SONA mass protests: PNP warns of arrests

Emmanuel Tupas - The Philippine Star
SONA mass protests: PNP warns of arrests
Members of the PNP-Highway Patrol Group are seen during a send-off ceremony at Camp Crame yesterday for their deployment ahead of President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City.
Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — Police officers will arrest people who will hold mass protest actions during President Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) tomorrow, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said.

PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac issued the warning as he said they will strictly implement the no permit, no rally policy.

Banac said police officers will exercise maximum tolerance and will persuade members of cause-oriented groups who are on the streets tomorrow to stop their activities.

However, he warned that police officers will not hesitate to use force and arrest protesters who will insist on holding demonstrations.

“If we do not see any indication of compliance or response, the PNP will be forced to arrest them and have them answer to local ordinances,” Banac said in Filipino.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) ordered local government units (LGUs) not to issue rally permits in accordance with health protocols because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes a prohibition on mass gatherings.

As a result, groups critical of the administration are barred from holding rallies along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said mass actions will push through tomorrow but will be held in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.

“There’s already coordination with the UP Diliman administration and does not need a permit from the LGU,” he said in a statement in Filipino.

Unlike in the past when their program would last until the end of the President’s SONA, Reyes said their activity will only be held from 10 a.m. to noon as a precaution against COVID-19. He said participants will strictly observe health and safety protocols.

Banac renewed his appeal to the protesters to reconsider their plans and just conduct their protests online, saying they are also concerned with their welfare.

The police official said hospitals in Metro Manila are already overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

“Our hospitals are already at the danger zone in Metro Manila and we do not want to add more numbers to the sick,” Banac said in a phone inteview.

The PNP will field around 5,600 personnel for the SONA. Among them are 59 personnel from the Highway Patrol Group who will secure the stretch of Commonwealth Avenue.

Violation of people’s rights

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) has told the PNP not to arrest protesters who will go to the streets tomorrow.

In a statement, the NUPL said that the PNP’s pronouncement on the prohibition of rallies during SONA is a violation to the people’s fundamental right to assemble, which would constitute criminal, civil and administrative liabilities against them.

“So, before the PNP even considers dispersing, arresting or in any way interfering with rallies on July 27, they should bear in mind that, in doing so, they would themselves be violating the clear letter of the law (The Public Assembly Act),” the NUPL said.

The NUPL’s statement came after the PNP and DILG advisories prohibiting street rallies during the SONA.

The DILG said that it is only cascading the guidelines from the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) that prohibits mass gathering, including the holding of rallies while there is still COVID-19 in the country.

But the NUPL stood firm that neither the advisory of the DILG nor the guidelines of the IATF can supersede the Public Assembly Act, which is protected under the Constitution.

“Such an advisory cannot be the basis to deny the issuance of a rally permit or to interfere with a public assembly. Issuances of administrative agencies are not laws and cannot be used to curtail or restrict constitutional rights,” the NUPL emphasized.

The NUPL said that the mayors of every LGU have the power to decide about rallies and not the DILG or any other agency of the government and emphasized that the PNP has also legal and ethical limits to what it can do.

Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra backed the NUPL’s statement, saying that the public has the right to a peaceful assembly for the redress of their grievances protected under the Constitution.

But Guevarra emphasized that such assemblies are subject to the reasonable regulation of the authorities as far as peace and order, health and safety of the public are concerned amid the pandemic.

“The right of the people to peacefully assemble for the redress of grievances is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. Its lawful exercise, however, such as with respect to the time and place where it may be carried out, is subject to reasonable regulation by the authorities in the interest of public order, health and safety,” he said.

Asked if rallies should be allowed during Duterte’s SONA, Guevarra said that it would depend on the assessment of the actual situation by the local executives and the law enforcement agencies concerned.

DILG spokesman Usec. Jonathan Malaya said their advisory issued to LGUs is in line with the IATF policy on prohibition on mass gatherings, as the country is still under community quarantine.

“Since we are in the middle of a pandemic, any form of mass gathering is prohibited, including rallies and demonstrations. We are simply cascading this resolution, it was a collective decision of the IATF,” he said at a Laging Handa press briefing.

Malaya said the prohibition is in line with health protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid the further transmission of the disease. – Robertzon Ramirez, Romina Cabrera

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