Threat of arrests vs ‘mañanita’ protesters a mockery of “Independence Day”

All systems go for today’s “Grand Mañanita” Independence Day protests against the Anti-Terrorism Bill, human rights watchdog Karapatan asserted, despite threats of arrests and dispersals from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) — which the group slammed as “a blatant affront to our rights and civil liberties, if not an outright hypocritical mockery of Independence Day itself.”

Where is this law that penalizes people for exercising their constitutional right to peaceably assemble and air their grievances? Where are these threats when the PNP’s own top-ranking officials shamelessly broke their own restrictions? Where is this ‘compassion’ the DOJ has afforded to the Duterte regime’s allies when they actually risked infecting people with their flagrant violation of quarantine protocols? They can keep those threats to themselves. They have no ascendancy or legitimacy whatsoever and we will push through with our ‘Grand Mañanita,’” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

PNP Chief Archie Gamboa has warned that they will “strictly enforce” the protocols of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) as he appealed for people to avoid mass gatherings, while Guillermo Eleazar, who heads the IATF-EID's quarantine enforcement arm, stated that “protesters will be dispersed” as per the instruction of Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año. DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra backed the assertions of the PNP in insisting that “solely for public health reasons and nothing else, mass gatherings, including protest rallies, are temporarily banned.”

“It is painfully obvious that the government is using the pandemic as an excuse to threaten people who are exercising their rights. There is a loud clamor opposing the Anti-Terrorism Bill, demanding justice and accountability, and the government is scared of people taking the streets. They are making a massive travesty of Independence Day, a day when we are supposed to be commemorating our continuing struggle for freedom, when they are desperately trying to muzzle dissent to railroad the passage of a draconian law that would snatch away our freedoms. Only dictatorships fear protests on a country’s Independence Day — and they should be,” Palabay averred.

The Karapatan officer also slammed Eleazar’s claims that the PNP has always been “fair and compassionate” in the implementation of the quarantine rules while respecting the right of the people to assemble and air their grievances: “They have the audacity to lie. But part of the reasons why people are willing to join today’s protests against the Anti-Terrorism Bill is because they have seen the kind of gross abuses the police can and are willing to commit when given more power, from inhumane punishment for poor ‘violators’ and violent dispersals for activists while top officials like Debold Sinas can have their cake in a ‘mañanita.’ If he can have his, why can’t we, especially when we’re airing legitimate grievances?”

“We will not be scared. After all, we’re not holding a protest — just a good old mañanita like what Sinas had for his birthday. Rest assured, we will follow protocols on physical distancing, the wearing of face masks, and sanitation. The true spirit of Independence Day lies in these protests against regimes and dictators who threaten to take away our freedoms. And if the government is so much willing to use scare tactics against people who want to protest, then who’s the real terrorist?” she ended.