Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte will allow public assemblies in the city provided they have permits and follow guidelines to protect health and safety while exercising their right of assembly.
In a memorandum dated July 20, 2020 a copy of which was obtained by Manila Bulletin, Belmonte said the “city recognizes, supports, and upholds the constitutional right of the people to peaceably assemble and express their grievances” although the said rights “must be judiciously exercised during the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) pandemic.”
“The Department of Health has identified mass gatherings as a vector for the spread of the disease. Further, the Inter-Agency Task Force prohibits most forms of mass gatherings in areas under Community Quarantine,” the memo read.
Belmonte said rallies are allowed for as long as they obtain permits from the Department of Public Order and Safety (DPOS) which must be filed at least five working days before the date of the rally.
“The DPOS or any official acting in its behalf shall act on the application within two working days from the date of application, failing which the permit shall be deemed granted,” the five-page memo read.
The memo which was intended for the general public, the Quezon City Police District (QCPD), the Quezon City DPOS and all concerned sectors contained guidelines for rallies and public assemblies in the city. It was issued a week before the President’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27 where groups are expected to hold rallies in venues near Batasang Pambasa, the site of this year’s SONA.
There will be no permits required for the use of freedom parks but rallies held in private properties and government-owned campuses shall have the consent of occupants and authorities.
To apply for a permit, protest leaders should include in their application the following: names of leaders or organizers, purpose of the rally, date, time and duration of the rally, place or streets to be used for the intended activity, probable number of persons participating, transport and the public address systems to be used, and safety measures to be implemented to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
The Belmonte memo, however enumerated grounds to deny the issuance of permits. These are: incomplete application permit; prevailing community quarantine regulations that prohibit mass gathering; clear and convincing evidence that the rally will create a danger to public order, safety, convenience, morals and health; or if the rally poses “imminent or grave danger of a substantive evil.”
Belmonte said law enforcers may be detailed at least 100 meters away from the rally, in complete uniform with their units and nameplates displayed prominently, should not carry firearms but may be equipped with non-lethal devices, and should only use tear gas or other anti-riot devices if there are serious threats of violence.
“No safe and peaceable rally in accordance with these guidelines shall be dispersed. Rallies without permits may be peaceably dispersed,” Belmonte added.
Anyone who will violate the said guidelines may be charged under the city’s existing ordinances, or under the Public Assembly Act of 1985 and “other applicable laws.”
Belmonte stressed that rally organizers must comply with health measures such as physical distancing, wearing of face masks, persons showing COVID-19 symptoms – fever, cough, difficulty breathing, body aches shall not be allowed to join the rally and be given immediate medical attention.
Rally organizers should likewise appoint a roving health Marshall to ensure that the rally maintains health protocols.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Sec. Gen. Renato Reyes said they “appreciate” Belmonte’s “efforts of ensuring the health and safety of the public” as they exercise their “constitutional right to peaceably assemble and air” their grievances.
“Mayor Belmonte is the first local executive to proactively uphold the people’s right to peaceably assemble and air their grievances even during the pandemic. This is an important recognition of our constitutional rights at a time when these are being curtailed by the national government,” Reyes said in a statement.
As they “assert” their rights, Reyes said they are also “conscious” of their health condition.
Because of this, he said, face masks, disinfectants and physical distancing have become requirements in every “mass action” they do. Aside from this, programs during rallies have been shortened “to minimize exposure of the participants” while “vulnerable persons are advised to attend online protests instead of physical protests.”
Reyes cited the recent “Grand Mañanita” protest at the University of the Philippines (Diliman) on June 12 as an example where protesters could hold an event without violating health protocols. It drew a sizeable crowd from different parts of Metro Manila.
“Today, there are many reasons to go out and protest even during this pandemic,” Reyes said.