Malacañang on Thursday said it was valid for cops to carry out warrantless arrests against people who are improperly wearing a face mask even as the Interior Department said it will be recalibrating its response to avoid congesting jails amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have an ordinance that paves the way for the outright apprehension, warrantless arrest (because) a crime was committed in the presence and with the full personal knowledge of the police officer,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
Roque issued the statement a day after President Rodrigo Duterte directed the PNP to arrest, detain, and investigate people who fail to wear face masks properly.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government will meet with the Philippine National Police and local government units on the implementation of Duterte’s order.
Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, interviewed over ANC’s Headstart, said, “we may need to do some recalibration and make the necessary preparations because if we do make arrests, we also need to prepare our detention cells because there may be a larger number of people detained than before.”
Under Rule 113, Section 5 of the Rules of Court, a warrantless arrest is lawful when the police officer witnesses a person committing an offense and has personal knowledge about the commission of crime.
Citing Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, Roque said a health protocol violator can be detained within the period of 12 hours for crimes or offenses punishable by light penalties.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra defended Duterte’s order to arrest and detain persons who would be caught not wearing face masks properly in public places, which health authorities said have contributed to the surge in the number of COVID-19 infections in the country.
“The President’s strategy is to strictly implement 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,” he said.
The Commission on Human Rights, on the other hand, said the directive could lead to “excessive discretion and abuse” of authorities.
CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said while they recognize the need for all to observe basic health protocols, reasonable disciplinary measures must be implemented against violators.
“In the absence of clear guidelines, we are concerned that such a directive may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse,” she said.
De Guia’s concern was echoed by two militant lawmakers who warned that Duterte’s order to arrest individuals not wearing face masks in public would result in human rights violations.
The President’s directive “is too cruel,” said ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro. “This will result in a number of arrests and human rights violations,” she added.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas also slammed Duterte for his rants about face masks, “and yet this government is not addressing the assistance needed by Filipinos in this health crisis.”
Meanwhile, a total of 2,467 individuals in Pasay City were arrested for not observing health and safety protocols imposed by the government amid the pandemic.
Of the numbers, 738 were caught not wearing face masks in public places.