Arrests, police barriers at otherwise peaceful SONA protests

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Arrests, police barriers at otherwise peaceful SONA protests
Members from various groups stage a march protest from U.P. Diliman in Quezon City going to Commonwealth Avenue during the State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte on July 26, 2021.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — The threats of rain, coronavirus transmission, and even deployed police officers did little to stop protest demonstrations against government policies as protesters took to the streets on the day of President Rodrigo Duterte's sixth and final State of the Nation Address. 

Progressive groups have historically held protests on the day of the president's SONA. This year's theme, "Goodbye, Duterte," was meant to push back against the president's earlier pronouncements of interest in running for vice president to, he said, gain immunity from lawsuits. 

And despite earlier promises of "maximum tolerance" for demonstrators, the 15,000 cops deployed around Quezon City still carried out arrests on protesters. 

The Bulacan chapter of the Partido Manggagawa reported that its members were apprehended in North Caloocan Monday morning for alleged violations of social distancing protocols while on their way to the SONA mobilization.

According to the group, its placards and banners were also confiscated by the police, who claimed to be acting on instruction from the red-tagging National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. 

“We condemn the illegal detention of our members and the violation of the right to peaceful assembly. We call for their immediate release,” said Judy Ann Miranda, PM secretary-general, in a statement.

"On Duterte’s last year in power, the pandemic of human rights violations continue even as the administration’s covid response is an epic fail."

The apprehensions mirrored those of last year's SONA, when police arrested members of transport group Piston who were on their way to a mobilization at the University of the Philippines Diliman hours before the SONA had actually started. 

PM said it mobilized factory workers, urban poor and community youth to the SONA rally held at the Commission on Human Rights grounds to call for jobs, aid, and vaccination, among others. 

"This set of demands correspond to the recent Pulse Asia survey in which jobs, the economy, inflation, vaccination and the West Philippine are what Filipinos want to hear of the SONA," Miranda said.

"But we have no illusions that Duterte will heed these grievances as what he is concerned now is the continuation of his regime and avoiding incarceration for the crimes committed under his bloody regime."

READ: Human rights under Duterte so far: 'Killings, threats and a terror law'


Agreement broken, progressives say

Over the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippine National Police has often used the violation of social distancing rules to justify arresting protesters.

In a statement, Bayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes Jr. blamed the Quezon City Police District for the delay in the activity after it refused to honor its end of an agreement forged with the city government. 

According to Reyes, the unity march of 6,000 to 7,000 protesters from different groups along Commonwealth Avenue was hampered after cops set up orange barriers and a police blockade that violated an earlier agreement. 

"The QCPD acted in bad faith and sought to control the march...After today, we are more than ever determined to see the end of the Duterte regime," he said.  

"The protesters asserted the earlier agreement and refused to pass through the narrow pathways. Only then did the PNP remove the blockades and allowed the protesters through." 

To recall, the Quezon City government earlier said that itself, the QCPD, and several progressive groups met up and agreed to put a premium on health protocols during the pre-SONA protests.

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said she approved the holding of the rallies on the condition that the names and contact details of all rally participants be submitted to the CESU for contact tracing should any individual test positive, and that a plan of their health protocols be submitted for approval.

“We were assured by the rally organizers that they would closely monitor their ranks and we consented, subject to strict adherence to health protocols," Belmonte said in a statement earlier Saturday.

— with a report from The STAR/Marc Jayson Cayabyab

Disclosure: Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte is a shareholder of Philstar Global Corp., which operates digital news outlet Philstar.com.

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