Yesterday’s Pride protest in Mendiola had 20 LGBTQIA+ rights activists and supporters arrested and detained by police operatives for supposed violations of the Public Assembly Law (BP 880) and Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code on “Resistance and Disobedience to a Person in Authority or the Agents of such Person” in relation to RA 11332 (Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases Law).
Authorities initially claimed that the protesters violated “the rule of law in Manila” without even identifying the particular legislation or ordinance, if any, that had been supposedly transgressed by a peaceful exercise of freedom of speech, expression and assembly, with physical distancing and other health protocols amid the pandemic observed.
Quite belatedly, the arresting officers averred that the rally had no permit in violation of BP880, thus the arrests. Footages of what transpired at the foot of Malacanang in yesterday’s Pride March, however, clearly show who in fact violated the “rule of law.”
Do the charges against the rights activists have legal and factual basis?
First, nowhere in the Public Assembly Law (BP 880) is the freedom of speech, expression and peaceful assembly prohibited or curtailed. Holding a protest action is not a crime as this is a basic human right guaranteed and protected by the Constitution and international law.
Contrary to the baseless assertions of police operatives, BP 880 in fact recognizes rallies and only requires permits if the protest action is held in a public place under Section 4 of the law. What is actually prohibited under BP 880 is police intervention during rallies, which is clearly provided for under Section 9. Now, even when a rally is held without a permit, as argued by the Manila police in this case, still the authorities cannot violently disperse it and forcefully arrest the protesters, when the said protest action is held peacefully and, now with proper observance of health protocols under the COVID-19 pandemic.
Second, Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code on Resistance and Disobedience to a Person in Authority or the Agents of Such Person contemplates of a situation where a valid order is given first by the person in authority but the accused resisted or seriously disobeyed it. Again, the footages of yesterday’s arrest would show the participants peacefully conducting their program and one of them was even respectfully negotiating with the police operatives, when suddenly a police officer violently snatched him by the nape and the other operatives swarmed over him. How can one resist or seriously disobey an order of a police officer (assuming one has been validly issued), when he is already physically restrained by a group of policemen armed with truncheons and battle gear?
When one is already being dragged by operatives and forcefully placed inside the police car? When the police officers took over the driver seat of the vehicle carrying the protesters? Evidently, the elements constituting the felony are absent.
Lastly, the Manila authorities relate the alleged violation of Art. 151 with RA 11332 (Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases Law).
What does RA 11332 provide? Section 9 of the law requires any person or entity to report “notifiable disease” to proper authorities. Anyone who refuses to do so will be punished accordingly. Under the present circumstances, a person identified to be affected by COVID 19, or as a PUI or a PUM, or anyone who knows one to be as such, must inform the proper authorities of such a case. In other words, the law requires a prior identification as a COVID 19 patient, PUI or PUM for the provisions to apply. Such is not the case here with the arrest of these 20 rights activists. Clearly, persons who have not been identified as having the dreaded virus cannot be arrested or charged under this law.
Unless the arrested protesters knew beforehand that the phalanx of overacting police were all priorly identified to be infected with some kind of virus and the former did not report them. Even better, the protesters should have arrested the police arresting them instead.
Of course we are trying hard to outdo the keystone cops.
These ludicrous charges are obviously and totally devoid of factual and legal basis and should be dismissed outright. Time and again, we have reminded authorities that neither the pandemic nor their grave ignorance of the law or dumb overzealousness is an excuse to trample upon basic rights and curtail freedoms.
You have been served. #
Edre U. Olalia
NUPL Committee on Women and Children