Lawyers buck DOJ, DILG: Protesting during pandemic legal
MANILA, Philippines – A lawyers’ group has contradicted the Department of Justice and other government agencies’ stand that rallies are not allowed, claiming that no law prevents such activities even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement on Thursday, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said that even Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act — created primarily for the government’s response on the health crisis — does not have any provision making protest movements illegal.
NULP said the same goes for R.A. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases, another law being used to enforce COVID-19 quarantine measures.
This claim from the group came as several opposition and activist organizations openly invited people to take part in an Independence Day protest on Friday, under the guise of a “mañanita” — in reference to the infamous incident involving Metro Manila’s top cop, Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas.
“There is no law prohibiting rallies (even) during the COVID-19 pandemic. R.A. No. 11469 (Bayanihan Act) and R.A. 11332 (Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases) do not prohibit rallies. They do not have provisions allowing arrests simply on the alleged violation of “mass gathering or quarantine rules,” the group said.
“Various IATF (Inter Agency Task Force) rules and executive orders on ECQ/GCQ (enhanced/ general community quarantine) — which are not criminal laws — do not prohibit rallies or authorize the arrest of rallyists,” it added.
Organizers from the Movement Against Tyranny said that the protest would commence at the University of the Philippines on Friday, while other civil society groups and political parties would also hold their protests online and within their communities.
As news of the plans to conduct rallies swept through mainstream and social media, government officials were quick to remind that such activities are discouraged.
Joint Task Force COVID-19 commander and police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar urged protesters to think twice before joining the protest movements, in light of the still increasing COVID-19 cases.
But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra issued a more stern warning earlier, saying that such activities are temporarily banned and that participants are running the risk of being slapped with “penal sanctions”.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año meanwhile urged people to pursue other means to express their views — so as not to complicated the current health situation in the country.
For NUPL though, Section 4, Article III the 1987 Constitution has been clear that no law can be passed that would abridge the freedom of speech. They also noted that the same constitution says that law enforcement agencies should not interfere with the movements and that people should not be arrested if they are not violating any law.
The planned June 12 protests however were not the first of its kind ever since the COVID-19 pandemic affected the country. Last June 4, an indignation rally in condemnation of the Anti-Terrorism Bill was also held at UP and at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) office.
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