The Philippine National Police (PNP) said Thursday it would not carry out President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to shoot dead anyone causing trouble in areas locked down due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
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“Of course not,” PNP chief Dir. Gen. Archie Gamboa said, when asked if the police would shoot troublemakers. “Probably the President just overemphasized on implementing the law in this time of crisis. We see the strong message and I think all the PNP personnel understood it.”
In an interview on the ANC news channel, Gamboa said the PNP does not condone abuse in enforcing the lockdown, and said it was investigating a Manila police officer caught on video hitting and cursing a resident for violating home quarantine.
He said the PNP would always exercise “maximum tolerance.”
About half the country’s roughly 110 million people are currently under quarantine -- including millions in deep poverty, left jobless by tough restrictions on movement.
Hours before Duterte gave the order in a speech late Wednesday night, nearly two dozen people from a slum community in Sitio San Roque, Quezon City, were arrested for holding a protest that accused the government of failing to provide food aid to the poor.
“My orders are to the police and military, also village officials, that if there is trouble or the situation arises that people fight and your lives are on the line, shoot them dead,” Duterte said.
“Instead of causing trouble, I’ll send you to the grave,” he said, adding that the outbreak is getting worse more than two weeks into the lockdown.
The Philippines has so far detected 2,633 cases and reported 107 deaths, but the country has only begun ramping up testing and so the number of confirmed infections is expected to keep rising. With Willie Casas
The President’s latest comments drew immediate rebuke from rights groups who urged the government to provide much-needed relief supplies instead of issuing threats of violence.
“It is deeply alarming that President Duterte has extended a policy of shoot-to-kill... Deadly, unchecked force should never be referred to as a method to respond to an emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” Amnesty International Philippines said in a statement.
As frequently happens after Duterte makes an announcement that sparks concern, officials said the President used hyperbole to make a point.
The quarantine, which affects Manila’s 12 million people, has shuttered most businesses and brought nearly all social, religious and business activity to a halt.
Malacanang on Thursday debunked reports that Duterte will declare a martial law to ensure order while community quarantines are in place in several areas of the country.
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Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said that while the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to rise, the government is doing its best to cut down on the spread of the disease, and said martial law is not necessary.
The Palace official made the announcement a day after President Duterte warned leftists against staging riots amid the uncertainty caused by the community quarantines imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“If you want to establish a framework of martial law, which is ultimate authority and enforcement, the government has the capacity to do that, but this is not the solution,” he said.
Nograles, spokesperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Diseases (IATF), made the announcement after residents in Sitio San Roque in Quezon City became unruly and demanded relief goods.
Nograles said in a state of calamity, there has to be order and “it is important for President Duterte that we maintain order especially in this time of crisis.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson said Duterte’s shoot order was an exaggerated and harsh warning.
“But coming from this President, what else is new?” Lacson said.
The former police chief suggested that law enforcement agents thoroughly investigate the Quezon City incident to see if it was indeed “hunger-driven” and a spontaneous act of people who simply lost their patience.
On the other hand, it could also have been politically-instigated by sinister groups out to take advantage of the situation to destabilize the administration, Lacson said.
Another former police chief, Senator Ronald dela Rosa, appealed to leftists to stop agitating the poor.
He said COVID-19 knows no boundaries in the political spectrum.
“We should unite and not divide the people,” he said.
Senator Joel Villanueva said law enforcers should understand that people are agitated because there is no food on the table.
“Let’s address hunger, and there will be less social conflict,” he added.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said instilling fear among the people is not the solution to COVID-19 and hunger.
Instead, he said, the government should release funds for the hungry people due to the lockdown and the health workers who lack safety equipment.
“Stop the bullying which is of no use to resolving the pandemic and hunger,” he added.
House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares on Thursday condemned the President’s his latest shoot and kill threat against the left and protesting poor residents, saying it was “crystal clear that it his administration’s incompetence, callousness and fascism that now cause social unrest in the country.”
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“What happened in Sitio San Roque is emblematic of what is happening in many areas under lockdown now. People are getting hungry but instead of giving them aid, the Duterte administration who was late in acting to avert this COVID pandemic in the first place, arrests them and even threatens to shoot them,” Colmenares said. With Willie Casas