The Philippines is infamous for its brutal extrajudicial tactics in the war on drugs. Now officials are using a similar approach in their fight against coronavirus.
Local officials have subjected people caught breaking lockdown rules to humiliating and abusive punishments, locking them in cramped dog cages or forcing them to sit in the harsh midday sun, according to reports.
The tactics mirror those used in other countries like China and India to enforce their coronavirus lockdowns. In China, authorities have been filmed tying violators to pillars and berating them, and in India, footage has circulated of police beating purported violators while forcing them to do push-ups in the street.
Reports of several recent alleged abuses in the Philippines have prompted a call from Human Rights Watch for officials to respect the rights of those found breaking the lockdown, and to investigate any excesses in policing the new restrictions.
“Police and local officials should respect the rights of those they arrest for violating curfew and other public health regulations, which can be done while still allowing the Philippines government to take appropriate measures to combat COVID-19,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director, said Thursday. “Any mistreatment should be immediately investigated, and the authorities responsible held accountable.”
In one case in the city of Santa Cruz, about 55 miles south of Manila, a local official locked a group of five people, two of whom were minors, in a dog cage for violating curfew last week. The official, Frederick Ambrocio, posted a photo of the group to Facebook.
According to police, Ambrocio, the chair of the local administrative district, had threatened to shoot the group if they did not comply, and left them locked in the cage for 30 minutes. He now faces charges of grave threat, coercion, and violating child protection laws, according to the PhilStar news site.
In a Facebook post, Ambrocio apologized for his actions and claimed the group had been abusive. “I'm really sorry for what happened,” he wrote.
In Parañaque, a city within the greater Manila region, officials were criticized this week for forcing people arrested for breaking lockdown to sit in the middle of a basketball court beneath the midday sun.
Again, the officials posted a picture of the scene to Facebook, with a warning that: “Everyone caught violating the curfew we will place here.” The post was deleted after people criticized the move as abusive and possibly illegal.
In an interview with PhilStar, Noel Japlos, the chair of the local district of San Isidro, claimed that the men had been left in the sun not as punishment, but as a social distancing measure as all facilities inside were full.
And in another case in Bulacan province, north of Manila, police shot a man dead early Wednesday after he allegedly evaded a lockdown checkpoint on a motorbike. Police said they exchanged gunfire with the man before shooting him dead, and recovered a pistol at the scene.
President Rodrigo Duterte put the main Philippine island of Luzon, home to more than 50 million people and the capital, Manila, on lockdown on March 16 as part of a month-long containment strategy. Since then police have arrested hundreds of people for violating the lockdown rules.
As of Friday, the Philippines has recorded 803 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 54 deaths.
Cover: Facebook/ Eric Panisan Ambrocio