THE SITUATION. At the July 25 press-con held by implementers of the anti-coronavirus campaign in Cebu City, DILG Assistant Secretary Alexander Macario raised the problem of (1) residents who refuse to be swabbed for Covid-19 test and (2) those tested who give false or incomplete information on name and address.
Those who don't submit to the testing, Macario said, can be arrested and charged. He echoed an earlier statement of Eduardo Año, interior and local government secretary, who warned on immediate arrest and swabbing by force. "They pose a great danger to public health and safety of the community," the DILG top official said.
Macario said persons who hide their identity apparently fear the "stigma" attached to Covid-19. He suggested an "information and education campaign" in the barangays "to change public perception."
MANDATORY TESTING. People whose private employers require Covid test of their employees who rejoin the work force have assumed it is "job-related and consistent with business necessity."
The Department of Health last May 21 said private employers are not officially required to get their employees tested. DOH merely "mandated" screening and monitoring of their employees to spot quickly those showing symptoms. The Department of Labor and Employment in its May 1 guidelines require health protocols and reporting but does not require testing.
That must be true of government workers as well. They are not known to have undergone tests unless, like those in barangays, they show symptoms or are, by the nature of their job, physically close to high officials.
In sum, the government does not require employers to order testing within the company but employers may require it as condition for resumption of work, just as some firms require health tests in ordinary times.
The rule is different in the barangay where infections occur or are suspected to have broken out: testing can be "forced," according to DILG, which even threatens arrest and prosecution.
PUNISHABLE ACTS. Both Macario and Año cited Republic Act (RA) 11332 or, its long title, Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act of 2018.
"Notifiable disease" is among those required by law to be reported to public health authorities. "Health event of public health concern" refers to a public health emergency or a public health threat "due to biological, chemical, radio-nuclear and environmental agents." Under that definition, Covid-19 is a "must-be-reported" disease and the pandemic is deemed a public health emergency.
But under what punishable acts of RA 11332 does refusal to submit to testing and giving false or incomplete information fall?
Under Section 9 (e), refusal to submit to testing and giving wrong identification or address may be considered as "non-cooperation of the person or persons or entities identified as having the notifiable disease or affected by the health event of public concern." A stubborn would-be patient may argue that there is no evidence that he is infected. He is merely a suspected or monitored patient and if he submits to the test, he is in effect providing evidence against himself. DILG does not think so.
One may resist the test or give untruthful information but, given the DILG warning and President Duterte's own rant against quarantine violators, police may force the unwilling person and use the resistance as reason for hauling him to detention.
Civil liberties are not suspended by the health emergency. The President's emergency power under the law "To Heal As One" has not yet been renewed by Congress. But, given the reported incidents of legally dubious arrests, it may not be prudent not to resist. The act of resistance provides the legal excuse the law enforcers initially do not have.
REDUCING 'STIGMA.' The health protocol in identifying, tagging and extracting a Covid-positive person is highly invasive and often not enforced quietly.
The entire neighborhood is alerted, what with the police or "tanod" cordon of the affected house, the entourage of people and vehicles that pull out the patient, and the occasional chatter in internet if the affected person is a VIP. They can cut down on public display and make the extraction as unobtrusive as possible.
Reason for the tests and isolation may not be clear enough to those who resist. The "information and education" campaign that Asec. Macario talked about may help.