By Aaron Recuenco
The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) will be converting Commonwealth Avenue and nearby areas outside the Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City into a virtual “open city” for protesters, the most gracious offer so far for anti-administration rallyists for Monday’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Duterte.
NCRPO chief Maj. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said they gave in to almost all of the requests of the leaders and organizers of various groups that would stage demonstrations during the fourth SONA of the President in order to avoid any casualties, especially from the ranks of the protesters.
“During our meetings, we made it clear to them that we do not want confrontations, especially violent ones. We told them that will be at the SONA to do our job of ensuring peace and order while at the same time, respecting their rights to assemble and air their grievances,” said Eleazar.
Eleazar said that, for the anti-Duterte forces which he said may reach 15,000 based on the past SONA, it was decided that they would be allowed to occupy the southbound lane of Commonwealth Avenue in front of St. Peter’s Church.
For the pro-Duterte forces, he said that the IBP Road would be reserved for them.
The reason, he said, was to make sure that the two forces would not be given the chance to taunt each other which could only lead to confrontation between the two groups.
“It was actually the anti forces which requested that the area of St. Peter Church be given to them to hold their protest actions. We agreed because we do not see any problem with that request,” said Eleazar.
“Our goal is clear, we do want any confrontation. What we want to see is that they would peacefully converge and disperse, and for my men to do the same,” he added.
During the Japanese invasion, President Quezon declared Manila an “Open City” in order to avoid destruction due to bombings and violent fighting.
In the case of today’s SONA, Eleazar said that their major concern was to prevent even the slightest injury to both the protesters and policemen.
To do so, he said it was the NCRPO which initiated gestures of sincerity to the protesters by waiving some of the usual security measures for the SONA near the Batasan Pambansa.
Aside from giving the anti-Duterte forces the privilege to choose which area they would occupy to hold protest actions, Eleazar said that he assured the protesters that there would be no shipping container and barbed wire that would be placed to block them, unlike before.
Eleazar also disclosed that he would not allow anti-riot cops to carry with them shields and truncheons, saying that those instruments psychologically invites violence on the eyes of the protesters.
But Eleazar was quick to clarify that the shields and truncheons will all be left inside the vehicles and nearby police posts.
“They will only be used if, and only if, the protesters would break what we agreed during the series of meetings,” said Eleazar.
And to show sincerity that they respect the protesters’ right to hold demonstrations, Eleazar said that he also offered help to the protesters for the setting up of stage where they would hold their program on Monday.
Police officials said they have not monitored any serious threat for the President’s SONA but said they will be implementing measures to prevent terror attack.
At least 14,000 policemen will be tapped to secure Duterte’s SONA on Monday. Police forces in Metro Manila were already placed under full alert status effective 8 a.m. on Saturday.
READ MORE: Metro police under full alert ahead of SONA