MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading a Marcos-era law on public assembly, which would require organizers of protest rallies and other public assemblies to give prior information to the Office of the City Mayor.
Voting 212-55, the lower chamber approved House Bill No. 6834 last Monday, February 5. The proposed measure seeks to repeal Batas Pambansa (BP) 880 or the Public Assembly Act of 1985.
Under the proposed law on public assembly, while organizers only need to serve a notice of the event to the Office of the Mayor three working days before the public assembly, the bill gives power to the mayor to stop the event should there be “clear and convincing evidence based on personal knowledge” that the assembly would cause danger to public order, safety, morals or health.”
Individuals or groups who would hold the rallies without notice, or those held outside the notice’s coverage, would face a penalty of six months to six years imprisonment. The BP 880 penalizes violators with six months’ imprisonment.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate was one of the proponents of the bill but he later withdrew his support saying “some provisions were repressive”.
Last Monday, he voted against the approval of the bill, saying it would “curtail the rights of the Filipino people to express their sentiments and demands from the government.”
During his explanation of a no-vote, Zarate noted how he fell victim of the same measure.
Last February 1, the Manila prosecutor’s office summoned Zarate, Satur Ocampo and other activists for their alleged role in leading a protest action against United States President Donald Trump during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in November last year.
They were charged of violating BP 880, which Zarate previously downplayed as “nothing but a calibrated harassment against members of the Left.”
“Together with my co-accused, I will face these cases knowing that we did nothing wrong; we’re just exercising our freedom of expression and right to assembly,” he said in a statement.
Also named in the complaints were other militant leaders – Vencer Crisostomo of Anakbayan, Renato Reyes of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna, and Einstein Recedes of Student Christian Movement (SCM).
An attack against human rights
Meanwhile, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas said the imposition of a notice requirement would still be “a direct attack on human rights.”
Human rights group Karapatan echoed this concern, saying that a permit or a notice “is not a prerequisite for the Filipino people to exercise their right to peaceably assemble.”
“That is a basic right enshrined in the Philippine Constitution and international human rights instruments. It should take precedence over insidious attempts by a Duterte-controlled Congress to pass another repressive legislation that will further curtail people’s rights,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
“The Duterte regime has caused and enabled systemic injustices that merits the people’s indignation and protest. Yet here it is, working ways to further cripple measures for individuals and organizations to demand accountability,” she added.
Palabay also pointed out that the passage of HB 6834 at the House, along with the Supreme Court’s decision affirming the constitutionality of martial law extension in Mindanao, were attempts of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to “bombard us with repressive policies.”
“We thus call for vigilance. If all this is indicative of something, it is that the Duterte administration holds the legislative and the judiciary by its neck, and is completing the recipe for a full-blown dictatorship,” she said. (davaotoday.com)