SONA 2017: No shields, batons, or firearms for frontline police

MANILA, Philippines – There will be no shields, batons, or firearms for cops tasked to manage protests during President Rodrigo Duterte's second State of the Nation Address (SONA), a top police official said on Tuesday, July 18.

In a media briefing on Tuesday, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Oscar Albayalde said that upon the instructions of no less than Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa, Civil Disturbance Management (CDM) police will be advised not to use their shields or batons which are standard fare in most protests.

Dela Rosa made the same verbal instructions during last year's SONA when he made a surprise inspection of cops assigned to guard the perimeter of the Batasang Pambansa complex.

Around 6,300 uniformed personnel – including CDM units, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams, and other "augmentation forces" from different agencies – will be deployed by Monday morning, July 24, the day of the SONA.

Albayalde said that as agreed upon, groups holding protests on Monday will be allowed to set up their mobile platform near the South Wing of the Batasang Pambansa.

"Nagkasundo naman tayo na pagbibigyan ang ating mga protesters doon sa the same position kung saan sila last year. Actually pinalapit pa natin ng around 15 to 20 meters doon sa South Wing ng Batasang Pambansa," said Albayalde.

(We agreed to let the protesters stay in the same spot where they were last year. Actually we'll even let them come closer, around 15 to 20 meters, to the South Wing of the Batasang Pambansa.)

At least one road – Sinagtala Street – will be closed because of the expected protests during the SONA. The NCRPO chief, citing discussions with leftist groups, said around 12,000 are expected to show up on Monday.

Albayalde said they granted the groups' request because last year, the Office of the President itself told police to allow protesters to come as close as possible to the Batasang Pambansa. He said that unless the Office of the President gives explicit instructions otherwise, the status quo remains.

Last year's SONA rallies had a decidedly different atmosphere, with demonstrations held in support of Duterte.

Dela Rosa visited deployed police and also spoke to protesters themselves. He even went onstage to assure protesters that the police were there to protect and not to accost them.

Albayalde said they expect a similar atmosphere this year, but also acknowledged that things may have changed.

"Last year walang issue, walang threat. This year may issue sila, 'yung martial law… 'yung ongoing peace talks... but then 'yung sabi ko nga, 'yung malaking issue is the declaration of martial law in Mindanao," he said.

(Last year there weren't any issues, no threats. This year there's martial law... the ongoing peace talks... but then, like I said, the major issue is the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.)

Fire units and mobile jails will be on standby, should the situation turn rowdy. SWAT units will also be stationed nearby, said Albayalde.

The NCRPO chief also urged activists to "check on their ranks" and ensure that troublemakers are unable to penetrate their groups.

Albayalde said no specific threats have been detected. –