Activists vowed to file criminal charges against the police if it will arrest peaceful protesters on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 25.
In a social media post, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) secretary general Renato Reyes Jr said peaceful protesters cannot be arrested even if they have not secured a permit from a local government unit (LGU).
Reyes was reacting to statements by the Philippine National Police (PNP) it will close off Commonwealth Avenue from rallies and will only allow protests at the Quezon Memorial Circle and at the University of the Philippines, several kilometers away from the House of Representatives (HoR) where Marcos will deliver his first SONA.
In a press conference at the Quezon City Police District headquarters in Camp Karingal last Tuesday, PNP officer-in-charge Lt. Gen. Vicente Danao Jr declared the entire stretch of Commonwealth Avenue as a no-rally zone.
The avenue is the traditional site of protest rallies during presidential SONAs since the post-Marcos Sr era, except in 2016 and 2017 when President Rodrigo Duterte allowed the rallies on Batasan Road where the HoR is located.
Those years saw less traffic jams on Commonwealth Avenue. Subsequent years saw the rallies return to the country’s widest avenue until Duterte’s last SONA last year, however.
‘Worn-out scare tactics’
In his press conference, Danao said, “As of now, we will only allow [rallies on]…freedom parks. This is to prevent the SONA from being hampered.”
The police also announced it will activate Task Force Manila Shield that will implement security operations to address various alleged threats.
The PNP said there will checkpoints and deployment of police officers at government offices and other vital installations.
In an apparent show of force, the PNP also declared it will deploy at least 22,000 police officers, soldiers and other personnel from other government agencies and force multipliers on Marcos’ SONA.
Reyes however criticized the PNP plan, saying these are “worn out scare tactics.”
‘How democracy should work’
“The PNP wants to show the world it is a human rights violator. The ‘illegal assembly’ raps police file against protesters are usually dismissed at the prosecutor level and even the courts because these have no basis,” Reyes said.
Reyes added that such police paranoia is the reason why the Congress of the United States of America denied aid to the PNP because of its “terrible [human] rights record.”
In an earlier post, Reyes said there are reasons why citizens stage protest actions during SONA.
‘[It is] annual occasion for the people to air their grievances and press government to act on their most pressing concerns. We thus take exception to the comments made by the PNP [deputy director for operations Maj. Gen.] Val de Leon telling people not to protest and to simply ‘monitor’ what Marcos, Jr. will do for the next six years of his term,” Reyes said.
Reyes said de Leon again displayed a narrow understanding of how democracy should work.
“All have the right to be heard, including critics of Mr. Marcos. Those who disagree with Mr. Marcos and are opposed to his policies have the right to protest government and demand redress of their grievances,” the BAYAN leader explained.
“What General de Leon seems to be suggesting is for people to simply stay at home and watch TV and give up their democratic interests. This will not happen,” he added.
Reasons to protest
Reyes said that rising prices, runaway inflation, low wages, job losses, crushing debt, deteriorating agriculture, human rights violations, corruption and loss of sovereignty are the pressing issues they want to present during their protest action on Monday.
“Last we checked, all these issues remain and thus provide the reason why people take to the streets to raise their just demands. We have crafted a People’s Agenda which we will bring to the SONA rallies, submit to the lawmakers and other government institutions. These measures seek to provide short-term and long-term solutions to the crisis. We aim to fight for these measures,” Reyes said.
Reyes denied that their traditional annual protest is a threat to public safety as the police alleges and are mere peaceful expressions of dissent.
“What is the PNP so afraid of? Why is it so paranoid that it seeks to surround Marcos, Jr. with 21,000 security personnel? Why the Martial Law mentality?” Reyes asked.
Who grants rally permits?
Reyes said they have already applied for permit with the Quezon City government last July 15 to hold their rally along Batasan Road in order not to cause traffic jams along Commonwealth Avenue.
Under the Marcosion edict Batas Pambansa 880 released in 1985, the permit is deemed granted if not acted upon by the local government unit five days after its official filing.
Reyes reminded the PNP that it is the mayor who has the authority to grant rally permits or to carefully explain for denial.
“Any attempt by the PNP to disrupt the protest would be a violation of the law,” Reyes added.
The BAYAN leader said they will actively exercise their Constitutional right to peaceful protest, “despite the repression being imposed by the PNP and the Marcos regime.”
“It is important the true state of the nation be heard, as a counterpoint to the lies and disinformation about the country’s situation,” Reyes said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)