Bernadeth Caboboy on the day her husband was arrested, had 200 Philippine pesos (about $4) in her pocket and her fidgety three-year-old daughter in her arms. The toddler needed milk and they needed food, but had no money to buy either.
It had been three weeks since the lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 was declared, and 21 long days since operations at the construction site where her husband worked had stopped.
Their neighborhood of San Roque in Quezon City, the country’s largest metropolis, got neither food nor aid from the government. Caboboy’s husband, Jek-Jek, decided to meet his foreman to see if he could get his salary.
When Jek-Jek went out, he was swept up in a throng of people who were waiting for the rumored distribution of relief goods.
“Someone shouted that a charity was going to give away a half-sack of rice,” Jek-Jek recalled. “People started lining up on the side of the road. The next thing I knew, the police came, telling us to get on the ground.”
Jek-Jek and 20 other residents of San Roque were arrested on April 1 and charged with violating quarantine protocol, disobedience, and illegal assembly.
Footage of police with riot shields and batons violently dispersing the crowd went viral. Concerned citizens put together 367,500 pesos ($7,350) to bail out the San Roque 21 after five days in detention.
Critics warn that the Philippine government’s heavy-handed approach to the public health emergency is criminalizing the poor for violating quarantine protocols that are impossible for them to follow, quashing their legitimate pleas for food and economic aid, and putting them at risk of infection in cramped detention centers.
“While they were in police custody, there was no social distancing. There were no proper hygiene facilities or supplies. Doesn’t their arrest defeat the purpose of stopping the spread of the virus?” said Kristina Conti of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and lawyer for the San Roque 21.
Police data shows that 42,826 arrests were made in the first 11 days of the country’s enhanced community quarantine
Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Bernard Banac confirmed to Al Jazeera that the arrests were due to alleged violation of quarantine policies like curfew, mass gathering and social distancing. Read here