
In accordance with existing rules, Guevarra said “arrested individuals will undergo inquest procedures conducted by DOJ prosecutors.”
Published reports stated that Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Lt. Gen. Guillermo T. Eleazar has ordered the police to carry out the directive of the President but assured the public that the police would respect the rights of violators and exercise maximum tolerance.
“We can arrest them but we should not punish them and most of all we should not hurt them. If you do that, you will be answerable to me,” Eleazar said.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) last week said persons who do not wear face masks in public places should not be arrested as it urged the government to implement “reasonable and humane disciplinary measures” for violators.
It said the order for arrest and detention will give rise to more human rights violations in connection with the health protocols being implemented by the government.
CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said the arrest and detention of persons not wearing face masks should be covered by “clear guidelines” to avoid excessive discretion or abuse.
“In the end, it is through intensive education and information campaigns, not fear, that would best result in better compliance with health and safety protocols during the pandemic,” De Guia stressed.
“A human rights-based approach in addressing the pandemic requires a healthy and careful balance of protecting rights based on standards. We may be in quarantine due to the pandemic, but rights should not be on lockdown,” she pointed out.