By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA –Members of the progressive groups have formally filed charges against the Philippine National Police (PNP) officials and members of the anti-riot contingent before the Office of the Ombudsman last August 6, Monday.
The groups were violently dispersed last July 23 during President Benigno S. Aquino III’s state of the nation address that resulted to more than 80 people injured, including Bishop Solito Toquero of the Ecumenical Bishop’s Forum.
The groups were assisted by human rights lawyers’ group National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and the Public Interest Law Center (PILC). In the 20-page complaint, Renato Reyes Jr. of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Cristina Palabay of Karapatan, Bishop Toquero of the United Methodist Church, Fr. Rennie Delos Santos of Iglesia Filipiniana Independiente, Leonardo Sabino of Promotion of Church Peoples Response (PCPR) and community members of Bayan Muna and Kadamay filed criminal charges for violation of Batas Pambansa Bilang 880 (Public Assembly Act) and physical injuries against PSupt. Mario O. Dela Vega, PSR Supt. Richard Fiesta, PSR Supt. Joel D. Pagdilao, PSupt. Marcelino DL. Pedrozo, Jr., and PSupt. Ronnie Montejo of the Quezon City PNP, and other John and Jane Does for their responsibility in the illegal blockade and the violent dispersal that left at least 84 rallyists injured.
The case highlighted violations to Batas Pambansa 880 or the Public Assembly Act of 1985, among which illegal blockades, obstruction, impediment and disruption by policemen despite a legal permit constitute a valid ground for formal complaints.
It will be remembered that on July 23 the groups tried to march and to get near to the House of Representatives but the police prevented the protesters from marching towards the Batasan Road. The police assaulted the protesters with shields and truncheons. The driver of the dump truck that was used to block the protesters even threatened to run over the protesters. Several protesters were injured, some were hospitalized. Carlos Montemayor of the NUPL-NCR said that many of the police were not wearing their name plates, which is why the victims could not identify the police who committed violence against them.
Montemayor pointed out the groups’ compliance to avail of the necessary permit for Sonaprotest but it was not acted upon by the Quezon City government within the required two days. Montemayor said Bayan has filed an application for rally permit before the Office of the Quezon City Mayor as early as Jul 10. “However it was not acted upon and hence, as BP 880 provides, the application is deemed granted after two working days by operation of law without need of any further document or action as the application itself ipso facto and ipso jure becomes the permit. It is just silly and plainly absurd to blindly and arrogantly require a written permit when none is necessary as it is the Constitution and the law that bestow the permit.”
Edre Olalia, secretary general of NUPL, also added that with the permit deemed granted by operation of law, respondents have no legal ground to block, delay, suppress, deny, disrupt or prohibit the exercise of the right of our clients to peaceably assemble to air their grievances and to seek redress with the government.
“What is even more ironic is that so-called PNP human rights officers were just standing there, either plainly ignorant of a simple law that they conveniently but wrongly invoke to suit their purposes or totally uncaring about rights violations happening right under their very noses. It is obvious that these officers were just deployed there for tokenism,” he said.
PNP human rights officers led by lawyer PSupt. Nicanor Salamera who were present and embedded within the police phalanx is also included in the complaint filed.
The complainants alleged in the complaint that the PNP officials and personnel openly and continuously violated several sections of BP 880 such as failure to observe maximum tolerance, failure to display the required nameplates, violating the required buffer zone distance from the activity, and obstructing, impeding and disrupting a peaceful assembly. Those who were injured likewise charged respondents with physical injuries for the inordinate use of force. The NUPL lawyers explained that the liability of the PNP officials stem both from the principles of conspiracy and command responsibility.
It is stipulated in the Batas Pambansa 880 under section two, declaration of policy that, “The constitutional right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances is essential and vital to the strength and stability of the State. To this end, the State shall ensure the free exercise of such right without prejudice to the rights of others to life, liberty and equal protection of the law.”
Reyes, Bayan secretary general, said they have been following the law but the government is taking it for granted. “Every year we have been applying for a permit but the government is not taking any action on it. We have to assert our right to peacefully protest. We cannot allow that every year we will only be blocked by the police. They said we are the boss, but we are being prevented to air our grievances, we are being hit by shields and truncheons and even dispersed.”
The IFI also said in a statement, “The violence committed against the protesters last Sona of the President only proves that we are continuously living in a curve path of iniquity. (A path) Insensitive to the people’s welfare, no respect for human rights and the right to stand and to voice out the truth.”
The church people who attended last July 23’s protest action were among the victims of violent dispersal.
Sabino, PCPR secretary general, stated in his affidavit that after saving one youth protester, more than five policemen mauled him instead with truncheons and shields hitting him on the head, back and arms leaving him with more than 23 wounds, bruises, contusions and abrasions.
“The moral impetus to assert our rightful place where we seek redress of grievances and right to freedom of expression in a peaceful assembly is assured by constitutional protection. To be denied of this right is a clear blatant violation of our civil and political rights. In the long historical context of marginalization and oppression, to push for legal restitution is but one avenue of the church people to restore God’s order where one’s dignity is respected and human rights are protected,” he said.
The NUPL also criticized the seemingly unjustified inaction of city mayors in relation to applications for rally permits. The NUPL stressed that, “such apparently deliberate inaction palpably manifests the utter disregard in a quite nonchalant and even cavalier fashion of the citizens’ basic constitutional rights to free speech, assembly and redress of grievances — rights whose assertion and exercise by rallyists like the complainants have benefitted those who are presently inside the revolving doors of political power themselves.”