Instead of jail time, community service eyed for quarantine violators

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 6) — Those who fail to follow health protocols may only have to do community service instead of facing arrests, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Monday, over a year into the pandemic and with jails already jampacked with quarantine violators.

Guevarra bared that he already pitched to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to impose the penalty of community service in localities instead of imprisoning violators — a policy shift recommended as Metro Manila and nearby provinces are under enhanced community quarantine for the second time.

"I recommended that in the enforcement, the stricter enforcement of the ordinances, that local government units consider the possibility of imposing only the penalty of community service for those who will continue to violate our ordinances rather than imprison, or rather than putting them in jail or fining them," Guevarra said during the Palace briefing.

"Eh kasi talaga ngang mahirap na ang buhay sa ECQ," he added.

[Translation: Because life is really hard under ECQ]

Guevarra admitted that there were flaws in the implementation of the Republic Act 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act against quarantine violators.

"Hindi siya talagang very exact to the actual violation kaya (It's not really exact to the actual violation so) we are relying more on the ordinances issued by the local government units rather than a nationwide general statute like RA 11332," he said.

Citing Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Benhur Abalos Jr., Guevarra said Metro Manila mayors will be asked to "seriously consider" imposing community service as an alternative penalty.

In April 2020, over 77,000 quarantine violators were recorded in Luzon alone, as the whole island was placed under ECQ. President Rodrigo Duterte even warned of a police and military "takeover" should people continue to disobey his order to stay home.

Last Saturday, resident Darren Manaog Peñaredondo of General Trias, Cavite died after authorities allegedly forced him to do 300-rounds squat-like exercises as punishment for buying drinking water past curfew hours. General Trias City Mayor Ony Ferrer said in a statement that the local government will look into the incident and provide assistance to the bereaved family.

A year too late

The National Union of People's Lawyers lauded Guevarra's recommendation, albeit a year too late. The group noted that they raised the idea as early as March last year.

"Looking back, it is not only enraging but tragic that hundreds of our citizens who do not have the same entitlements as those in or close to the corridors of power had to endure this manifest injustice through a patently erroneous reading and misapplication of a vague law to justify harsh implementation of quarantine protocols at best and cover up repressive measures at worst," NUPL President Edre Olalia said in a statement. "That it comes more than a year to have epiphany says a lot about the mess we are all in."