Police say no home searches for COVID-19 patients as critics warn of new 'Tokhang'-style program

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 15) — Authorities allayed fears of numerous critics over the reported house-to-house police search to check for violators of home quarantine protocols, with many comparing it the drug war known as Oplan Tokhang.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Wednesday denied that the government is militarizing its COVID-19 response by deploying more state security to control the spread of the coronavirus.

In carrying out the newly-launched Oplan Kalinga program, Ano said policemen will only have a "supporting role" in checking for the compliance of COVID-19 patients who have opted to recuperate at home.

"The police will just assist local health authorities so I don’t understand why they think this way," he said in a statement. "That is pure speculation."

Under the program, COVID-19 patients showing no flu-like symptoms will be fetched from their homes and brought to government quarantine facilities to control the transmission of the disease.

The government wants to scrap the home quarantine option for COVID-19 patients who don't have a separate room and bathroom. Home quarantine will also not be allowed for those living with children, elderly, pregnant women, and those with preexisting health conditions.

On the other hand, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque clarified that there will be no house-to house search.

"There will be no house-to-house search for COVID positive patients," Roque said. "They will have to be reported by the persons themselves, other members of the household, or their barangay officials."

In a CNN Philippines interview on Wednesday, Joint Task Force COVID Shield Commander Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said the role of the police is to assist the epidemiological surveillance units of the local governments.

“They (LGU) had to identify kung sino ba 'yung mga nag-positive na sa test at kung ang kanilang lugar ay hindi conducive to home quarantine,” he said.

[Translation: They had to identify who tested positive and if their homes are not conducive to home quarantine.]

Eleazar added that the police will wait for the guidance of the local health offices.

Año said that local health teams have a list of COVID-19 patients in their area. He said the health officers will explain the process to the patients and assess if they comply with the minimum requirements to be permitted to practice home quarantine.

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros and the National Union of People's Lawyers said Oplan Kalinga has glaring similarities to Oplan Tokhang, the PNP's anti-drug operations program.

During Tokhang operations, teams led by police and local officials go from house to house in an area, knocking on doors of suspects and pleading with them to end their drug use or turn themselves in.

President Rodrigo Duterte's all-out war against illegal drugs has been heavily criticized for being bloody, with police reporting some 6,000 suspects dead after resisting arrest. Human rights groups estimate the number of those killed to be as high as 27,000.

Hontiveros said COVID-19 patients may be more scared to disclose their health status due to fear of the state security.

"Parang tokhang pero pang-COVID. Imbes na pulis, mas kinakailangan ang mga doktor at health workers sa barangay at mga kabahayan," Hontiveros said in a statement on Wednesday.

[Transation: It's like tokhang for COVID patients. Instead of police, doctors and health workers should be deployed, not the police.]

NUPL said this new program only reveals the Duterte administration’s continuing reliance on police and militaristic approaches to solve a public health emergency.

"With a government that has emboldened its own uniformed personnel to violate human rights with impunity, how can we be sure that the police will not abuse this new power to intrude into the privacy of our homes and encroach upon our liberties, targeting those who have been vocal with their grievances and criticisms of the government's callous neglect of the people's livelihood, health and lives?" it said in a statement.

Opposition Senator Franklin Drilon also urged the government "to revisit its decision to invade our people's homes," saying there should be no entry into homes without a warrant.

"If this government had only acted prudently and expeditiously, we would not have reached this point where our state security forces are being commanded to desecrate our inviolable constitutional right to be secure in their persons, houses ... against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose,"Drilon said.