Philippines: Police Arrest Journalist for Not Wearing Mask Alone on Motorcycle

Police inspect motorcycle riders at a checkpoint as curfew is imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in metro Manila, Philippines a year after the country imposed a lockdown on Monday, March 15, 2021. The Department of Health has been reporting a surge in infections for more than a …
AP Photo/Aaron Favila

Police in Manila recently arrested a journalist for failing to wear a sanitary mask while riding his motorcycle alone in the city, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said Monday.

Lorenz Tanjoco, a broadcaster employed by the Philippine government-owned radio station “PTV 4 Radyo Pilipinas,” was riding his motorbike alone in Manila on April 16 when he was forced to stop at a police checkpoint in Pandacan district. Police officers at the checkpoint asked Tanjoco why he was not wearing a sanitary mask.

“Tanjoco explained to police officers that his face mask was being blown away by the wind so he decided to remove it for a while. The officers did not accept his explanation and a commotion started afterwards,” Philippine news site Rappler reported on April 19.

Manila is currently under a coronavirus lockdown and residents of the city must present authorities with “quarantine passes” to prove they have government permission to move freely throughout the national capital. After allegedly “yelling” at Tanjoco for failing to wear a mask on his motorcycle, the Pandacan police officers asked him for his quarantine pass.

The radio broadcaster presented his government-issued media identification card instead, as journalists are considered essential workers in the Philippines during the pandemic and are exempt from the quarantine pass requirement. The Pandacan police officers refused to accept Tanjoco’s media ID and decided to arrest him.

“Tanjoco started to document his arrest using his mobile phone but the officers confiscated it and said he would face a resisting arrest complaint,” Rappler reported. “He was cuffed and detained for almost 10 hours inside the community precinct before being released.”

The Philippine federal government imposed a lockdown on Metro Manila last month to control a surging number of new Chinese coronavirus infections in the region, home to 12 million people. Manila residents must observe movement restrictions, including a 6:00 pm curfew, and limited travel into and out of the city during the quarantine.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Adonis Aguila of the Manila Police District (MPD) confirmed to Rappler on Monday that Pandacan police had released Tanjoco from their custody and returned his cell phone to him.

“Aguila added MPD director Police Brigadier General Leo Francisco also ordered an investigation into the incident,” the news site reported.

The Manila Police District announced hours later that it had relieved the Pandacan precinct commander and four other police officers of their duties for their involvement in Tanjoco’s arrest.

“Precinct commander Police Lieutenant Joel Piñon and four other policemen from Beata Police Community Precinct in Pandacan were relieved and are now under investigation,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Mupaz of the MPD Public Information Office said in a statement.

Philippine National Police Chief General Debold Sinas had said on April 12 that no one would be arrested for violating Manila’s quarantine rules. The announcement was made in response to an April 3 incident in which a quarantine violator in the Manila-adjacent province of Cavite was allegedly forced to perform 300 squats by local police as punishment for breaking curfew. The man died hours after police released him from custody and his girlfriend said he had complained of physical pain shortly before passing away.

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