MANILA, Philippines – While acknowledging that an assault should not have happened, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) insisted its enforcers were only implementing the law when they apprehended coconut vendor Romnick Relos.
On Tuesday, March 6, MMDA Officer-in-Charge General Manager Jojo Garcia said netizens should suspend judgment of a viral video that showed enforcers mauling Relos during sidewalk clearing operations last Friday, March 2.
"I'm telling them, when we're talking about policy, we're very firm," Garcia said.
"Kaya lang ang social media natin kita mo, out of the 1,000 or 2,000 comments, lahat ang isyu 'yung pagtitinda, hindi 'yung illegal 'yung ginawa niya. Ano ba 'yung isyu? Mali ang magtinda sa kalsada."
(But on social media, as you see, out of the 1,000 or 2,000 comments, their issue is that he is losing his livelihood, not the fact that what he did was illegal. What's the issue? It's wrong to sell on the streets.)
Garcia pointed out that it was not the first time Relos was caught selling illegally along EDSA and he had been given prior warnings by enforcers.
"We have pictures here [as early as] July 8, 2017 that he had been warned. I guess what our SCOG (Sidewalk Clearing Operations Group) said was true. He was given warnings. There are photos," Garcia said in a mix of English and Filipino.
But Garcia also maintained that the enforcers should not have beaten up Relos. Because of the incident, 3 enforcers were placed under preventive suspension without pay for 15 days starting Monday, March 5.
Relos and all of the 13 MMDA enforcers involved in the incident took a drug test on Monday to prove whether any of them were under the influence of illegal drugs during the confrontation.
Garcia announced on Tuesday that all tested negative for drugs.
On social media, the public urged the MMDA to always exercise maximum tolerance when enforcing their mandate.
Garcia reiterated that Relos' case was isolated and that MMDA enforcers observe maximum tolerance.
MMDA Supervising Officer Bong Nebrija recounted a separate instance last Friday when a jeepney owner apprehended for illegal parking allegedly pointed a gun at enforcers. Violence did not erupt then and the jeepney was eventually impounded.
Garcia also cited that in February, a viral video showed that a woman caught not wearing a helmet hurt an enforcer. The enforcer kept his composure despite the confrontation.
"We're just being responsible. We don't want to [put] prejudice on other people. I just want to be fair to everybody – whatever they see on social media," said Garcia. – Rappler.com