Dear Police Brigadier General Montejo,
I am writing to express my concern about the ongoing prosecution, including the impending arraignment, of 21 residents of San Roque village, Quezon City who staged a peaceful protest on 1 April 2020. The residents peacefully protested to call for government aid, after a supposed relief distribution by a private company did not happen. Because of the community quarantine that began on 17 March 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Filipinos have been unable to earn a living.
The Save San Roque Alliance maintains that the police violently dispersed the protesters and hit people with wooden sticks. To date, there appears to have been no action taken by your department to investigate allegations of violence by the police force. I find it alarming that Philippine authorities have responded to the resident’s pleas with violence, detention and potential criminal penalties.
The 21 individuals may face various charges, including “unlawful assembly” and “non-cooperation in a health emergency”, with combined penalties of up to 20 months in jail and over PhP 1.1 million (USD 22,000) in fines each. Amnesty International calls on governments not to imprison people solely for breaching public health restrictions, which is a disproportionate measure in the current context. The charges are contrary to international human rights law or carry penalties with a disproportionate impact.
Furthermore, given the elevated risks of transmission of COVID-19 in certain places of detention, I wish you to consider that the enforcement of prison sentences is likely to further compound the public health problems caused by the pandemic and would fail to meet the test of necessity and proportionality.
I therefore call on your office to:
- Drop all charges against the 21 residents of San Roque village, as the charges are either contrary to international human rights law or carry penalties that will disproportionately affect this group;
- Launch a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the police’s use of force, which may amount to torture or other ill-treatment, and bring anyone responsible to justice in a fair trial; and
- Ensure that all residents of San Roque have prompt and adequate access to food, medicines and other basic needs, and are empowered and supported to comply with the community quarantine.
Thank you for your kind attention.