DAVAO

Velez: 'Baka kalaban ka'

Tybox

GMA News reporter Mark Gene Makalalad recounted on his Facebook account how those words hit him while he was doing a spot report on the traffic in Marikina. Officers came up to him, asked why he was filming, asked for his media ID, and asked whether he was filming them. It was clear as day that he was filming the highway, not the officers, but he got that response.

How can a media reporter, armed with just a camera, become an enemy in the eyes of authorities? Again, that officer's reply betrays perhaps the state of mind of authorities towards citizens they are supposed to serve and protect.

If we read the news, it's not Makalalad who has experienced this kind of treatment. There's a long list of harrowing experiences citizens encounter when they cross paths with authorities.

There are the vendors and motorcycle back-riders arrested on the slightest infraction of quarantine guidelines, without consideration that they are going out to find ways to earn in this difficult time of the pandemic.

Even community volunteers doing feeding programs got arrested. Even two frontliners in Cebu who had to go out to buy food were "invited" instead of by officers and reported as violators of quarantine rules.

It's not just the working class who had such encounters. Even middle-class people, 100 of them eating in a posh open-air restaurant in Makati observing physical distancing, suddenly found themselves thrown to jail, allegedly for not doing distancing.

Even expat mothers in the posh BGC experienced how police resorted to intimidation, instead of explaining to them not to bring their children out at the park, complete with brandishing handcuffs and blaring sirens that freaked out the children.

What is problematic here is how the government reduces the pandemic to a matter of discipline and arresting citizens as a measure. We have more arrests recorded rather than people receiving mass testing or adequate health response because of the limited number of hospital beds and health frontliners. That is perhaps why tuob is being promoted instead of more scientific solutions.

Another problem is on the officers themselves. In many instances of those arrests, the police could not even determine what rules these citizens violated, and made up cases that end up getting dismissed in court.

This adds to the anger citizens feel that authorities may not have read the guidelines but interpret the laws as they see fit. But in some cases, the authorities are immune from their own law, such as that mañanita incident.

This also adds further anxiety to citizens, who are doing their best to stay safe and survive but end up being picked up and crammed into jail, which exposes them to the risk of getting the virus.

What makes it scarier is that the Anti-Terrorism Act may lapse into law next week. With the way officers are conducting themselves, and now we see that in full display in Cebu, we might end up being more scared of authorities rather than the virus. Human rights lawyers, and even retired Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, will bring petitions to the Supreme Court to repeal that Act.

As citizens and taxpayers, we are paying these law officers. We have the right to demand they give us dignity as citizens. We also have the right to ask: sino ba ang kalaban in this pandemic?


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