SONA 2020

Groups to continue SONA protests despite government ban

Kyle Aristophere Atienza
National Union of People’s Lawyers Spokesperson Ephraim Cortez says the IATF guidelines cannot be used to suppress and curtail constitutionally-guaranteed rights such as the right to protest and the freedom of expression

There is no stopping them.

Despite the Quezon City government’s announcement that it would ban public protests on the day of President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address, various sectoral groups said they would push through with their planned mobilizations on Monday, July 27. 

In a press briefing on Saturday, July 25, groups asserted that the resolutions of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) banning protests cannot supersede the Constitution.

The Quezon City government said that it was constrained to comply with the DILG memorandum released on Thursday, July 23, reiterating Resolution No. 57 of the IATF, prohibiting mass gatherings during community quarantine due to health reasons. 

“Ang mga guidelines ng IATF…they cannot supersede constitutional guarantee on freedom of assembly and expression – constitutional right natin iyan,” said Movement Against Tyranny Spokesperson Sr. Mary John Mananzan.

(IATF guidelines cannot supersede constitutional guarantee on freedom of assembly and expression – those are our constitutional rights.)

The activist nun said that mass assemblies such as the planned #SONAgkaisa protests are “not non-essential,” saying that only non-essential mass-gatherings are prohibited in the IATF guidelines. 

“Ang rally natin sa Monday ay hindi lang ligal, napakaligal, and it will be very safe… we will follow all health protocols (Our rally on Monday is not only legal, it is so legal, and it will be very safe… we will follow health protocols),” she said.

“COVID-19 is being used to stifle the people’s protests against the [government’s] own incompetence, abuse, and state terrorism,” she added in a mix of English and Filipino. 

But on Saturday, the DILG and police also clarified that SONA protests and rallies would still be allowed inside the University of the Philippines (UP) campuses because of a rule that exempts campuses of government universities from requirements for the holding of such gatherings.

Right to protest

According to the National Union of People’s Lawyers Spokesperson Ephraim Cortez, the IATF guidelines cannot be used to suppress and curtail constitutionally-guaranteed rights such as the right to protest and the freedom of expression. 

He asserted that “no IATF guidelines can shield the authorities from any criminal and administrative liabilities” once they interfere in the SONA protests.  

A particular section in the IATF resolution reads: “In view of the forthcoming State of the Nation Address, the [IATF] strongly reiterates that mass gatherings… are prohibited in areas under General Community Quarantine.”

Before the DILG advisory on Thursday, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte promised that protest actions would be allowed as long as organizers comply with health protocols.

On Tuesday, July 21, Belmonte even met with rally organizers to discuss health and safety protocols in conducting public assemblies.

Bagong Alyansa Makabayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said the intention of the DILG was meant to prevent LGUs and the people from protesting.

“No one should be arrested for the peaceful exercise of one’s constitutional rights,” he said. 

Nothing to fear

Human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno said participants have nothing to worry so long as health protocols are properly and strictly observed. He also pointed out that the right to protest should not be outlawed even in the time of a health crisis. 

“Basta mayroon tayong social distancing, basta suot-suot natin ang mga face masks, may karapatan tayo na magsama-sama at ipaabot sa ating pamahalaan ang ating mga saloobin at hinaing,” he said. 

(As long as we practice social distancing, we wear face masks, we have the right to assemble and air our grievances)

A health committee is designated to ensure that all participants will wear face mask and other personal protective equipment and will observe physical distancing, according to the groups. 

Meanwhile, paralegals from human rights groups would coordinate with the Commission on Human Rights and monitor irregularities during the rally. Lawyers from Free Legal Assistance Groups would also be present to help should there be violations of human rights.

Multisectoral groups would stage their separate program in their designated meeting points at 8:30 in the morning, hours before the broad program along the University Avenue at the University of the Philippines Diliman. 

Aside from the main protest held every year, other activities will also be staged on the day of SONA. 

Church groups will hold a Mass entitled, “Misa para sa Katarungan at Kapayapaan,” at the Quiapo Church at 12 pm, which will be live streamed via Senator Risa Hontiveros Facebook page, TV Maria, and Radyo Veritas 846.

Online concert “Tinig ng Baya” will also be held at 3 pm while a nationwide noise barrage will happen at 6 pm, with the ABS-CBN compound as the protest center. –