On eve of Independence Day protests, DOJ says rallies 'temporarily banned'

People planning to attend Independence Day demonstrations on Friday, June 12, risk being arrested and even jailed because the government has said it loud and clear – rallies are "temporarily banned" during quarantine.

The latest warning came from Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, an authoritative voice in the Duterte administration, who said "solely for public health reasons and nothing else, mass gatherings, including protest rallies, are temporarily banned to avoid direct transmission of the COVID-19 virus."

The justice secretary backed Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Archie Gamboa, who said on Thursday, June 11, that the police would "strictly enforce the prohibition on any form of mass gathering during the celebration of  the 122nd 'Araw ng Kalayaan' tomorrow, June 12."

On social media, Filipinos planning to attend the protests joked that they should call the rallies "mañanita," a jab at Metro Manila Police chief Major General Debold Sinas whose birthday party attended by dozens when the capital region was on lockdown was forgiven by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte.

Metro Manila is now under general community quarantine (GCQ),  where the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) still limits "mass gatherings" – including religious gatherings – to a maximum of 10 people. There was a promise that churches can be reopened at 50% seating capacity if the GCQ is eased to a modified GCQ.

Manila protesters were able to hold a rally with physical distancing on June 4, when they protested the passage of the controversial anti-terror billNo one in Manila was arrested but 8 protesters in Cebu spent time in detention before being bailed out, including a mere bystander.

The controversial bill will be on top of the agenda of the Independence Day protests.

Edre Olalia, the president of the National Union Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), said his group and other allied groups will stand their ground and proceed with the protest.

"The people cannot be muzzled and put on the internet alone to express themselves. Even the World Health Organization recognizes the importance of the exercise of these rights as long as the necessary standard operating protocols (SOPs) on health safety practices are observed," Olalia said.

Is it legal to ban rallies?

Olalia said the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act as well as the public health law, Republic Act No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases Act, do not prohibit rallies.

Without citing the specific law, Guevarra insisted that rallies in quarantine "may give rise to penal sanctions under existing public health laws, not under criminal laws."

As of posting, Guevarra has yet to respond to questions about the specific penal sanctions under public health laws he referred to.

From the onset of the lockdown, Guevarra has cited RA 11332 as basis for warrantless arrests of anyone who violates quarantine rules.

But in a recent decision by a court in Bulacan, the judge ruled that RA 11332 was improperly used to charge activists who were arrested for distributing relief packages without a permit. It was the first known case where the DOJ's theory of RA 11332 was thrown out.

RA 11332 punishes non-cooperation in a public health crisis, but the judge said Section 9(D) of the law refers only to the people and entities who must report the notifiable disease, and they do not include the activists charged.

Guevarra has also not responded to follow-up questions on RA 11332.

Article 151 

Police have also used Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code or the law that prohibits disobedience to authority, to arrest quarantine violators.

Olalia said Article 151 cannot be used because the law "presupposes" that the authority gave a legal order, which the person disobeyed.

Going out of the house, or rallying, is not a crime under Article 151, said Olalia. 

"Can the police claim that there is no need to order the accused because their actions already constitute a disobedience of the quarantine rules and therefore already a disobedience to a person in authority under Article 151? The answer is no," said Olalia.

"It will lead to very absurd results that will practically violate rights of every one accused of a crime," the lawyer said.

Olalia said Quezon City, where most of the rallies are planned to take place, also "has no applicable ordinance on mass gatherings."

"[It has] only guidelines and it is pegged on the inapplicable RA 11332. So the water cannot rise above the source," said Olalia. – With a report from Rambo Talabong/Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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