Nalzaro: Separating ‘the grain from the chaff’

BobNalzaro

CEBU City Mayor Edgardo Labella has been criticized and bashed on social media for tendering a “post-birthday party” or a meeting at the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) auditorium with City Hall employees, barangay officials and Mayor’s Information Liaison Officer (Milo) representatives in attendance lunchtime last Friday, June 5.

But let’s separate the grain from the chaff. The affair was not a “post-birthday party” of the mayor, who celebrated his birthday last May 22. According to my reliable source, who attended the affair, it was really a meeting with both Milo officers and barangay officials mostly allied with the mayor in attendance. Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK) village officials were also invited, but they opted not to attend the meeting.

My source said it was purely a meeting on Covid-19 matters. There was no singing of birthday song or speeches greeting the mayor. Department of Health (DOH) 7 Director Jaime Bernadas was given enough time to deliver his speech about the pandemic.

If it were Labella’s birthday bash, why did the organizers have the visitors log their names in the attendance sheet? If it were a private affair, it would be very embarrassing for Labella, if he’d let his guests fill up the attendance sheet. The attendees logged their names in the attendance sheet for auditing purposes. This theory would support the fact that, indeed, it was really an official meeting. So, to Labella’s critics, please stop insisting that it was his birthday party.

Now, the other issue raised by Labella’s detractors is that there was a mass gathering and they compared it to the “mass protest” staged by militant organizations against the Anti-Terrorism Bill at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu campus also last Friday. The police dispersed the rally and arrested eight participants in violation of the quarantine law on social distancing and public assembly act for staging a protest without permit.

Well, we cannot deny that in that MCWD affair there was a “mass gathering.” It is clear in the video that went viral. But did the attendees observe social distancing? Cebu City Councilor Raymond Garcia, who hosted the event, kept on reminding the attendees to observe social distancing especially when lunch was served. Why did they hold a meeting when it was against the general community quarantine protocol under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which expired last June 5?

Again, we have to separate the grain from the chaff. A meeting had a purpose and it could not wait for so long especially that it tackled a very pressing issue such as the Covid-19 crisis. Couldn’t it be a consideration or an exemption? Gov. Gwen Garcia had been conducting meetings with the city and town mayors on matters pertaining to the health crisis. But why has nobody questioned the Capitol for violating the mass gathering protocol? Because those meetings were official and with a purpose. So, like the one called by Labella last Friday, it was a meeting with a purpose. It is difficult for Garcia and Labella to conduct meetings and consultations online.

Protest is an action expressing disapproval of or objection to something. Protest is not an emergency situation. It can wait. Besides, did the participants observe social distancing during their protest action? They were given ultimatum by the police, but they just ignored it. They have no permit and they violated the Public Assembly Act of 1985.

But the organizers of the rally can argue on this matter based on Section 4 of the Act, which states: “Permit when required and when not required. A written permit shall be required for any person or persons to organize and hold public assembly in a public place. However, no permit shall be required if the public assembly shall be done or made in a freedom park duly established by law or ordinance or in private property, which case only the consent of the owner or the one entitled to it in legal possession is required or in the campus of a government-owned and operated educational institution, which shall be subject to the rules and regulations of said educational institution. Public meetings or rallies held during any election campaign period as provided for by law are not covered by this Act.”

UP campuses have been known as the bulwark of democratic activism. But the problem is those arrested were also charged with disobedience and resistance under Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code. So, they should also deal with the other charges. What I am driving at, we cannot compare an official meeting tackling the present health crisis to an anti-government protest in view of the GCQ protocols. They should be treated separately.