Local officials forced LGBT+ people to dance to humiliate them after finding them breaching the coronavirus curfew in the Philippines.
And they filmed the punishments on Facebook Live so they were humiliated in public.
The officials are local volunteers running a ‘barangay’. The barangays are villages or urban neighborhoods and the Philippines are split into over 42,000 of these districts.
The barangay volunteers stopped and detained three LGBT+ people in the village of Pandacaqui in the district of Mexico, Pampanga province which is to the north of the Philippines capital, Manila.
They said the three LGBT+ people were outside after the 8pm coronavirus curfew.
Two of them were 22-year-old Jesssica Mallari and 20-year-old Shanel Salazar. They said they were out buying biscuits for their grandmother.
But the barangay captain of Pandacaqui, Christopher Bombing Punzalan, then decided on some humiliating punishments.
‘We were ashamed’
Punzalan asked them their reasons for being out after 8pm. And he teased them, saying they were out at night to look for prostitutes.
The volunteers rounded up a number of other people too. But Punzalan singled the LGBT+ people out for special humiliation.
He ordered the group to do push ups and to dance, recreating TikTok videos. Because he identified them by name and filmed them, it added to their embarrassment.
Mallari says Punzalan next told her to kiss Salazar if she wanted to go home.
She recalls (translated): ‘They made us copy moves from TikTok but we couldn’t do it because they were laughing at us and we were ashamed. He said if we wanted to go home, we would have to kiss. When we didn’t do it, he told us we had to do 20 push-ups.’
Mallari said they were only able to return home at around 11.30pm. However, the volunteer officials told them all to return the next day at 7am to pick up trash in the neighborhood.
If they didn’t return, the volunteers said they would arrest and beat them with paddles.
The three LGBT+ people, as well as five other men, cleaned from 7am to 10.30am. While other violators did not comply with the punishment, the barangay officials did not capture them.
All of these were filmed through Punzalan’s Facebook live during the incident on 5 April. But after the videos went viral, someone took them down and most had gone by 7 April.
‘Maybe that happened because of exhaustion’
Now Punzalan has apologized and promised to bring future violators to Mexico Municipal Hall rather than dispensing street justice. He said on Monday (6 April):
‘I would like to apologize for what happened last night, for those we punished for violating curfew.
‘For those who were offended by what we did to the members of the LGBT, pardon me. We respect the LGBT community… Maybe that happened because of exhaustion from catching violators every night.’
However Human Rights Watch has warned that the broad powers given to local officials can be particularly dangerous to minority groups.
It comes after Ugandan officials abused coronavirus rules to raid and arrest young people in an LGBT+ homeless shelter.
Human Rights Watch said:
‘The Department of the Interior and Local Government, which has administrative control over officials in villages like Pandacaqui, should investigate incidents in which village officials and police mistreat violators of curfew and quarantine regulations.
‘It should hold to account those responsible for these abuses.
‘Efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 are essential, but should not be used as an excuse to demean vulnerable groups.
‘The humiliation of LGBT people and others in the Philippines demonstrates the need for oversight and accountability to ensure that officials across the country respect people’s rights and dignity during the current crisis.’