MANILA, Philippines — No, the Philippine National Police will not shoot dead those who will disrupt peace and order during the enhanced community quarantine, PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa assured the public yesterday. “Of course not. Probably the President just overemphasized on implementing the law in this time of crisis,” Gamboa said in an interview. “We see the strong message and I think all the PNP personnel understood it.”
A visibly incensed Duterte issued the order after members of urban poor group Samahan ng Magkakapitbahay (Samana) staged a protest over the alleged lack of food distribution in a slum community in Barangay Bagong Pag-asa. The rally turned violent as police dispersed the demonstrators after an hour of negotiation. Martial law is also not an option, even as Duterte does everything in his power to ensure peace and order while the country is battling a public health emergency, Secretary to the Cabinet Karlo Nograles said.
Asked how far the President would go to ensure peace and order, Nograles said, “Obviously, in a state of calamity, there has to be order. So it is important for Pangulong Duterte to maintain order, especially in this time of crisis and in this time and in this state of calamity. That’s the point which the President wants to emphasize there.”
Under the 1987 Constitution, the President may suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law for a period not exceeding 60 days in case of invasion or rebellion or when public safety requires it. Gamboa said policemen will continue exercising maximum tolerance and vowed that all their actions in dealing with protesters are always within the bounds of the law.
“When you don’t implement things within the bounds of the law, then it’s against the policy in law enforcement,” he stressed as he noted that policemen would not hesitate to arrest unruly demonstrators who would jeopardize the administration’s efforts to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). At least 150 persons took part in the rally, violating quarantine guidelines against mass gatherings.
Gamboa has ordered the Quezon City Police District to file charges against the protesters to send a message to the public that they are serious in implementing the law. He appealed for Filipinos to remain patient as the government is doing everything to address their needs during the health crisis. “No less than the President addressed the public last night that patience should be our virtue and he even assured that nobody is going to get hungry,” he noted. Duterte, on Wednesday, ordered the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to shoot dead those who would create situations that disrupt peace and order in the country.
In his taped public message, Duterte was visibly angry after the left-leaning group Kadamay supposedly instigated the protest actions over food distribution issues in San Roque, Barangay Bagong Pag-asa. “We have a public health concern, and this should not be complicated by a peace and order concern,” Nograles said as he called on the public to obstruct plans to create confusion among the populace. “The President has raised a point: the government will not allow any group to sow confusion and take advantage of the situation while we are all worried for our lives and the health and safety of our fellow countrymen and yet, there are groups that would want to muddle the situation,” he emphasized. While the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) did not discuss the issue, Nograles revealed that the President has consulted with the Cabinet’s security cluster.
The Palace assured the public that the government would be implementing measures that are bound by the law. “The government will follow the law. Government will follow what is legal. Government will follow what is right and we ask for the cooperation of everyone,” Nograles said. The country remains under a state of calamity and a state of public health emergency, which were separately declared by Duterte last month to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Right now, it’s a public health issue. But if there will be groups sowing violence and would take advantage of situation, then it becomes also a peace and order issue. It was not a peace and order issue until there were quarters which took advantage and sowed violence,” Nograles said. “Right now, the President regards that it’s already a public health issue, and if you put into the picture the issue of peace and order, we will have some problems. So, let it just remain to be a public health issue and concern which we are currently managing. Don’t let it be a peace and order problem,” he emphasized.
While Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed that Duterte was just exaggerating, he said the riot should be investigated to find if it was just a “hunger-driven spontaneous act of people who lost their patience out of exasperation, or a politically-instigated act of violence by sinister groups out to take advantage and destabilize the administration and duly constituted authority.” As a former PNP chief, Lacson said investigators could look into the possibility that Wednesday’s incident was a “dry run” to test public sentiment and the law enforcers’ ability to respond. He noted that Kadamay posted on its Facebook page an invitation to an event scheduled for April 1.