By Martin Sadongdong and Leslie Ann Aquino
Despite the prohibition against mass gatherings under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), members of militant groups defiantly marched in the streets in some areas in Metro Manila and the provinces to celebrate Labor Day and air their grievances.
At least 12 members of the Bukluran ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas (BMP) staged a protest inside the vicinity of Eastwood Subdivision in San Isidro, Rodriguez, Rizal around 9:30 a.m., according to the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Two alleged BMP group leaders were arrested by the authorities while their other colleagues escaped. They were identified by the police as Rastica Clarito and Reynaldo Dulay.
Another group of BMP rallyists reportedly staged a protest in Tondo, Manila.
Meanwhile, 42 progressive contingents who were preparing for a caravan protest in Jaro, Iloilo were reportedly nabbed by the police also on Labor Day.
According to the League of Filipino Students (LFS), the protesters were supposed to hold a mass action to denounce the killing of veteran activist Jory Porquia, who was fatally shot by unidentified gunmen on Thursday. The arrest was condemned by the LFS, Kabataan Partylist, Samasa, and Anakbayan.
Porquia was the coordinator of left-leaning group Bayan Muna in Iloilo City. The Iloilo City police have yet to determine the motive behind the killing.
Other labor groups chose to hold their commemoration of the International Labor Day in their social media accounts.
Meanwhile, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) labor center has challenged President Duterte and his officials to do the “working class challenge.”
KMU chairperson Elmer ‘Ka Bong’ Labog said this means living the lifestyle of the working class based on the Php 5,000 relief they are getting from the government.
”This Labor Day I challenge President Duterte and his officials to live how workers experience the crisis with the same policies and financial aid that they provide the Filipino people! Even just for a week. Let’s see how grounded they are with the programs they have for the people,” he said in a statement.
“This is an open challenge to anyone in the Duterte government. No fancy cars, no personal aides, no health insurance for a week, live in a community in Tondo or in San Roque, pay monthly rent,” Labog added.
“You’re giving us P5,000 a month, or a budget of P1,000 a week. We go to work based on these economic conditions and see if you survive a whole week,” he said.
The KMU leader said Duterte and his government should realize that the supposed aid program has failed to reach the people who are in dire need.
KMU has called out the government since the ECQ was implemented to immediately address the impact of the crisis to all affected workers.
The group said millions of workers have been displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic but government data showed that only about 600,000 workers were provided with the Php5,000 financial aid.
Social media and social distancing
The KMU also held an online rally that was aired over their Facebook page to criticize the Duterte government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, the group said that Labor Day protests “[pushed] through despite the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Workers are separated by social distancing, but still stand together in solidarity as they urgently call for mass testing and treatment, and adequate relief and support for workers, quarantined communities, and others affected by the lockdowns,” the group said.
The KMU also hit the government for allegedly focusing on military actions rather than strengthening medical solutions to defeat the new coronavirus.
“As the Duterte administration threatens to deploy the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] against protesting workers, workers reiterate their demand for medical solutions instead of military actions,” it said.
For its part, the PNP said they had warned protesters not to engage in street protests as they will only endanger the lives of the public by exposing themselves to the virus.
“The PNP upholds with highest respect the freedom of expression and right to peaceably assemble. However, personal safety and best interest of public health and welfare must prevail. Respect for human life is supreme,” said Police Brigadier General Bernard Banac, PNP spokesperson.
The police official emphasized that the strict ECQ enforcement “is the State’s fulfillment of its duty to protect the life of its people.”
Duterte has ordered the PNP and the AFP to work together and ensure the strict implementation of the enhanced and general community quarantine (ECQ, GCQ) until May 15 to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Any attempt by groups or organizations to prevent the fulfillment of the State’s duty to fulfill its human rights obligation is deemed a human rights atrocity by these groups and shall be addressed by government with appropriate penalties provided by law,” Banac said.
He cited a provision in Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which states that “the right to hold opinions without interference may be subjected to certain restrictions for the protection of national security or of public health.”
“The said restrictions may be placed on the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly in the interests of national security or of public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others,” Banac said, quoting the ICCPR.