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SONA protests to proceed

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
SONA protests to proceed
Members of party-list group Bayan Muna present props, meant for their rally during President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address today, at their office in Quezon City yesterday.
Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Various groups are all set to push through with their protest rally today in time for President Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) despite a stern warning from the Philippine National Police (PNP) that they can be arrested for violation of quarantine rules on mass gatherings.

In a statement issued yesterday, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said the protest rally, to be held at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus in Quezon City, would center on the Duterte administration’s “mismanagement” of the coronavirus disease crisis, the resulting economic fallout and government’s “penchant for suppressing dissent.”

“The failed government response to the rising number of infected people, the worst economic crisis in history and the overall lack of direction in containing the spread of the disease will be remembered as part of Duterte’s legacy,” Reyes said.

“People will also remember that in the middle of a pandemic, the regime rushed the passage of a terror law against dissent and shutdown a broadcast network, relegating thousands to unemployment status. The people will remember how thousands of jeepney drivers were reduced to begging in the streets, and of overseas workers and locally stranded individuals sleeping on pavements as they waited for a ride,” he added.

Compared with those in previous years, this year’s protest rally dubbed “SONAgkaisa” will be shortened to just two hours or from 10 a.m. to noon as part of precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Reyes.

Reyes also gave assurance that physical distancing, disinfection of hands, wearing of face mask and other health protocols would be observed by participants during the rally.

Meanwhile, agrarian reform advocate group Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo or SAKA designed a diorama to be used for the traditional effigy burning.

This year, however, the effigy burning will be held virtually through a motion animation video – a first for SONA protesters.

The video will mimick the actual SONA rally, complete with the burning of the effigy of Duterte, who is depicted by protesters as the “Veerus of Malacañang.” The video will be played during the actual rally today.

In a separate statement, human rights advocate group Karapatan also maintained that no advisory or guidelines from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease could stop the people from going out to the streets to air their protests against the government.

“It’s not surprising that this inutile regime is using protests as convenient scapegoats for the ballooning number of COVID-19 cases to justify the banning of protests for the SONA, when in fact, it has been the government’s lack of planning and continuing neglect of public health, basic social services, and people’s rights and welfare that has caused the pandemic to spread – all while vilifying activists as ‘terrorist recruiters,’” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“The Duterte regime is shameless in using quarantine measures to crack down on dissent, but we will not be deterred: we will join thousands on the streets (today), we will observe proper health protocols, and we will ring the people’s demands louder than ever,” Palabay added.

Fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) also vowed to join the protest rally.

“We will not bow to intimidation by any government officials... The SONA protest will proceed … by hook or by crook, and we will face any state forces who will disrupt the peaceful assembly and provoke lawlessness at any cost,” Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap said.

Philippine National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac on Saturday warned that authorities could arrest people who would hold mass protest actions during Duterte’s SONA in line with the implementation of the no permit, no rally policy of the DILG.

The DILG on Thursday issued an advisory reminding local government units to strictly comply with the July 21 resolution of the IATF on the prohibition of mass gatherings due to the pandemic.

In compliance with the IATF resolution, the Quezon City government on Friday ordered the non-processing or revocation of rally permit applications of various groups.

NCRPO OK with UP rally

The National Capital Region Police Office will respect if progressive groups will choose to hold SONA rallies inside the UP Diliman campus today, and will leave it to the university’s administration and its own police force if a “major incident” happens during any protest program inside the campus, according to NCRPO chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas.

“We know that the (UP) administration would allow it, they even have their own police… There is a (memorandum of agreement) which the police honor,” Sinas said at a press briefing yesterday.

“If there is no flagrant violation, it is okay,” he added.

Sinas, however, expressed hope that the school board “(will) not request to disperse (the protesters); that is another story.”

He also threatened individuals who would violate health and safety measures against COVID-19 that they would be “forced to arrest them.”

Sinas’ group will stay at the UP College of Human Kinetics area, close to Commonwealth Avenue, where rallyists were initially supposed to hold their protest action.

There had been past agreements between the UP board and the government prohibiting any military or police action inside its campuses unless university officials are notified.

SONAgkaisa convenor and former social welfare secretary Dinky Soliman gave assurance that the members of 17 groups participating in the rally would observe health and safety protocol, including physical distancing, where markers would be put on the ground.

This is despite DILG’s pronouncement insisting that mass gatherings during the SONA would be banned and that the local government should not issue any rally permits and revoke those previously released.

Sinas said a total of 7,400 personnel from all uniformed services of government would be deployed in Metro Manila for the SONA today.

He added that the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology would lend the NCRPO 14 mobile detention facilities.

“We hope we do not arrest a lot so they would fit in the mobile detention,” the NCRPO chief said.

Dispersal, arrest

Citing a standing no permit, no rally policy following the ban on mass gatherings under the modified and general community quarantine in the country, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has directed the PNP to disperse all SONA rallies, and all individuals who resist will be arrested.

“Rallyists will be dispersed, employing maximum tolerance. Arrest is possible for those who will resist,” Año said in a message.

The DILG noted that mass gatherings, including rallies, are the “fastest way for the virus to spread” and infect participants’ families and communities.

The DILG “appealed to and urged” rally organizers not to compromise the health and welfare of the public and asked them to avoid mass gatherings of any kind due to the high risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“While we agree that the public has the right to peacefully assemble for the redress of grievances, we are in the middle of a pandemic, and such assemblies are subject to reasonable regulation of the authorities to protect public health and the general welfare,” DILG spokesman Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said in a statement.

The government agency said the ban on mass gatherings is upon the advice of the medical community, and is not unique to rallies.

The ban was issued by the IATF under the Resolution 57 dated July 21. – Ghio Ong, Romina Cabrera, Ding Cervantes, Mayen Jaymalin, Gilbert Bayoran

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