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Maskless protesters hold rally in Manila

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Police exercised maximum tolerance on at least 200 protesters who opposed the implementation of minimum health protocols and COVID-19 vaccination during a rally in Manila on Saturday.

The protesters, most of them maskless, gathered at the Liwasang Bonifacio and called for a stop to the mandatory wearing of facemasks and the vaccination program against COVID-19, Manila Police District (MPD) spokesman Capt. Philipp Ines said yesterday.

Radio reports showed the protesters falsely claiming that the pandemic is a hoax.

The rallyists carried slogans against the “mandatory vaccination and swab testing.”

The protesters also held posters, saying they were “Ivermectin-protected,” although there is no scientific evidence to prove that the antiparasitic drug for horses could prevent COVID-19.

A protester was caught on video calling for her “freedom back.” Another held up a placard that read, “End the fear propaganda. The truth will set you free.”

“Panawagan namin sa mainstream media, magbalita kayo nang totoo. Walang SARS-CoV-2. Walang COVID-19!” the protester falsely said.

The rallyists were not arrested by police despite violating health protocols and spreading misinformation because a city ordinance allows stern warnings on first-time offenders, according to MPD director Brig. Gen. Leo Francisco.

“That’s why we recommend to the city government to amend the ordinance, so we can issue violation tickets right there and then,” Francisco told The STAR.

Maximum tolerance was also exercised on the protesters to avoid the escalation of conflict, Ines said.

“We recognize their rights, but these freedoms should be exercised responsibly,” he said.

The protesters conducted the rally in Manila without a permit, MPD Station 5 officer-in-charge Lt. Col. Elmer Oceo said an interview on dzBB.

They were allowed to hold a candle lighting ceremony after the protest that lasted two hours.

Police reminded the protesters to wear face masks during the rally, Oceo said. But the rallyists still refused to do so, according to radio reports.

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