Quezon City, April 24, 2003 -- A ranking administration legislator announced he will file today a proposal seeking to impose mandatory quarantine measures in the country.

Negros Occidental Rep. Apolinario Lozada Jr. made the announcement after the Department of Health (DOH) called on Congress yesterday to amend and update an old quarantine law to strengthen efforts to contain the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

"It (proposed measure) imposes mandatory quarantine to contain SARS and other emergent viruses and for other purposes," Lozada said.

He said DOH officials met with him Tuesday and called for an amendment of the Quarantine Law or Republic Act 123, which was enacted in 1947.

The health officials urged Lozada to rush the drafting of the bill.

He said the old law is no longer applicable to the present situation. It even mentioned the Bureau of Quarantine which no longer exists.

Lozada said he will ask President Arroyo to certify his bill as an emergency measure.

"An executive order does not have the force of law," Lozada told The STAR. "Police powers can be invoked in a law."

Lozada said the DOH and other government agencies cannot implement drastic measures to contain SARS for fear that they might violate fundamental rights.

Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., for his part, said he will schedule a meeting with Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit to map out the final draft of the mandatory quarantine bill.

"We can also recommend this (law) to other parliaments in Southeast Asia," De Venecia said, noting that President Arroyo will be meeting with other heads of state in Bangkok, Thailand next week to discuss a collective effort against the spread of SARS.

Dayrit also confirmed they have made the request to Congress but did not elaborate on the details of the amendment the DOH wanted to incorporate in the proposed bill.

"Under the (proposed) law, if there's a public health threat, an airplane, a boat or even a person could be quarantined mandatorily," he said.

Dayrit stressed the mandatory quarantine is necessary to ensure the protection of the general public.

The DOH, through the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), has implemented mandatory quarantine for six people who accompanied four others suspected of having contracted SARS through contact with nursing assistant Adela Catalon, said to be the country's first probable SARS case. (By Paolo Romero, Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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