Police arrested over 50 leftist activists in Manila on Friday for “illegal assembly” when they rallied en masse, violating coronavirus quarantine restrictions against large gatherings.
The pro-union protests, observing the communist “International Workers’ Day,” endangered public health according to government authorities, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), a Philippine labor group promoting militant unionism, reported that over 50 activists were arrested on Labor Day in Marikina City, located in Metro Manila, according to the Inquirer. KMU claimed that the protesters were “relief volunteers” gathered to distribute food to laborers out of work during the lockdown and that they observed physical distancing measures during the gathering, Philippine news outlet Rappler reports.
On Friday, the Philippines’ Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) issued a statement on the arrests to the Inquirer:
The protest rallies clearly violated the stay-at-home policy of the government. It is a form of mass gathering that is prohibited, especially in ECQ [enhanced community quarantine] areas which are high-risk areas for COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] … they [the activists] risked their lives and the lives of others which [the] government is duty-bound to protect.
Previously, the Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Archie Gamboa had warned that people who gather in large numbers to stage Labor Day protests on May 1 would be arrested, according to the Inquirer.
“The police only implemented the rules as laid down under the law to protect the public and only made arrests after the protesters refused to disband and go back to their homes. Moreover, there was no rally permit granted to them,” DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya told the Inquirer. Malaya accused the leftists of repeatedly violating quarantine restrictions.
We appeal for the nth time to these leftist organizations to stop being ‘pasaway’ [stubborn]. For the sake of your country, please follow the quarantine rules recommended by DOH [Philippine Department of Health] to stop the spread of COVID 19 [Chinese coronavirus]. Public gatherings are prohibited because we don’t want this disease to spread further.
Malaya referred to a similar arrest of leftist activists on April 1, after which Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte issued “shoot to kill” orders to coronavirus quarantine enforcers. At the time, the order sparked concern that the harsh enforcement of quarantine measures might lead to martial law.
Recently, Duterte extended a total lockdown of metro Manila and half of the main island of Luzon, where Marikina City is located, until May 15. During the lockdown – designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus – people’s movement has been severely restricted and most businesses have been shut down in Metro Manila.
In response to the Labor Day incident, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., retweeted the Inquirer’s article on Friday about the union protest and reiterated that the activists were arrested to protect “public health.”
“O crap, persecuted for the right reason: protecting public health including their own. There are some days when nothing goes right for one. Haaayy. I guess this is one of those days,” Locsin lamented.
At press time on Friday, the Philippines had 8,772 infections and 579 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus.