Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday urged police to arrest people who fail to wear sanitary masks in public during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, calling the refusal to wear a mask a “serious crime,” the Philippine Star reported on Tuesday.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Monday, the president said that failing to wear a mask poses a grave public health threat given the contagious nature of the Chinese coronavirus.
“We do not have any qualms in arresting people. It might, under ordinary times … [seem like] a simple violation of not wearing a mask, seems to be trivial. And social distancing, all of these things. But during times of health issues, pandemic … it can be a serious crime … transmitting [a virus] … You are a carrier [of the virus],” the president said in a mix of Filipino and English at the meeting broadcast on Tuesday.
“We’ll have to ask our police to be more strict,” Duterte told Interior Secretary Eduardo Año of enforcing mask-wearing. “Ask the police to function the way they should in times like this.”
“If you are brought to a police station and detained there [for not wearing a mask], that will give you a lesson for all time,” the president added.
At Monday’s meeting, Duterte also admonished local governments across the Philippines for failing to enforce nationally mandated coronavirus prevention measures.
“There are mayors who refuse to abide by the rules. You want COVID [Chinese coronavirus] to slow down or stop? Wear a mask or do not go out if you do not want to wear one. [That’s all, along with] social distancing. There is no other way that you can prevent COVID [Chinese coronavirus] from transferring from one person to another,” the president said, according to the newspaper.
Addressing the topic, Interior Secretary Año told the president at the meeting that he and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III met with local officials earlier on Monday to discuss “how to impose quarantine protocols more uniformly.”
Last week, Duterte said that he would personally provide masks for poor Filipinos who cannot afford them, the Philippine Star reports.
“Masks, this is what’s really important. If you don’t have any, I will try to buy as many as I can afford. We will give it to you, but wear it,” Duterte said.
“[The president] offered no further details on the initiative even as arrests of quarantine violators which have been flagged by lawmakers as ‘overzealous’ and ‘disproportionate’ are ongoing,” the newspaper noted.
In mid-March, the president ordered a “total lockdown” of the entire main island of Luzon – including the capital and population center Metro Manila – to curb the spread of coronavirus and began enforcing a severe crackdown on quarantine violators. Though the lockdown measures have since eased, strict curfews remain in place in Manila and Duterte has encouraged law enforcement officials to jail people who defy restrictions on movement.