Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the police to arrest anyone caught not wearing their mask properly— such as placing it below the chin or nostrils.
This mandate contradicts the justice department’s advice on how authorities should handle violations of protocols to contain COVID-19.
President Duterte said that the public needs to mask up and follow other rules because hospitals are still reeling and swamped with the high number of cases every day. (Read: UP lets you make your own face masks with new DIY tutorial)
“My orders to the police are, those who are not wearing their masks properly, in order to protect the public… arrest them and detain them, investigate them why they are doing it,” the president said in a taped speech aired Wednesday.
Strict measures have to be implemented, Duterte said, because the government could not afford the high number of cases as the country’s coffers were again being emptied. (Read: 3 Prayers of Guidance and Enlightenment for Government Leaders)
“Many have died. Many are in hospitals. Experts said the number of infections has gone down. But the hospitals are still full. So, if you really have brains, if you are a thinking human person… follow the orders of the government,” Duterte said.
“It’s in the interest of the country that you don’t infect others and that you don’t get infected,” he added.
Community Service Proposal
The president’s statement directly goes against Justice Secretary Menandro Guevarra’s proposal only a month ago. The justice department said that quarantine violators should be made to render community service instead of being arrested.
Guevarra even said that such a penalty is a better alternative than arrest and fines because “life is so difficult in ECQ.” (Read: 5 Quarantine Habits That You Should Keep Even After the Pandemic)
To curb the spread of COVID-19, the World Health Organization recommends wearing a mask when one is indoors and regardless of distance from others. Masks and full-face shields are required in all public areas in the country.
In the past weeks, the Philippines has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, forcing the national government to place Metro Manila and the adjacent provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and then under a modified ECQ.
While it has placed the healthcare system in peril, experts said that the spread is due to more transmissible variants— not directly blaming the non-adherence to health protocols. (Read: How Close Are We to Achieving Herd Immunity?)
As of Wednesday, the Philippines has reached 1,073,555 COVID-19 cases nationwide. The country remains as the top nation with the longest imposed lockdown.