MANILA — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday said rallyists can freely chant anti-Marcos sentiments at a rally near the site of President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.'s inauguration, as long as they have a permit and the chants do not violate any law.
“As long as their statements do not constitute an actionable offense, such as inciting to sedition or oral defamation, rallyists enjoy freedom of expression,” he told reporters in a message in response to a question.
But there are regulations that have to be complied with, he added.
“The right of peaceful assembly, regardless of one’s political beliefs or affiliation, is guaranteed by the Constitution, subject to reasonable regulations to maintain peace and order, including the requirement to obtain a prior permit,” Guevarra said.
Under Batas Pambansa Bilang 880 or the "The Public Assembly Act of 1985,” a rally permit is required for any public assembly in a public place except if done in a freedom park, in a private property or in the campus of a government-owned and operated educational institution.
Outside these areas, a rally permit must be obtained from the local government unit.
In various decisions, the Supreme Court has ruled that the right to peaceably assemble can only be regulated on the basis of time, place and manner, and not on the basis of content.
BP 880 also prohibits the “arbitrary and unjustified denial” of a permit although it allows the mayor to deny a permit if the rally will create a “clear and present danger to public order, public safety, public convenience, public moral or public health.”
‘FUTILE’ TO APPLY FOR RALLY PERMIT
But Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes, Jr. finds applying for a rally permit “futile” following statements from Philippine National Police officials expressing concern about Left-leaning groups joining the protests.
The PNP has earlier said they will only allow rallies in designated freedom parks.
Acting PNP chief Gen. Vicente Danao, Jr. later said they will allow rallies near the National Museum, the venue of Marcos’ inauguration, if rallyists shout “Mabuhay!” or “Long live!” President-elect Marcos.
PNP director for operations Maj. Gen. Valeriano de Leon on Wednesday further clarified they will respect airing of sentiments and issues, but said they’re worried about Left-leaning groups joining the protests.
“Maj. Gen de Leon once again displays utter ignorance of the law when he suggests that Left-leaning groups somehow are not entitled to the same rights as everyone else. He claims that it is okay for people to air their grievances and that they are only worried about Left-leaning groups joining protests,” Reyes said in a statement.
“What idiocy is this? Our law enforcers do not know how to enforce the law. The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed for all regardless of political beliefs. Being from a Left-leaning group should be immaterial when it comes to exercising one’s constitutional right to peaceably assemble."
Reyes said applying for a permit would be “an exercise in futility” because the PNP will recommend its denial and the local government unit will be “constrained to deny the application.”
He reminded the PNP top brass that President Rodrigo Duterte even allowed protesters inside Malacañang in 2016 during his inauguration, without any disruption or untoward incident.
He accused the PNP of “conditioning public opinion” that there will be disruptions on June 30.
“Such is not on the agenda. What we aim to air on June 30 are urgent people’s issues such as the rising fuel prices, rising inflation, low wages and a looming food crisis. These are not just Left-leaning issues. These are valid people’s concerns,” he said.
“The PNP should really just study the law instead of trying to police the way people should think and speak. It is such a throwback to Martial Law,” he added.
PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo told ANC that they will stick to allowing protests only in freedom parks, regardless of the political leanings of the protesters.
“We will allow protests provided it will be done in the freedom park in these areas. And definitely, all protests, whether for or against, will not be permitted near the venue,” she said.
Liwasang Bonifacio is the freedom park nearest the National Museum.
CHR EXPRESES CONCERN
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) expressed concern on Danao's pronouncements.
"While we note his concern in keeping the inauguration orderly, CHR continues to stress the primacy of upholding human rights, as similarly stressed by the President-elect himself during a meeting with the United Nations Resident Coordinator in the Philippines on Friday," CHR said in a statement.
The commission stressed that everyone, regardless of whether they express dissent or support, enjoys the freedom of speech, expression, and assembly as guaranteed in the 1987 Constitution.
Nonetheless, it cautioned rallyists, both pro and anti, to refrain from resorting to violence or harm in exercising these freedoms.
"As a law enforcement agency, we hope that the PNP continues to uphold their mandate of serving the people and protecting human rights of all at all times," the CHR said.