“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.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A group of human rights lawyers said there is no basis for the charges filed against the 20 members of the LGBTQIA+ who were arrested June 26 for commemorating the Pride Month.
The police said the 20 LGBTQIA+ members, or collectively called as #Pride20, violated 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).
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), however, maintained that freedom of speech, expression and peaceful assembly is not prohibited or curtailed under the BP 880.
“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,” the peoples’ lawyers said.
What is prohibited under the BP 880, the lawyers’ group said, is police intervention during rallies, which is clearly provided for under Section 9 which states that, “Law enforcement agencies shall not interfere with the holding of a public assembly.”
It further stated that law enforcement contingent is allowed to ensure public safety but should be stationed in a place at least 100 meter away from the area of activity.
The NUPL said that even if the said protest has no permit as argued by the Manila police, “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.”
Meanwhile, 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,” the group said.
“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?” they added.
The group also contradicted the police’s assertion of relating the Article 151 with RA 11332. They said that Section 9 of the law requires any person or entity to report “notifiable disease” to proper authorities. Those who will refuse will be punished accordingly.
The NUPL explained that a person identified to be affected by COVID-19, having symptoms of the virus, or anyone who knows one to be as such, must inform the proper authorities of such a case. The law requires a prior identification as a COVID-19 patient or persons having symptoms of the virus, for the provisions to apply.
This is not the case of the arrested 20 rights activists, the group said.
“Clearly, persons who have not been identified as having the dreaded virus cannot be arrested or charged under this law,” they said.
The #Pride20 is not yet released by the Manila police. They underwent inquest on Saturday, June 27.
Meanwhile, rights groups called for their immediate release.
Kapatid, the support group for political prisoners and their relatives, said it is not the LGBTQIA+ who should face sanctions but those “who wrongfully arrest citizens for simply exercising their rights whether on the streets fully masked or in social media in the privacy of their homes or while doing soup kitchens or simply going out of their way to bring food to the poor and needy.”
The group added that every day that the #Pride20 spends in jail is a diminution of the peoples’ rights.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, also said that the police had no basis to violently disperse the Pride March since the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act has already expired.
“There is no other way to describe this violent dispersal as a blatant attack on the LGBTQIA+ community and its long history of militant resistance against State repression, especially amid the looming passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill. This is an attack on our democratic rights! Garapalan na lang talaga ang kapulisan, sa mismong Pride Month pa talaga sila maghahasik ng lagim,” Palabay said.
She said that Pride is a celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community’s plight and struggles. Certainly, she said that it is a protest movement.
In this year’s Pride March, Palabay said Bahaghari underscored the issues that affects not only their community but the Filipino people of all genders and sexual orientations. She said the people are compelled to speak out and take action against policies that will greatly affect the people’s rights and civil liberties and can worsen State-perpetrated misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.
“We strongly call on the LGBTQ+ community and its allies to condemn these unlawful arrests and demand that the police release the arrested Pride protesters! Stand for our rights and fight back! Makibeki, ‘wag mashokot!,” Palabay said.