MANILA - The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Saturday said it would allow protesters to gather at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City for the traditional mass action during the State of the Nation Address, even as it encouraged the public to instead express dissent online amid the continuing COVID-19 threat.
Protesters who would prefer to gather physically are allowed to do so at the UP campus in Diliman, not far from the SONA venue in Batasang Pambansa, as long as they follow minimum health standards, PNP spokesperson Police Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said in a press briefing.
This amid announcements by the Quezon City local government and the national Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 response that protests are not allowed in compliance with quarantine regulations against mass gatherings.
Protests will still be barred on Commonwealth Avenue, the thoroughfare leading to the legislature where SONA protests are traditionally held.
“Kung maaari ay stay at home na lang po. Gawin na lang po ang ating protest through online at naipapahayag pa naman ang ating boses, ang ating protesta through online. Ayaw natin malagay as panganib ang ating pamilya,” Banac said, citing virus risks and capacities of hospitals as of late amid rising COVID-19 cases.
(As much as possible, stay at home. Do your protests online where you are also able to express yourself. We just don’t want our families to be put at risk.)
“[Ang mga] hindi mapipigil ay doon na po magtungo sa UP campus, basta doon panatilihin ang pagtugon sa minimum health standards gaya ng pagsuot ng face mask at social distancing,” Banac said.
(Those who will want to protest may go to the UP Campus, for as long as they comply with minimum health standards like wearing face masks and physical distancing.)
Several groups have said they would push through with the protests dubbed “SONAgkaisa” at the UP Campus, saying there is an “urgent need” to express dissent against government policies through a physical gathering.
The groups, including militant and civil society organizations, vowed compliance with health protocols including physical distancing and the use of face masks.
Meanwhile, Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra said he understands that the citizens’ right to “peacefully assemble” and air their complaints is protected by the Constitution, but in the case of Monday’s SONA it is up to local government units to determine what is in their constituents’ best interests.
“It depends on the assessment of the actual situation by the local authorities and law enforcement agencies concerned,” Guevarra said.
“I cannot substitute my judgment for theirs. But a blanket and absolute prohibition of peaceful assemblies — unless necessitated by paramount considerations of public order, health, and safety — runs counter to the constitutional right of the people to peaceably assemble for the redress of grievances.”