A government worker carries a signage reminding passengers waiting for a bus to maintain social distancing in Quezon City on Monday. Reuters
Manolo B. Jara, Correspondent
A ranking officer of the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced his men would "patrol" social media platforms to catch people violating health protocols imposed by the government in the campaign against the novel coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic, particularly the ban on mass gatherings.
Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar, the head of the PNP Joint Task Force COVID Shield, said he already instructed all his police commanders and their men to conduct what would amount to an online patrol to find such violators.
But even before Eleazar's order could be fully implemented, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) emphasized that while the right to privacy was not absolute any surveillance or interference to be undertaken "must be subject to the standards of necessity, legitimacy and proportionality."
Passengers get off a bus in Quezon City. Reuters
"Otherwise, violation of these standards, especially if not founded on legal measures may lead to offences against the people's rights," Jacqueline de Guia, the CHR spokesman said. "This is a scenario that we wish to avoid, nothing that we look upon the police as law enforcers and not the first ones to breach laws."
Cristina Palabay, the secretary general of the militant group "Karapatan" (Rights), asked: "How exactly will the PNP monitor social media for supposed quarantine violations? Who will they monitor (anyone) in the first place? Unless they start with their own ranks, we fear that this move is nothing more than an insidious cover for online policing and mass surveillance."
Edre Olalia, the head of the National Union of People's Lawyers, pointed out that the violations of health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus came "from within the very corridors of privilege and power themselves."
Passengers queue to ride a bus in Quezon City. Reuters
Olalia did not elaborate but in May, Major General Donald Sinas, the chief of the PNP Metro Manila regional command, and 18 other police officers were severely criticised for celebrating his 55th birthday, violating lockdown rules like a ban on liquor as well as the mandatory wearing of face masks.
Photos of Sinas's birthday bash were uploaded in his command's official Facebook and have since been deleted. Militant groups and netizens have demanded the resignation of Sinas but President Duterte stood by him.
Thus, in the face of strong opposition and criticisms, meanwhile, the beleaguered Baltazar suddenly changed his tune and assured that they would respect the people's constitutional rights to privacy.
"We will not invade their privacy. In fact, we don't care about what happens inside their homes in regard to quarantine rules," Eleazar told a radio interview. "The notion that their privacy would be invaded is wrong."
He explained their online monitoring would apply mostly to outdoor activities and that they would do so only on posts that went viral and complaints left on official police and media accounts.
Metropolitan Manila police chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas has threatened to arrest people who don't comply with the restrictions. Thousands of police will be deployed and checkpoints will be set up in entryways to metropolitan Manila, he said.
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.
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