'Don't threaten the hungry with bullets': Groups, lawmakers condemn Duterte's order vs. lockdown violators

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 2) — Lawmakers, human rights advocates, and leftist groups on Thursday slammed President Rodrigo Duterte's order for his troops to shoot and kill violators of the COVID-19 quarantine if the protests prove to be a threat to law enforcers’ lives.

The President issued the threat Wednesday night, hours after protesters demanding food assistance from the government amid the Luzon-wide enhanced quarantine were dispersed and rounded up by the police. He told the military and police to "shoot them dead" when protests become too rowdy.

Some of the dozens of protesters from Barangay San Roque in Quezon City held placards saying they have not gotten any help from the local government amid the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine. Police dispersed the crowd, arresting at least 21 protesters, bodily dragging or pinning on the ground those who resisted.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said the national government must respond to the needs of the public, especially those who are most affected by the lockdown.

"Ang mga tao ngayon ay gutom, may sakit, at nawalan ng kabuhayan. Their urgent needs should be met not w/ death threats, but w/ compassion & concern. Ang kailangan ng taumbayan ngayon ay pagkain, ayuda, at proteksyon sa mga frontliners, hindi dahas at pagbabanta," she said in a tweet.

[Translation: The people are hungry, sick, and jobless. Their urgent needs should not be met with death threats, but with compassion and concern. What the public needs now is food, assistance, and protection, not threats.]

Opposition senator Kiko Pangilinan said threats do not solve hunger, as he asked where the government's budget for food assistance during the COVID-19 outbreak has gone.

Duterte placed Luzon under enhanced community quarantine starting March 17 — by enforcing strict home lockdown with some exemptions, suspending classes, and temporarily shutting down mass transportation — in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease in the country.

Leftist labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno said the Duterte administration should listen to the cries of the poor instead of turning a blind eye to their pleas and resorting to violence.

"Don't threaten the hungry with brute police force. These threats will not fill empty stomachs. The President should give the people adequate food and jobs, not bullets," KMU chairperson Elmer “Ka Bong” Labog said in a statement.

Duterte also appealed to "the Left," telling them not to riot or he will have them jailed.

Human rights group Amnesty International Philippines and Karapatan assailed Duterte's policy, saying unchecked force is not the correct response to a health crisis.

“It is deeply alarming that President Duterte has extended a policy of shoot to kill, a devastating hallmark of his presidency, to law enforcement agencies in the community quarantine. Deadly, unchecked force should never be referred to as a method to respond to an emergency such as the COVID 19 pandemic," Amnesty International Philippine Section Director, Butch Olano said in a statement.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay added, "They are facing threats both to their health and livelihood and they are being driven to mass hunger — but instead of addressing their urgent and legitimate demands for aid, the state is lightning quick to unleash ruthless violence and repression upon the people.”

Amnesty International said the violent arrest of the 21 protesters for staging a rally without government permit should be investigated.

From March 17 to 29, the Philippine National Police reported that a total of 17,039 people have been arrested nationwide for supposed violations of curfews and other policies imposed as part of the enhanced community quarantine against the pandemic.

Duterte had earlier approved restrictions on people's movement, ordering most to stay at home as he placed the entire island of Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19. The quarantine is scheduled to last until April 13.

The country has recorded 2,311 patients with the viral disease, with 96 dead. Fifty have recovered so far.