MANILA – The Manila police on Monday afternoon tried to stop an all-women group of petitioners from holding a quick protest action in front of the Supreme Court as they filed the 37th petition against the country's Anti-Terrorism Act.
P/Lt. Col. Alex Daniel, officer-in-charge of the Manila Ermita Police Station, led a team of policemen who confiscated a tarpaulin and banners calling for the junking of the anti-terror law and dispersed a group of around 10 petitioners.
“Maliban dun sa pagfa-file ng petition, bigla po silang nag-rally sa harapan ng Supreme Court na kung saan, nagdikit-dikit po at nagkaroon ng violation sa protocol natin sa social distancing," Daniel told reporters.
(Aside from filing their petition, they suddenly held a rally in front of the Supreme Court where they violated our social distancing protocol.)
"So, umakto po ang mga pulis na paghiwa-hiwalayin po sila kasi magkakaroon po ng konting hawaan tayo dito. Kaya napilitan po silang paalisin dito sa harapan ng Supreme Court,” he added.
(So, we responded and asked them to move away from each other. That's why, we were forced to ask them to leave the Supreme Court.)
Daniel said rallies are supposedly prohibited because it can lead to “groupings” which could facilitate the spread of the coronavirus.
“Nagkakadikit-dikit po. Lalo na sa rally, nagkakasigawan tayo, tumatalsik ang ating laway, at hindi po sila kumpleto ng gamit. ‘Yung iba po, walang face shield. Dapat pinapatupad nila yun at sumusunod po sila dun,” he explained.
(There is a tendency to stand close together. Especially during rallies, we tend to shout, and they do not have the complete protective gear. Some do not have face shields. They should implement that and they should follow.)
But lawyer Virginia Suarez, who led the filing of the 37th petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act on behalf of 11 women organizations and 16 individuals, insisted they observed “social distancing.”
“But the police confiscated the tarp(aulin) at pinapaalis (kami), kaya nagkagulo,” she said.
(But the police confiscated our tarpaulin and they asked us to leave, that's why there was a commotion.)
Suarez, who represented the family of transwoman Jennifer Laude who was killed by a US serviceman in 2014, was eventually allowed to file the petition and to raise copies of the petition in front of the Supreme Court before the media, but not before police in fatigue uniforms occupied the sidewalk fronting the SC where protest actions are usually staged.
“Latag na latag na ang kundisyon ng diktadura ng martial law. Ang Anti-Terror Law ang ultimong pagpapakita ng diktadura. Naniniwala kami na pinipilit tayong patahimikin ng Anti-Terror Law at hindi natin papayagan yun. Because silence breeds impunity and impunity breeds violence,” she said during the quick protest.
(The condition of dictatorship under a martial law is obvious. The Anti-Teror Law is the ultimate proof of dictatorship. We believe that we are being silenced by the Anti-Terror Law and we will not allow that to happen. Because silence breeds impunity, and impunity breeds violence.)
The country marked on Monday the 48th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines by the late President Ferdinand Marcos.
Monday's incident at the high court is the first time a group of petitioners was prevented from staging a protest there during the filing of a petition.
It happened a day after Ermita Police Station Commander Ariel Caramoan was sacked after authorities supposedly failed to implement safety protocols among a huge crowd of visitors over the weekend at the controversial baywalk in Manila Bay.
In 36 previous filings against the anti-terror law, police did not stop petitioners from raising placards calling for the junking of the measure.
The latest was the filing of the 36th petition by a group of humanitarian and faith-based organizations composed of the Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc., Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines, Citizen Disaster Response Center, and the National Secretariat for Social Action/Caritas Philippines on Monday morning.
Daniel, who replaced Caramoan, said they prohibited holding of placards because touching those by itself could possibly help spread the virus that causes COVID-19.
Asked why the Manila police was suddenly strictly enforcing quarantine protocols when, in the past 2 days, they allowed throngs of people gathered in what is now called the Manila Bay Sands without observing physical distancing, Daniel claimed they had been strictly implementing protocols, except that they were overwhelmed by the thousands of people who trooped to Manila Bay.
“Actually, mahigpit na po kami. Minsan lang kasi, katulad dun sa Baywalk po, nagkaroon po ng biglaan na hindi agad naaksyunan sa sobrang dami ng tao," he said.
(We are actually strict. But sometimes, like what happened in Baywalk, there was a sudden influx of people and we were not able to respond immediately.)
"Pero, lahat po ng mga groupings sa Manila is inaaksyunan po ng mga pulis na huwag muna magkaroon ng groupings, malalabag po natin ‘yung social distancing,” he explained.
(But we always respond to reports of group activities in Manila. We advise them not to group together because we will violate social distancing.)
The rehabilitated portion of the Manila Baywalk, filled with dolomite, was opened to the public over the weekend by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Manila City government.
Some of the visitors were photographed close to each other and not wearing masks or face shields.
In at least 2 other instances, police and local government units had sought to prevent protests from taking place citing quarantine protocols.
But a Manila court junked the case filed against protesters during the Pride march in Manila and a Cebu court dismissed the case for violation of quarantine protocols against a group of protesters at the University of the Philippines in Cebu, ruling that a law calling for cooperation from those inflicted with notifiable disease or institutions required to report these cases cannot be applied to punish protesters just for expressing dissent if they do not have the notifiable diseases themselves.
Authorities, however, have used this as legal basis to effect other arrests.
Meanwhile, the SC has acknowledged receipt of the 2 petitions filed Monday, with the official total of petitions now at 37.
There is no information yet on 2 other petitions supposedly filed by House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman and a group of Mindanaons a few weeks ago.