By: Diega V. Webster

The government’s enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) period has already been extended to May 15, 2020, but some health experts advise against lifting the ECQ if there are no aggressive efforts to isolate at least 70% of infectious cases through better contact tracing, social distancing, individual or household isolation, and reduced delays in time to seek care for symptomatic cases.[1]

The judiciary system and the legal environment have to adjust to these extreme circumstances. The law still applies, and justice needs to be served. It is an opportune time for some persons to commit crimes and for some law enforcement officers to abuse their powers to the detriment of the poor and the oppressed.

Since these are abnormal times, there is heightened police and military presence, as well as government directives to arrest those who are in violation of the law.

Whether or not you are violating the law is not the question here. You may be arrested even if you think you are not violating the law if the arresting officer thinks that you are. But, regardless of innocence or guilt, everyone is entitled to basic legal rights when arrested. These rights are not suspended even during the ECQ.

Your rights include:

  1. Right to know why you are being arrested. The arresting officer is obliged to inform you of the reason for your arrest. Ask if they have a warrant. If not, ask what crime they think you have committed. They can only arrest you without a warrant if a) you are caught in the act of committing a crime, b) if you are attempting to commit it, or c) have just finished committing it.
  2. Right to be informed of your constitutional rights. If you have seen enough cop movies, police officers always have a script that begins with “You have the right to remain silent.” This is what we call the Miranda Rights, which comes from a case in the US where Ernesto Miranda was arrested by the Arizona police and was forced to sign a confession but was never told that he had a right to counsel. The US Supreme Court decided that his confession cannot be used as evidence against him.

If you are arrested, you need to hear the magic words from the arresting officer. They should tell you that you have a right: a) to remain silent, because any statement you make may be used against you in any court of law, b) to competent and independent counsel, preferably of your own choice, and who shall at all times be allowed to talk to you privately, and c) if you cannot afford your own counsel, you must be provided with one by the investigating officer. After saying your rights, the officer should ask you if you understand those rights.

  1. Right to communicate. You have a right to talk to your immediate family or your lawyer. This also means that you cannot be brought to secret detention places, put in solitary confinement or incommunicado, or other forms of illegal detention.
  2. Right to basic human rights. You cannot be subjected to any kind of torture, force, violence, threat or intimidation. You have a right to privacy, and this means that the police cannot touch you except when searching for weapons. They cannot make you take off your clothes in front of other persons. You will be detained according to sex, and, as much as possible, classification of crimes committed.
  3. Right to undergo inquest proceedings immediately. If you are arrested without a warrant, you must undergo inquest proceedings within 12, 18 or 36 hours, depending on what crime/s were charged against you. Inquest proceedings require you to appear before a prosecutor who will determine whether he can file a case against you in court based on the evidence the police have. At this point, you should already have legal counsel who can explain to you what to expect in an inquest.

Getting arrested is a traumatic experience, and it may lead to heightened emotions, raised voices, and even aggression against the arresting officer. Resisting arrest is not advisable, even if you think you have done nothing wrong. It is important that you remain calm, abide by their instructions, and ask them questions courteously. Being rude and condescending, or name-dropping your connections to them, will not help, and may even aggravate the situation.

[1] Abrigo, Michael R.M., et al. (April 2020) Projected Disease Transmission, Health System Requirements, and Macroeconomic Impacts of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Philippines. Philippine Institute for Development Studies.


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