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Drilon, Villanueva fear house-to-house search for COVID-19 cases unconstitutional

At least two senators on Wednesday cautioned that the house-to-house search for asymptomatic and mild COVID-19 cases violates the Constitution.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, during a virtual Kapihan sa Manila Bay, reminded the government that the pandemic does not suspend the bill of rights of the Filipino people.

"There is no question that there is a need to protect the people but we should do it with due reference to the Constitution. The pandemic does not set aside the constitutional restrictions and protections under the bill of rights... which includes the protection against unreasonable search and seizures," he said.

Fears on possible abuse of the said measure is "a manifestation of the distrust of the people," he said.

"Because of what has happened in the past, you cannot blame the people. If they fear that this will be used to oppress," Drilon said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros likened the house-to-house search to "tokhang," the police force's intensified anti-illegal drug campaign blamed for the killing of thousands of drug suspects.

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año earlier clarified that the search will be led by local health officials and stressed that it is pursuant to Section IV (f) of Republic Act 11332 or the "Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act."

The same justification has been maintained by the president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

"It is reporting—not detention, not seizure," Drilon said in response to Año invoking the said law. He urged the Department of the Interior and Local Government to review and reconsider the move.

Personal protective equipment must also be distributed to those who will be conducting the search, according to Drilon, if ever the plan pushes through.

Senator Joel Villanueva also cautioned about the possible implications of the presence of state security forces in the house-to-house search.

"I think this plan is impractical and, as a lot of us would say, may run against the constitutional prohibition on warrantless searches and seizures," he said in a separate virtual interview.

"Article III Section 2 of the Constitution. It's very clear against doon sa basta na lang papasok ka, mag-search ka ng walang warrant, mag-seizure ka," he added.

Maintaining that COVID-19 solutions must be data-driven, pro-health, and pro-poor, Villanueva said it would be better if uniformed personnel would not be part of the house-to-house.

He said their presence could add to the anxiety already being experienced by the public amid the pandemic.

On the other hand, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he doesn't see any problem with the house-to-house search as long as it is done "within due bounds."

"It appears that they are dead serious in truncating the spread of the virus," he said.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DILG is authorized to monitor home quarantine patients through its Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams. KBK, GMA News