By Daniel Llanto

The government will continue to uphold human rights in its implementation of measures to arrest the spread of the coronavirus in the country, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) clarified after a senior DILG official earlier declared that human rights and the writ of habeas corpus go out the window during a state of emergency.

This clarification was made by DILG Undersec. Jonathan Malaya to thwart the statement of fellow DILG Undersec. Martin Diño who drew criticisms for incorrectly saying in a radio interview that human rights are suspended during a state of emergency.

“We need not fear. The government follows the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The President already said that the state of public health emergency in the country and the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon is not martial law,” said Malaya, also the DILG spokesman.

Last week, President Duterte declared a Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine after majority of the COVID-19 infections in the Philippines were reported in most Luzon provinces.

Duterte ordered half of the country’s population to stay home, suspended mass transportation and deployed uniformed personnel to enforce quarantine procedures.

“I wish to emphasize that the DILG upholds human rights in all its programs including the fight against COVID-19. The virus is our enemy, not human rights,” Malaya said.

He added that the “current restrictions imposed such as social distancing and home quarantine are neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration and proportionate.”

DILG Memorandum Circular 2020-062 directs local government units to ensure that no quarantine patrol staff or any employee or officer performing tasks related to the implementation and maintenance of the quarantine shall commit any human rights violations.

Although Malaya admitted that he has yet to hear Diño’s radio interview, Malaya said the DILG official may have been misquoted or that “his statements were taken out of context.”

In a March 21 interview on Superadyo dzBB, Diño said: “Wala na hong karapatan. Tandaan niyo, State of Emergency ngayon. Ang karapatan pantao ay nawawalapagdating ngState of Emergency… ‘Pagka ho maystate of emergency, ‘yungwrit of habeas corpus ay nawawala na po yan.”

The 1987 Constitution only allows the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus — a safeguard against arbitrary arrest and detention — “in cases of invasion or rebellion or when the public safety requires it” not when a state of emergency is declared.

Duterte also issued Proclamation 929 and placed the entire country under state of calamity due to the spread of the virus on March 16. He earlier declared public health emergency through Proclamation 922.

Neither declaration contained a provision declaring a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus nor did it state that human rights will not remain.

This is not the first time that Diño, a member of the President’s PDP-Laban party, has portrayed human rights as something that can be discarded in the implementation of government policy.

In 2018, he said he issued a directive to village officials to forward to him a list of “drug personalities” in their area as part of the government’s controversial anti-narcotics campaign.  Non-compliant barangay officials would face “sanctions,” Diño warned, putting pressure on village executives to come up with a drug watch list.

In response, lawyer Gilbert Andres of the Center for International Law said at the time that Diño’s directive to barangay executives would violate a person’s right to the presumption of innocence.

“The state should not make any lists because it would be dangerous if the government would start labeling its people),” Andres pointed out.

The Commission on Human Rights said there may be “acceptable restriction” on certain rights like the freedom of movement during the enhanced community quarantine but stressed that restrictions must “be lawful, necessary, proportionate and should not be used to target specific groups, minorities or individuals.”

Last week, United Nations experts stressed that drastic measures put in place to curb the rising number of new coronavirus must be motivated by legitimate public health goals and should not be used to simply silence dissent.