THE Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) on Thursday vowed no mercy for members of the leftist group Kadamay which allegedly incited some Quezon City residents to stage a lightning rally in protest of a supposed lack of food and financial support from the national and local government amid the lockdown imposed to control the speedy spread of the novel coronavirus.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said any person or group who will take part in any demonstration or anti-government mobilization will be charged in court.
Police on Wednesday arrested 21 members of the Samahan ng Magkakapitbahay ng Barangay San Roque, who held a rally in their barangay and complained about the government’s failure to provide food and financial assistance during the crisis. The residents are now detained at the Quezon City police district in Camp Karingal.
Initial police investigation showed the residents were allegedly provoked by Kadamay members into protesting after being told there was an ongoing distribution of cash and food assistance at the barangay hall and finding none.
“We are going to jail them. We are in a (COVID-19) crisis. We cannot allow such rallies. That’s a violation, it’s a mass gathering,” said Año, referring to guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), which serve as preventive strategies against the COVID-19.
The task force has banned all sorts of mass gatherings during the 30-day enhanced community quarantine in Luzon and in parts of the Visayas and Mindanao.
“We are going to detain them. We will show no mercy. Everyone should be cooperating (with the quarantine) and yet they are exploiting the people to demonstrate,” Año said.
PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said the police force will be uncompromising in dealing with any person or groups who will agitate or incite people to demonstrate or hold protest actions.
“Let me reiterate our warning to agitators and organizers of illegal mass actions – disobedience to lawful orders of persons in authority will be dealt with squarely without compromise,” said Gamboa.
“Impatience does not offer any reason to foment public disorder bordering on unrest and anarchy,” he added.
PNP deputy chief for operations and Joint Task Force Corona Virus Shield chief Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar warned instigators “to refrain from exploiting this crisis to deceive the poor and create disorder.”
“In the words of our Chief PNP, there will be firm and decisive police action against agitators and organizers of illegal mass actions in violation of existing laws applicable in this time of national health emergency,” said Eleazar.
“So now we (make this) appeal: Please do not compel your policemen and the rest of the JTF CV Shield members to use force against you. Our mandate is to maintain peace and order in this time of crisis. We will ensure that we will stick with that mandate not only because that is our sworn duty but also because the situation we are into right now requires full compliance with the public health guidelines for the general welfare of the Filipinos against the threat of the COVID-19,” added Eleazar.
Eleazar said the PNP initially assumed the incident was “a localized problem in the distribution of relief items for the poor families affected by the strict implementation of the ECQ.”
“But at the course of the investigation, we found out that there was a particular group which took advantage of the situation, which exploited our poor kababayans, by agitating them and even leading them to violate the strict rules on social distancing,” said Eleazar.
Año said: “It’s just the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) that’s instigating (violence).”
DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the department has received reports that the communists have also been provoking residents from other areas in Metro Manila to hold protest actions.
“I hope that the public will also realize that this action (in Quezon City) is not isolated. We also have reports coming various parts of Metro Manila of leftist groups agitating the masses to conduct protest actions,” said Malaya.
“I hope they will stop because I think the President already made clear the position of the government in this regard,” said Malaya, referring to President Duterte’s address on Wednesday night where he warned groups against sowing violence during the distribution of food packs and financial assistance to families affected by the crisis.
The President ordered the police, the military and even barangay chiefs, if needed, to shoot dead those who will sow disorder and violence as well as endanger the lives of the people amid efforts to address the CIVID-19 pandemic.
“This protest in Quezon City, we now see the agenda. There is a political agenda behind – to agitate, arouse and mobilize the people … To the leftist groups, do not take advantage of the situation,” Malaya warned.
“We all know their agenda and they want to take advantage of the situation to undermine government and to create social upheaval and that is something that government cannot allow,” he added.
“We all know the record of Kadamay. Kadamay, as we all know, is a front organization of the CPP-NPA-NDF and we know the agenda of these groups,” he also said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said law enforcement agencies must dig deeper into the QC protest action.
Lacson said his more than two decades in law enforcement tells him that there is something more than the people demanding help from the government.
“I couldn’t help but suggest to authorities to thoroughly investigate if the ‘riot’ in Quezon City (last Wednesday) involving protesters demanding aid in violation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine was indeed a ‘valid hunger-driven’ spontaneous act of people who simply lost their patience out of exasperation, or a politically-instigated violence by sinister groups out to take advantage and destabilize the administration and duly constituted authority,” said Lacson, a former PNP chief.
Lacson said last Wednesday’s protest action could be a “dry run” to test public sentiment as well as the ability of law enforcers to respond.
“(This is not) saying, however, that all protests during the ECQ should be presumed as politically motivated. Yet, it cannot be denied that there may be groups with motive to exploit the volatility of the situation to advance their own political agenda,” Lacson said.
NO MARTIAL LAW
Asked if President Duterte’s agitated reaction to the QC incident could lead to the imposition of stricter security and peace and order schemes, Cabinet Secretary and concurrent IATF spokesman Karlo Nograles said imposing martial law is not an option under the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nograles said martial law has never been discussed or raised in any of the discussions of the IATF or its meetings with President Duterte.
“Is martial law an option? We have not talked of martial law, it was not discussed for now. How far will the President go to ensure peace and order? Obviously, in a state of calamity, there has to be order. There has to be order which is why it is important for President Duterte to maintain order especially in this time of crisis and in this time and in this state of calamity,” he said.
Nograles maintained that the COVID-19 pandemic is a health issue and will only become a peace and order issue when someone or some groups sow disorder and try to take advantage of the situation.
“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 said adding that government will follow the laws in keeping peace and order and called for everyone’s cooperation. – With Raymond Africa and Jocelyn Montemayor