21 protesters demanding food aid arrested in Quezon City

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 1) — Twenty-one protesters demanding food and other assistance were arrested Wednesday in Quezon City for staging a rally without government permit, police said.

The Quezon City Police District in a statement said the protesters, who are residents of Sitio San Roque, were arrested at a portion of EDSA in Barangay Bagong Pag-asa around 11 a.m.

A video posted by DZRH on Twitter shows the violent dispersal of protesters conducted by the QCPD. One of them can be seen being dragged by authorities, while being berated for participating in the protest.

Among those arrested was a 47-year-old woman who led the group Samahan Ng Magkakapitbahay ng Barangay San Roque.

They were apparently part of dozens of protesters shown on videos that circulated on social media. Some of them held placards saying they have not gotten any help from the local government amid the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The local government of Quezon City denied these claims, saying there has been "continuous distribution of food packs throughout the city, both from the local government and the barangays to ensure that affected families are looked after during this crisis period."

"Nevertheless, the mayor has instructed city personnel to review the list to make sure nobody has been inadvertently left out," it added.

The city government said the residents crowded the area after being given false information that a TV crew was distributing relief goods there. The group Kadamay instigated individuals to hold the rally and claim they were not given aid, claimed Quezon City Task Force Action Officer Rannie Ludovica in a CNN Philippines News Night interview.

"Upon further questioning however, some residents acknowledged that they did receive food packs," the Quezon City government stressed.

As of March 31, the local government of Quezon City said it has distributed more than 952,000 food packs since the imposition of the quarantine, which has restricted people's movement. Quezon City has 151 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Of this number, 27 have died while 11 have recovered.

Meanwhile, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte called on authorities to release the arrested protesters "in the interim for humanitarian reasons," and issue them a warning instead.

PNP reiterates: No mass gatherings

Police earlier said charges will be filed against the protesters for violations of the Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act, which was recently passed to address the COVID-19 crisis; and the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act. They will also be charged for resistance and disobedience to authorities.

“Bago po sila hinuli, unang-una pinakiusapan natin sila para magsibalikan sa kanilang tahanan, subalit nagmatigas sila kaya wala tayo magawa kundi i-implement natin ang batas," said QCPD Director Police Brigadier General Ronnie Montejo.

[Translation: Before they were arrested, authorities first requested them to return to their homes, but they refused to do so, and there's nothing we can do but implement the law.]

Ludovica also said protesters are "targeting other barangays" in Quezon City, including Payatas, Batasan, Holy Spirit and Commonwealth.

"After po nito, 'yun na po ang isusunod nila para lalabas talaga na 'yung mga tao ay di na makapaghintay at gutom na," Ludovica said.

[Translation: After this, they also intend to stage protests in those areas to make it appear like the people are already starving and can no longer wait.]

Philippine National Police Chief General Archie Gamboa warned of "firm and decisive police action" against those who will organize and join "illegal mass actions" amid the state of national health emergency due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Under Luzon-wide quarantine, people are ordered to stay home, except those offering basic services, mass transportation is suspended and all mass gatherings are prohibited.

Groups call for protesters' release

Cause-oriented groups Bayan Muna and Gabriela condemned the "violent dispersal" of the protesters and demanded their immediate release.

"We further call for immediate action on the people's request for food and financial assistance," Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said in a statement. "We demand the immediate release of the P8,000 cash assistance to the poor, the implementation of the P1,000 hike in SSS pension, and other social amelioration measures that were mandated by Republic Act 11469."

Gabriela Women's Party in a separate statement said, "using excessive force and detention will not quell the empty stomachs of Filipinos who up to this day remain denied of the promised P200-billion cash aid for the poor."

Nationwide, COVID-19 cases have risen to 2,311, with 96 deaths and 50 recoveries.