On April 1, Darren Manaog Peñaredondo, 28, left his home in General Trias, a town in the province of Cavite, which is blocked due to growing cases in Covid-19, to buy water, his family said, according to the CNN affiliate of the Philippines.
But he was stopped by the police and instructed to do “pumping exercises” 100 times, according to the report. The police made him repeat the exercises, which means that he did about 300 repetitions.
“He started to have seizures on Saturday, but we were able to resuscitate him at home. Then his body failed, so we resuscitated him again, but he was already in a coma,” said his family, according to the report. Peñaredondo died at 10 pm, the family said.
The Philippines has one of the highest numbers of Covid-19 cases reported from any country in Asia – it recorded more than 819,000 infections and 14,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the past month, cases in the country have increased dramatically, prompting authorities to order the confinement of more than 25 million people – including those in the province of Cavite.
The Department of Interior and Local Government and the mayor of the city of General Trias have ordered an investigation into the death of Peñaredondo, according to the report.
“All police officers who have proven to be in breach of the law will be prosecuted and will receive the appropriate (administrative) and criminal penalties,” said department undersecretary Jonathan Malaya in a text message to CNN Philippines.
Peñaredondo’s death follows a series of incidents involving brutal policing techniques.
In a statement last month, the non-profit organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) cited reports that authorities locked five young people inside a dog cage for violating the quarantine. They also forced people to sit in the midday sun as a punishment for violating the curfew.
José Manuel Diokno, a lawyer and founder of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), said it was not legal to lock people in cages or force people to squat 300 times. “The only penalties that can be imposed by law enforcement officials for any type of violation are those found in local and national legislation, and we have no law that allows people to be put in cages for dogs or to exercise for long periods of time, “he said.
A difficult approach to Covid restrictions
The Philippines has taken a tough approach to containing the coronavirus.
President Rodrigo Duterte applied his traditional strongman tactics, saying in April last year that the police would kill anyone who violated the restrictions on the virus. “I will not hesitate. My orders are for the police, the military and the barangays: if they become rebels and fight against you and their lives are in danger, shoot them,” said Duterte during a speech.
A large number of people have been arrested for violating the restrictions in the last 12 months. Between March and August last year, almost 290,000 people were warned, fined or charged for violating quarantine rules, CNN Philippines reported. Since Duterte blocked Luzon’s main Philippine island on March 16 this year, hundreds of people have been arrested in Manila, HRW said in March.
Philippine officials argue that a tough approach is needed to control the outbreak in the country. But Carlos Conde, a senior researcher at HRW, based in the Philippines, argues that the increase in cases shows that the measures did not work. Instead, he said the decision to arrest people en masse probably caused people to be “packaged like sardines” in crowded prisons, without social detachment.
Blocking orders have also hurt people who need to leave their homes to work, he said, adding that the measures are “very anti-poor”.
In its annual report released this week, Amnesty International criticized the Philippines’ approach, noting that “measures taken by the government to curb the spread of Covid-19 have led to various human rights abuses”.
Last month, Duterte defended the use of ex-military personnel in the fight against Covid-19, saying, “You don’t have to be a doctor here,” according to a CNN Philippines report. CNN contacted the official Philippine Information Agency for comment.
Decline in freedoms
Brutal policing methods have been a problem for years in the Philippines. Since Duterte came to power in 2016, thousands have died in the “war on drugs” after the president ordered the police to kill anyone they believed to be linked to the drug trade.
But activists say the pandemic has further degraded human rights and freedoms.
According to Conde, the key problem It’s the government is treating Covid-19 as a public security issue – not a health concern. The disproportionate roles given to the military and police have only increased the prevalence of aggressive policing tactics, he said.
“I think the police, the military and the local government were encouraged to commit human rights violations even more during the pandemic,” he said.
Diokno, the lawyer, said the authorities “just heard a cue from their leader”, referring to Duterte.
There were impacts beyond those who were arrested for violating the quarantine. According to HRW, there was a 50% increase in people killed in the “drug war” from April to July 2020 compared to the previous four-month period.
Diokno said that human rights were “clearly” degraded during the pandemic. “In addition to the lives lost, the first victims of the pandemic were democratic rights and freedoms,” he said.