Can cops confiscate your protest placards? Guevarra says 'no'

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Placards or banners that express one’s position on national issues cannot be subjected to confiscation, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

Hours before President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his State of the Nation Address, Manila police confiscated protest materials against the anti-terrorism law of an attendee of a Mass in Quiapo Church.

The woman, a member of Akbayan, was attending a Mass for “justice and peace,” part of the activities slated of the broad and multi-sectoral “SONAgkaisa protest.”

Guevarra explained that police may seize materials if “the contents incite people to rise up in arms against the duly constituted authorities.” These can be seized “as part of the evidence for a possible prosecution for the offense of inciting to sedition.”

However, if the contents of the banners or placards merely contain one’s expression on national issues, this is covered by the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression.

Guevarra told Philstar.com: “If the contents merely express a position on public issues, such as one’s stand against the [Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020], written on placards or streamers, the same constitute a lawful exercise of one’s freedom of speech or expression protected by the Constitution.”

An ABS-CBN tweet video report quoted Police Brig. Gen. Rolando Miranda, Manila Police District director,  as saying he will look into the incident so that “corrective sanctions” may be implemented.

Miranda however said that he is wondering why the Mass attendees have with them protest materials when they could have just “left them in the car.”

He was quoted in the same tweet report as saying: “Siguro nakita ng mga pulis na nandoon rin para ma-preserve nation ‘yung sanctity ng misa. (Maybe our police attending saw them to preserve the sanctity of the Mass).”

It is unclear how police clad in combat fatigues taking protest placards while the Mass is ongoing protects the sanctity of the religious rite.

Inciting to sedition complaints

Law enforcers, in the past, have made arrests on supposed inciting to sedition offenses.

In 2019, state agents arrested web administrator Rodel Jayme over inciting to sedition for posting links the anonymous “Ang Totoong Narcolist” videos that allege drug links to Duterte and his family. The same video—and same complaint—was also used to pin down key opposition figures, including Vice President Leni Robredo.

State prosecutors however only brought to court 11 out of the more than 30 personalities police had initially named as respondents.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, state agents also arrested social media users who tweeted rewards, likely in jest or as an expression of frustration,  for Duterte’s killing over a supposed inciting to sedition charge. An Olongapo court however junked the charge against public school teacher Ronnel Mas as it held that the arrest was illegal.

READ: Court junks inciting to sedition charge vs teacher Ronnel Mas due to illegal arrest

Duterte is delivering his penultimate SONA amid a raging pandemic that infected tens of thousands of Filipinos and amid growing dissent on the heels of his approval of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and the lawmakers’ rejection of ABS-CBN franchise bid.







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