Rights group slams police complaint vs artists on effigy burning

Human rights alliance Karapatan called on the Anonas Police Station to “stop hiding behind their fake concern for the environment and public health” as the group called for the junking of the complaint filed by Police Staff Sergeant Mario Sembrano and Police Corporal Paolo Navarro against against progressive artist Max Santiago and three staff of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) over the burning of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s “doble kara” effigy in the protests during his second State of the Nation Address last month.

“Let’s call a spade a spade. The issue of the police with the burning of Marcos Jr.’s effigy is neither about the environment nor public health — and the complaint against Max Santiago and BAYAN makes it evidently clear in their own words what their real gripe is: for them, the effigy burning is a ‘deliberate disrespect to the President.’ In short, this is nothing more than a scheme to suppress free expression and dissent,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Police Staff Sergeant Sembrano and Police Corporal Navarro’s joint complaint charged Santiago and three John Does from BAYAN with violations of the Ecological Waste Management Act and the Clean Air Act. Palabay warned that “allowing such case to prosper sets a dangerous precedent and paves a slippery slope that could easily lead to the further repression of artists and other critical voices.”

Furthermore, the Karapatan official argued that “the creation of effigies — and their eventual burning or destruction — is a long-standing form and tradition of protest art in the country: an effigy burns for only a few minutes at most, and the emission it produces is totally minuscule compared to the daily emissions of worsening traffic in urban centers, pollution from industrial waste, and the massive environmental destruction brought by multinational companies and bombings in counterinsurgency operations in the countryside.”

“Government neglect is one of the main drivers of environmental destruction in the country — not the flames from an effigy that rages for only a few minutes. However, the fire of the people’s rage will continue to burn so long as the government remains callous to the people’s needs and as it continues to respond to our calls with state violence and repression. This attack on free expression and dissent should be condemned and challenged, and we call on courts to junk this senseless complaint against Santiago and BAYAN,” she ended.