Don’t allow Sona rallies, DILG tells local gov’ts
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has issued an advisory urging local governments not to give permits for demonstrations during President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 27.
But activists disputed the legality of the advisory and argued that no interagency task force can abridge “the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances” as stated in the Constitution.
The DILG advisory itself simply reminded local governments to strictly comply with Resolution No. 57 of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), an agency created by Executive Order No. 168 issued in 2014 by then President Benigno Aquino.
The advisory was dated July 23 and signed by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, cochair of the IATF which has been criticized for several measures, including the ferrying of infected individuals to areas with no COVID-19 cases and not prosecuting quarantine violations of government officials.
But while the advisory itself did not contain any direct prohibition, DILG spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said “it was the IATF that issued the policy under Resolution No. 57 that all forms of mass gatherings are prohibited under community quarantine and that includes rallies and demonstrations.”
“That’s correct [mayors should not issue rally permits] because we have a pandemic and mass gatherings are prohibited,” Interior Undersecretary and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya told the Inquirer in a text message. “We simply issued an advisory cascading that policy to all LGUs.”
Asked about possible sanctions on violations of the DILG’s advisory, he said: “Let’s cross the bridge when we get there. In the meantime, no permits should be issued.”
But militant groups intended to push through with demonstrations they have scheduled for July 27 but will enforce public health measures.
Intended to scare
In a statement, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes slammed the advisory as a “desperate, last-minute measure … whose clear intention is to scare the city governments and the citizens not to mobilize.”
“The IATF guidelines are not law. It is not higher than the Constitution and should not be weaponized to trample on the basic, fundamental rights of our citizens. Nobody should be arrested for the peaceful exercise of one’s constitutional rights,” Reyes said.
Reyes took a jab at Metro Manila police chief Debold Sinas, who has not been prosecuted for his violation of quarantine rules when the National Capital Regional Police Office held a birthday celebration for him in violation of quarantine rules.
But Sinas said on Friday that he had been prepared to cooperate with demonstrators to avoid any conflict with the 5,000 policemen who are expected to be deployed in Metro Manila on Monday for Mr. Duterte’s SONA.
“Now we have to talk to [protesters] again,” said Sinas, stressing that mobilizations along Commonwealth “would really be prohibited.”
“The ones in the University of the Philippines, if they have their own setup there, we’ll just be negotiating with the administration. But the Philippine National Police chief (Gen. Archie Gamboa)’s guidance is that as long as you don’t violate and don’t get out of the UP compound, it’s OK,” he added.
Sought for comment, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, who earlier said she would approve all requests for mobilization, said on Friday that the DILG memorandum would have to prevail.
“Several already applied for permits and committed to comply with and respect the guidelines that we presented, but in light of the directive of the national government, all LGUs are constrained to follow,” she said.
At the same time, PNP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac assured protesters that there would be no crackdown against protesters.
“We want to care for our people by being there to remind them and assist so that they can observe the minimum health standards to express their opinion. So we assure the public, we are not thinking of such thing to crack down dissent or dissenters,” he said.
“We will also be maintaining social distancing. We will stay far from protesters. We want to also protect ourselves from getting infected by the virus,” he added.
But Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said on Friday that the President might not even deliver his address at the House of Representatives in Quezon City.
The Palace earlier announced that the President will deliver his fifth Sona before a limited number of guests, mostly lawmakers and Cabinet members, who will all have to be tested for the new coronavirus prior to the event.
Andanar said the final venue of the address might be moved to Malacañang Palace if too many guests test positive for the virus.
If the address is moved to the Palace, the number of guests will be reduced further but will still include the Senate President, Speaker, Cabinet officials and selected lawmakers.
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