Cebu City mayor says public has right to assemble even during health emergency
CEBU CITY Philippines – Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella said that the public still has right to “peaceably assemble” and this is not curtailed even during a state of public health emergency.
“The right to peaceably assemble is not proscribed even under the current national emergency, subject only to regulations meant to promote the public health such as observing social distancing,” Labella said, speaking on the arrest of 8 demonstrators, on Saturday, June 6.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed the Philippines under state of public health emergency in March.
Labella, who had previously ordered a constituent arrested for spreading “fake news,” described Cebu City as a “bastion” of civil liberties. “And it should be kept that way,” he added. (READ: Cebu film writer arrested over Facebook post about coronavirus in Sitio Zapatera)
“Towards that end, the freedom of expression should not be curtailed,” Labella said. “On the contrary, we should seek to promote and protect it.”
The Cebu City mayor's position contradicted with that of the Philippine National Police (PNP) who said the general community quarantine's (GCQ) ban on mass gatherings justified the dispersal the rally. (READ: Cops arrest 8 at anti-terrorism bill protest in Cebu City)
Netizens and civil society organizations have spoken out against the overly aggressive manner the PNP used to disperse a peaceful demonstration. They also demanded that the police drop the charges against the protesters.
Police denied using heavy-handed tactics against the demonstrators, however, and said they had a right to go inside campus in “hot pursuit” of erring rally participants. (READ: PNP denies using excessive force, violating U.P. agreement in Cebu dispersal)
“I am saddened by what happened at the UP Lahug campus and I want to know why it did (happen),” Labella said.
The Cebu City mayor said he would give the police the benefit of the doubt until they can explain their side. “These are professional policemen whose judgment I trust,” he said.
Under the local government code, mayors have supervisory powers over the police.
The 7 demonstrators and one bystander were still under the custody of the Cebu City police and are expected to post bail on Monday, June 8.
In April, Labella ordered police to arrest Cebu City resident Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran for a sarcastic post – calling it “fake news.” If convicted on those charges, Beltran could face 18 years in prison and a fine of up to P1 million. (READ: Taken after midnight, cuffed to a chair: The arrest of Cebuana artist Bambi Beltran)
“There are always two sides of every story; thus, I cannot speculate,” Labella said. “Let the appropriate agencies of government conduct their investigation so that the unfettered truth will come out.” – Rappler.com