SONA protesters file human rights case vs PNP

MANILA, Philippines – Claiming their right to expression was "met with repression," leftist groups on Friday, August 8, lodged a complaint against the Philippine National Police (PNP) before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

In a statement, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the PNP "violated the rights of the people to free expression, peaceful assembly and redress of grievances during the SONA (State of the Nation Address)."

During President Benigno Aquino III's 5th SONA on July 28, protesters in the area were blasted with water cannons after they toppled and went past barricades set up by police. The water used to blast protesters was apparently mixed with red dye to make it easier for authorities to later identify them.

In the complaint, the groups said "the harassment, checkpoints, illegal barricades, violent dispersal with water cannons, were draconian measures and criminal acts perpetrated by the respondents in violation of the constitutionally protected rights of the complainants."

"It is also a violation of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and international human rights conventions to which the Philippines is a signatory," they added.

Signatories to the complaint include representatives from Bayan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Karapatan Southern Tagalog, Gabriela, Kadamay, Piston, Migrante, and Kilusang Mayo Uno Metro Manila.

The PNP earlier said that the groups did not have the necessary permits to hold the protest in the first place. PNP spokesman Reuben Theodore Sindac also defended the use of water cannons, adding that the lowest setting was used on the protesters.

Sindac said the PNP "welcomes" the filing of the complaint since it will allow the police force to "air its side in the proper forum."  

Another case was filed before the Ombudsman against Superintendent Victor Pagulayan who allegedly used a stun gun against a jeepney driver and his 12-year-old daughter during the anti-SONA rally.

The group had earlier expressed alarm over the deployment of 10,000 policemen and over 400 soldiers on the day of the SONA. The PNP and AFP, however, said this was nothing out of the ordinary.

Prior to Aquino's SONA on July 28,  the Supreme Court ruled 3 schemes under the administration's Disbursment Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional, further fueling criticism against the special spending scheme where the executive branch re-appropriated "savings" from slow-moving to fast-moving projects.

The President later challenged the SC ruling in a televised speech while government lawyers filed a motion for reconsideration before the high court.

Aquino also delivered his 5th SONA at a time when he suffered his lowest public approval and trust ratings in his presidency, although still high for a chief executive on his 4th year in office, compared to his predecessors. –