Mass arrests, illegal seizures, harassment expose state repression of the nation during Duterte’s 5th SONA

Mass arrests, illegal seizures, harassment of activists, and other human rights violations marked the conduct of government response to #SONAgKAISA protests all throughout the country as President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his fifth State of the Nation Address, (SONA) according to reports and documentation compiled by Karapatan and the Concerned Lawyers and Civil Liberties (CLCL), following the issuance of protest bans days ahead of the SONA.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated that these violations "further unmask the rabid desperation of the fascist Duterte regime to suppress dissent and prohibit protests in the face of a unified mass resistance to Duterte's tyrannical rule. They are blatantly using quarantine protocols as a convenient cover and excuse for the unbridled and shameless State repression of the nation during Duterte's SONA."

"It is also seriously concerning that the police are ignorant of the very laws they claim to enforce when they arrest activists or flag down jeepneys with flags and placards without any legal basis whatsoever—a marching order given by none other than the pasaway Debold Sinas. Apparently, the numbers don't matter to them in prohibiting mass gatherings: large mañanitas are okay, but merely hold up a placard against government policies and the police can already violate your constitutional rights," Palabay continued.

In Quezon City, five jeepney drivers from Piston were illegally arrested along Mother Ignacia Avenue in Quezon City as they were heading to the #SONAgKAISA protest at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman and were brought to Camp Karingal but the charges against them were dropped and they were eventually released after 10 hours in detention.

Protest caravans and activists were also held in checkpoints in Carmona, Cavite and Los Baños, Laguna. In San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, the police arrested 13 individuals for supposedly violating the prohibition on mass gatherings and were brought to the San Jose del Monte City Police Station, where they underwent inquest proceedings for violation of Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code, or resistance and disobedience to a person in authority or their agents.

In Pandi, Bulacan, where police had recently confiscated copies of alternative publication Pinoy Weekly and arrested Kadamay leader Rose Fortaleza, members of the urban poor group took photos of their placards outside their houses at around 11 a.m., while observing physical distancing, as a form of online protest. Later that afternoon, at about 3 p.m, the police came to the community and arrested four members of Kadamay and charged them with violation of the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Disease and Health Events of Public Concern Act as well as Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code.

Other arrests have been reported in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan as well as in Marikina and Caloocan. The Karapatan officer assailed the mass arrests for “laying the groundwork for the further vilification of protests and dissent as scapegoats of the government’s sheer incompetence in handling the pandemic. They are putting the blame on protests for the continuing rise of COVID-19 cases just so they can have an excuse to crack down, harass, and arrest activists, and to suppress any forms of dissent."

Karapatan and CLCL also documented the police harassment of activists and rally attendees arriving at and leaving the #SONAgKAISA protests. Placards from one jeepney from Piston were illegally seized by the police as they were leaving UP Diliman and were later filmed by the police as placards left behind by protesters. Police also forcibly seized placards from Akbayan during the Mass for Peace and Justice at Quiapo Church.

"This fascist regime is already visibly trembling with the people asserting their basic and constitutional rights despite the blatant efforts to sabotage and malign the protests. The people are fighting back. The people are already finding various ways to express dissent — and they cannot silence our resistance to fascist rule. The more they try to silence our legitimate demands and calls, the more that we will ring them louder,” she ended.