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Brainstorm: The Next Generation | Quaranta giorni

How do you enforce a quarantine?

In a perfect world, people are reasonable, cooperative and concerned about the welfare of others.

In such a world, there would be no need to enforce any quarantine because when the government says that people should stay at home, keep clean, refrain from travel and that there should be no large gatherings of people to contain, or suppress, the spread of a highly communicable disease that has proven to be deadly, the people, understanding that violations pose a very serious danger to themselves as well as others, would readily, and willingly, obey.

We do not live in a perfect world. The hoarding of rubbing alcohol, surgical masks and even toilet paper, for whatever reason or lack of it, is just among the many manifestations that show this.

History has, or should have, taught us the grave dangers that highly communicable diseases bring. The native populace of Mesoamerica like the Mayans and the Aztecs were nearly wiped out in the 16th century as much by diseases brought by the European conquerors as by actual military force.

So, what is the government supposed to do?

For millennia, people with, or suspected of having, communicable diseases have been isolated, by force if necessary, to protect the healthy population. Even in Biblical times, lepers, when leprosy was still incurable, were forced to live separately from the townships. This has held true even in modern times and we had several leper colonies in the Philippines. I remember this because my mother used to regularly send money to one of these colonies although she would always burn the thank you letters sent in return.

The word “quarantine” comes from the Italian “quaranta giorni” or “forty days” because, in the 15th century, ships arriving in Venice from places infected by plague were required to sit in anchor for forty days before landing to make sure that none of the crew and passengers had the plague.

Fast forward to the present, it seems that there are still many who are questioning the right and authority of the government to impose a quarantine in relation to the presence of Covid-19 infections in our country.

Again, this is not something new. In our own jurisprudence, as early as 1915, in the case of US vs. Jesus (G.R. No. 9651), the Supreme Court explained the extent of police power with regards public health, among others, in this wise:

“The police power of the state extends to the protection of the lives, limbs, health, comfort, and quiet of all persons, and the protection of all property within its borders. Under the general police power of the state, persons and property are subjected to all kinds of restrictions and burdens in order to secure the general health, comfort, and prosperity of all. This power, or the right to exercise it, as need may require, cannot be bargained away by the state. Even liberty itself, the greatest of all rights, is not unrestricted license to act according to one’s own will. It is only freedom from restraint under conditions essential to the quiet enjoyment of the same right by others.

It is as much for the interest of the state that public health should be preserved as that life should be made secure. With this end in view, quarantine laws have been enacted in most, if not all, civilized states….xxx”

Are there laws about it at present? R.A. 9271, or the “Quarantine Act of 2004” authorizes the Director of the Bureau of Quarantine with the approval of the Secretary of Health, “to promulgate and enforce rules and regulations as in his judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission or spread of “public health emergencies of international concern”” even to the extent that such regulations “shall provide for the apprehension, detention or surveillance for the purpose of preventing the introduction, transmission or spread of such public health emergencies of international concern”

Local government units, from municipalities to provinces, through their respective legislatures, are authorized, under the Local Government Code, to “Approve measures and adopt quarantine regulations to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases within its territorial jurisdiction”.

The fact is that even without these specific laws, it is an inherent power, AND EVEN A DUTY, of the government to adopt measures and take action to protect the health of its constituents.

We must remember that even first world countries are already taking drastic measures to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus and we do not have the resources that they do.

We have to face the fact that we are ill-equipped to deal with this problem if it is allowed to spread uncontrollably. We do not have enough hospitals or even medical personnel, not to mention the equipment and supplies to deal with it if this happens. As we speak, we are even running out of something as basic as protective masks for our medical front liners probably because some unscrupulous profiteers, who should be shot, have been hoarding the supplies.

As a nation, the government and the populace, we must nip this problem in the bud, and we can only do this by COOPERATION. Otherwise, we are all dead ducks.

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