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CHR questions use of water cannons vs protesters in freedom park

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
CHR questions use of water cannons vs protesters in freedom park
Tension arose after militant groups tried to go in front of the Commission on Human Rights along Commonwealth Avenue on May 25, 2022 to stage a protest rally and oppose the canvassing of the House of the Representative in Batasan, Quezon City.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights is looking primarily at the use of water cannons against protesters in its investigation of the incident between protesters and Quezon City police at the Liwasang Diokno freedom park. 

To recall, progressive groups present at the demonstration said that at least ten, including students, were injured by the scuffle after the civil disturbance management contingent fired on them with water cannons. Other accounts on social media said that police officers also struck them with batons. 

READ: 10 rallyists injured as cops disperse protest of Marcos proclamation

In an interview with Philstar.com Thursday afternoon, lawyer Jacqueline de Guia, CHR Executive Director pointed out that the use of water cannons under Batas Pambansa 880 is the last resort and under the law, "shall not be used unless the public assembly is attended by actual violence or serious threats of violence."

  • "The question is whether it was necessary or proportionate. Mere pushing, would it constitute the use of a water cannon? The number of the protesters versus the number of [civil disturbance management] police officers deployed, is it again proportionate?" she said. 
     
  • "The other question would be, were the protesters armed, or were they violent? And if they were violent, if it was just their bodies physically pushing as compared to the Philippine National Police, would it necessitate the use of water cannons?"

Nanlaban?: This comes after the Philippine National Police in a statement issued through its public information office doubled down on the narrative that protesters forced their hand when they "kicked and waggled the shields of the police force."

  • "The PNP exercises maximum tolerance in every mass action where police intervention is necessary. We respect their freedom of expression but they went overboard," Police Brig. Gen. Roderick Alba, chief of the PNP-PIO said. 

    He did not mention accounts of protesters being beaten by cops with shields and batons but said the PNP would also later on "come up with a full report based on a deeper investigation regarding this matter." 

CHR watching rallies: De Guia said she directed the CHR's investigators to ensure they are able to resolve the case as soon as possible.

Another team of lawyers and investigators was also dispatched, she said, after the commission received word of another possible rally at the Philippine International Convention Center, where the proclamation ceremony for winning party-list groups in this year's elections will be held.  

  • "You would necessarily expect protesters to insist or to push, but the question is, would [water cannons] be your first response? Again BP 880 says maximum tolerance first. They should be the last resort, so that's what the investigators will be looking at in this instance," De Guia said.

What do the PNP's rules say?: Section 4.4a of the PNP's Revised Operational Procedures takes after BP 880, saying that "water cannons, or any similar anti-riot device shall not be used unless the public assembly is attended by actual violence or serious threats of violence, or deliberate destruction of property."

The following section also acknowledges that "public assemblies held in freedom parks or on private property do not need a permit for the activity."

  • "The PNP units tasked to maintain peace and order shall not interfere with the holding of public assembly. To ensure public safety, a CDM contingent under the command of a PCO shall be detailed and stationed at least 100 meters away from the place where the public assembly is being held."

    "The PNP shall not interfere with the holding of a public assembly...before conducting any dispersal operation, the PNP shall notify the concerned organizers and leaders of the public assembly," the PNP's guidelines also read. 

LGU open to cases: In a text message to Philstar.com, lawyer Ralph Calinisan, Quezon City People's Law Enforcement Board executive director said the Quezon City local government would be willing to entertain cases filed over the incident. 

"The PLEB is willing to investigate this matter and get to the bottom of this. We will not allow the fundamental rights to free expression and peaceful assembly to be trampled upon," he said. 

"We are inviting any victim of police abuse to file a complaint with us. We still live in a democratic state, where the rule of law governs. We will never be complicit to the erosion of the People's rights."

CHR

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE

PNP

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