BAYAN ready to sue if PNP arrests SONA protesters

·3 min read
Thousands of Filipinos carrying placards, banners and props march in a protest organized by BAYAN in Quezon City, Philippines.
Filipinos carrying placards, banners and props march along Commonwealth Avenue in a protest organized by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) ahead of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's last annual State of the Nation Address (SONA), in Quezon City, Philippines, July 26, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Multi-sectoral alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) is ready to file legal complaints against the Philippine National Police (PNP) should the latter arrest protesters in the first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. this upcoming Monday (July 25).

“We will file charges against police who will arrest and harm peaceful protesters,” BAYAN secretary-general Renato Reyes said on Wednesday (July 20). “Under the law, no person may be penalized for participating in an otherwise peaceful assembly.”

He added, “The PNP is a bully and notorious human rights violator. Mahilig sa mass arrest pero laging dismissed (They loves mass arrests but [cases] always [get] dismissed.”

This comes after the PNP warned that arrests were “inevitable” should there be any violence during the protest.

"Kung magkakaroon po ng sakitan, definitely po ay hindi po maiiwasan na magkaroon po ng arrest d'yan at may mga naka-standby po tayo na mga bus ng BJMP na kung saan pupwede po nating dalhin doon kung saka-sakaling may maaresto,” PNP Spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said.

(Should anybody get hurt, we definitely cannot avoid making arrests there and the buses of the BJMP [Bureau of Jail Management and Penology] are on standby where arrested individuals can be brought to.)

SONA protests are traditionally held at Commonwealth Avenue and sometimes Batasan Road. But on July 19, the Quezon City Department of Public Order and Safety (DPOS) denied BAYAN’s request to occupy Batasan Road, on the basis that it “is not a Freedom Park” and that the “gathering will greatly affect the normal flow of traffic for motorists.”

BAYAN described this denial as a violation of the law and their constitutional rights, even going as far as saying that it is a “fascist imposition of the police.”

“The DPOS denial suffers from a gross ignorance of the law and sheer laziness,” they said. “There is a wrong notion that rallies can only be held in freedom parks. That is incorrect and is belied by history. The SONA 2016 and 2017 rallies were held in Batasan Road despite it not being a freedom park. Annually, rallies were held along Commonwealth Avenue even if it is not a freedom park.”

BAYAN added, “The DPOS and PNP cannot invoke traffic inconvenience as a basis to deny the permit as this is not a valid ground under BP 880. The law states that a permit can be denied only if there is ‘convincing evidence of a clear and present danger’ to public safety. Heavy traffic does not constitute clear and present danger to public safety. The State is enjoined to respect the primacy of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and make necessary arrangements to mitigate traffic disruption.”

The militant group flaunted how the many “illegal assembly” complaints filed by the PNP were dismissed because they had “no basis.”

“We will assert our right to peaceful assembly and will file charges against police officers who will arrest and harm peaceful protesters. Peaceful protesters, even those without a permit, cannot be arrested,” BAYAN claimed. “On many occasions, prosecutors and judges have dismissed the ‘illegal assembly’ raps filed by the PNP.”

Mark Ernest Famatigan is a news writer who focuses on Philippine politics. He is an advocate for press freedom and regularly follows developments in the Philippine economy. The views expressed are his own.

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