COVID-19 Op-ed

A Dangerous Message: Problematic Implications of the Military Responses to COVID-19 in the Philippines

Written by admin

Bryan Thomas D.
Juris Doctor (Student), University of the
Philippines College of Law

state of the world as it faces COVID-19 is akin to a state of war. Philippine
President Rodrigo Duterte would agree with this comparison. “We are at war
against a vicious and invisible enemy,” he said in one of his many addresses
to the nation (Duterte, 2020a). “In this extraordinary war, we are all
soldiers.”Indeed, these are extraordinary times. Our doctors and public
health workers risk their lives at the frontlines of infection. We ourselves
have become combatants against the hunger, fear. isolation, and uncertainty
that this pandemic brings. The Philippines is no stranger to this war; it has
claimed the lives of 297 Filipinos thus far (CNN Philippines, 2020b). As this
conflict brings with it the seemingly imminent threat of an economic recession
(Noble and Laforga, 2020) and the extension of the enhanced community
quarantine (ECQ) (CNN Philippines, 2020a), it may very well claim among its
casualties the Filipino people’s senses of stability and normalcy. A world at
war serves as an accurate metaphor for the realities that we face
today.Disturbingly, President Duterte has taken this metaphor literally. In
his speech, the President urged the people to obey without question the
orders of the police and military. In the same breath, he told them not to be
afraid. He implored the people to love these battle-hardened men and women
(Duterte, 2020a). In another speech, he praised the “military-trained mind”
of the retired generals that he had appointed to lead the government efforts
against COVID-19 (Duterte, 2020c).These speeches send a dangerous message. It
is a message that says power is in the gun. It is a message that tells us to
trust the military and police, even if they have orders from the
Commander-in-Chief himself to shoot dead those who would transgress the
policies of the ECQ (Duterte, 2020b). It is a message that disconcertingly
invokes the specter of Ferdinand Marcos’s Martial Law.Perhaps this specter is
more substantial than we think – there have been numerous reports of human
rights violations in the wake of the President’s message. In one instance,
ECQ violators were ordered to sit under the sweltering sun (Galupo et al.,
2020) There are allegations of women being harassed at checkpoints set up by
the military and police (Malasig, 2020). One city has even passed an
ordinance that would penalize repeat violators of the curfew by depriving
them of relief goods and government assistance (CNN Philippines, 2020c).
These atrocities will likely persist with the extension of the ECQ.President
Duterte’s supporters argue that such abuses of power and violations of human
rights are necessary consequences of public order. They argue that the
President’s message is nothing more than a harmless threat, one made to
instill discipline in the masses. These arguments seem to be supported by the
police’s assurance that they will not outright shoot quarantine violators
(Tupas, 2020). These arguments lead to a conclusion that Presidential
Spokesperson Salvador Panelo is fond of reiterating, that the President is
only joking (Ranada, 2018).These arguments are devoid of both reason and
logic. President Duterte’s message runs contrary to the highest law of the
land. The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines clearly
provides that sovereignty resides in the Filipino people, from whom all
government authority emanates (Article II, Section 1). This authority does
not grant the State a license to humiliate, threaten, or torture the
sovereign people. The Constitution also establishes the military’s role as
protectors of the people, not as perpetrators of human rights violations
(Article II, Section 3). To deviate from this role would be to blatantly
disregard the law.The Philippine government must keep in mind the provisions
of both the Constitution – which lays down its structure and powers – and the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights – to which it is a signatory. These
laws safeguard our human rights, those inalienable principles that provide
all of us an inherent dignity. These rights afford us the security of not
just our physical needs, but our humanity as well. As recent events have
shown, the President’s message – that machine guns should be aimed at
society’s ills – threatens the very security that our human rights guarantee.The
Constitution imparts upon the State its prime duty: to serve and protect the
Filipino people (Article II, Section 4). In its fight against COVID-19, the
Philippine government must reassess its priorities. It must serve, not
threaten, the very people that gives it authority.References:CNN
Philippines. (2020a, April 7). Luzon-wide lockdown extended until April 30 to
stop COVID-19 spread. CNN Philippines.
Philippines. (2020b, April 12). Mass burial not needed amid rising COVID-19
deaths, DOH says. CNN Philippines.
Philippines. (2020c, March 21). Muntinlupa placed under 24-hour curfew.
CNN Philippines.
.Duterte, R. (2020a, March 16). Guidance
of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on the Cornavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
. Retrieved from
v=xOnIigisZNM& feature=emb_err_watch_on_yt
.Duterte, R.
(2020b, April 1). Nation Address of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte
on Cornavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
. Retrieved from,
R. (2020c, April 6). Talk to the Nation of President Rodrigo Roa
Duterte on Cornavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
. Retrieved from
.Galupo, R, et al. (2020, March 25). Parañaque curfew
violators tortured? The Philippine Star.,
L., Laforga, B. (2020, March 30). PHL may go into recession – Diokno.
Business World Online.,
P. (2018, December 4). If Duterte remark is ‘illogical’, he’s joking –
Panelo. Rappler. https://www.rappler
E. (2020, April 3). PNP: We won’t shoot them dead. The Philippine

About the author