A LAWYERS’S group on Sunday hit Philippine police after its top officials recently claimed that the right to protest in public is contingent on securing a permit.
“The right is enshrined in the Constitution, which supersedes any statute, ordinance, executive order or regulation issued by any public official or agency,” the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said in a statement.
“A permit is not essential for the assembly itself,” it said.
NUPL said that even the rally permit under Batas Pambansa Blg. 880, which the city government of Manila recently ordered to be “strictly” enforced by local authorities, is only an administrative requirement that “allows the local government to regulate — not ban — the time and place of public assemblies.”
“By applying for a permit, the local government is given notice that a specific public place will be the site of an upcoming assembly, giving it time to reroute traffic, deploy police officers, and reserve the location for the applicant in case other groups also intend to use the same place,” it said. “As a matter of fact, if the mayor fails to act on the application within 2 working days, the permit is already deemed granted.”
NUPL said that because of the recognized importance of the right to protest, the law sets “an extremely high bar for its curtailment.”
“Only the existence of a ‘clear and present danger’ — meaning, an evil that is both extremely serious and imminent — can justify restrictions to it.”
The group said even if organizers failed to apply for a permit, BP 880 itself states that “no person can be punished or held criminally liable for participating in or attending an otherwise peaceful assembly.”
“This is one aspect of the law frequently violated by the police when, as in recent weeks, they arrest peaceful protesters and even journalists covering the events.”
Authorities last week arrested more than 90 people, including peasants and advocates as well as journalists, in Tarlac City in northern Philippines for allegedly holding an illegal assembly.
Several were released soon after while 83 were charged for illegal assembly, among other offenses. Those facing cases were all released as of Sunday afternoon after posting bail. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza