MANILA — Vice-president Leni Robredo reacted to President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to arrest people improperly wearing face masks on her weekly radio show last May 9.

“‘Yung tamang response dun, turuan kung papaano ang tamang paggamit. Para sa ‘kin, ‘di nakakatulong na ang defaultnatin, aresto. Unang-una, ang sitwasyon nga sa mga jail natin, grabe,” Robredo said, citing Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra’s statement in April that quarantine violators should be penalized with community service instead of fines or jail time.

“Para sa ‘kin, yung multa, ‘yun na ang later step. Sa ‘kin, mag-warning, turuan. ‘Pag matigas talaga ang ulo, isipin ano ang puwedeng penalties na ibigay,” she added.

During a taped speech on May 5, Duterte ordered police to arrest people who failed to wear their masks properly despite the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) earlier advice on handling violation of health protocols.

“My orders to the police are, those who are not working their masks properly, in order to protect the public . . . arrest them and detain them, investigate them why they are doing it,” Duterte said.

“‘Pag hindi ko ganunin, hindi ko higpitan, walang mangyayari . . . Ako dito hirap na hirap, pawala na iyong pera natin sa bangko tapos sige pa rin kayo, galaw nang galaw d’yan nang hindi tama, mapupunta talaga kayo sa istasyon,” he added.

In a Malacañang presser last month, Guevarra advised the Inter-Agency Task Force not to arrest or detain violators and impose community service instead.

“I also recommended that in the enforcement, the stricter enforcement of the ordinances, that LGUs consider the possibility of imposing na lamang the penalty of community service for those who will continue to violate our ordinances rather than imprison or rather than putting them in jail or fining them, eh kasi talaga ngang mahirap na ang buhay sa ECQ (because life is really difficult under the ECQ),” Guevarra said.

In a report by ABS-CBN News, Guevarra also acknowledged that local ordinances issued by local government units as “better legal basis for enforcing health protocols because they are very direct to the point.”

“Yung statutes like Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases, meron doong provision on noncooperation but you know medyo hindi siya shoot na shoot eh, hindi sya talagang very exact to the actual violation, kaya we are relying more on the ordinances issued by the local government units rather than a nationwide general statute like RA 11332,” he said, noting Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chair Benhur Abalos welcomed the idea.

“He would immediately request all MMDA mayors/councils to review their existing ordinances on the enforcement of health protocols, and seriously consider imposing community service as an alternative penalty for violation of such ordinances,” Guevarra quoted Abalos.

In a report by GMA News, Guevarra clarified that Duterte’s order “takes effect immediately even without the guidelines.”

It comes as the DOJ and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) are currently drafting the guidelines related to Duterte’s latest order.

“The guidelines will not add anything to the substantive aspect; only as to the procedure on arrest and detention until the filing of charges, if warranted,” Guevarra said.

“Nothing really special, maybe just determining the manner, time or place of booking, detention, and investigation to avoid overcrowding and avoid the very evil sought to be prevented.”

In a report by Rappler, Duterte on July 2020, ordered police to be stricter in enforcing quarantine rules on mask-wearing and physical distancing to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“We have to ask police to be more strict, so hulihin talaga. A little shame or put them on notice forever,” he said during a taped meeting.

“If you are brought to the police station and detained there that would give you a lesson for all time so ganoon na lang. ‘Yung mahirap, itong nasa squatters … You ask the police to function the way they should in times like this,” he added, urging mayors to do more in punishing COVID-19 quarantine violators as flouting health protocols “can be a serious crime” as it could lead to the spread of the virus.

In another report by GMA News, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said quarantine violators must be apprehended first before the enforcement of the corresponding penalty.

“It’s not the penalty yet,” Roque said during a news conference, noting that Duterte’s order was “not too harsh.”

“We have ordinances on minimum health protocols that allow the outright apprehension [or] warrantless arrest if a crime was committed in the presence and with the full personal knowledge of the police officer,” he said.