Statement of CHR spokesperson, Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak

Statement of CHR spokesperson, Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak

The Department of Health, as of 5 February 2020, has already reported three confirmed cases, one of which died, and 133 patients under investigation in the Philippines for the novel coronavirus Acute Respiratory Disease (2019-nCoV ARD).

While there are already regular monitoring systems in place, including a ban for travelers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau to enter the country, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) continues to urge the government to treat the situation with greater focus and expediency.

A situation of this scale is not a sole concern of one agency, but demands the attention of the entire government as the primary responsible for every person’s right to health—encompassing all aspects of addressing an outbreak from detection to mitigation.

At the same time, what is equally concerning is on how this outbreak has also resulted to undue discrimination against other people and race. With the world confronted with a virus with little information known, it is human to be afraid. But we must not allow hysteria and paranoia result to othering and irrational treatment of people.

CHR calls for allowing science and reason to guide government and individual actions, as well as using correct information in preventing the further spread of 2019-nCoV ARD.

Putting a halt to rumour-mongering and the spread of false information demand collective action. Such situation should also not, in any way, be used to justify authoritarian tendencies, such as curtailment of rights.

Presidential Decree No. 90, for example, which is being cited to penalise spreading of rumours and false information under the Marcos dictatorship was already repealed almost 34 years ago for paving the way for violations of the freedom of expressions of the people. But even with newer laws, while it is understood that the freedom of expression is not absolute, there should be a higher threshold under a democracy for rights to flourish and be exercised. The spread of wrong information may also be caused by the absence of right information on the matter.

We commend all health professionals, here and overseas, who continue to combat this virus. As duty-bearers for our rights, we have the right to demand better services from the government. But let us also be reminded of our responsibility to respect the rights and dignity of all persons regardless of any circumstance. ###