Ban on gathering during SONA 'concerning' -- CHR

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) found it "concerning" that mass gatherings have been prohibited days prior to the 2020 State of the Nation Address (SONA), especially since the Philippine National Police (PNP) already guaranteed the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic will not be used to crack down dissent or dissenters.

CHR Spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia deemed the sudden change "stark." 

"From PNP’s willingness to remind and assist protesters observe minimum health standards to express their opinion to a complete ban on mass gatherings," she added.

The Commission found it disheartening since the decision came at a time when studies from countries like the United States and Australia showed protests do not caused a spike in virus infections, particularly with protesters mitigating risks by wearing face masks, practicing physical distancing, and maintaining cleanliness by constant washing and disinfecting, among others. 

De Guia said that they are stressing the importance of everybody complying with health protocols, especially now as the country continues to battle this national health emergency.

"But, even in the face of a pandemic, human rights need to be recognized. We must equally think of the implications to public health when we don’t demand for accountability and better services from the government that has the obligation to protect its people," she said.

The CHR likewise stressed that the Liwasang Diokno in front of its office in Quezon City remains a Freedom Park protected by Batas Pambansa Bilang 880. It is also part of the campus of the University of the Philippines (UP) covered by the UP-Department of National Defense Accord.

"For its part, CHR shall be deploying monitoring teams in view of ensuring a balance between exercising rights and the corresponding obligation of everyone to protect other people’s rights as well by not causing the spread of the virus among others," de Guia said.

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