THE SCHEDULED protest action against the State of the Nation Address (SONA) at Freedom Park did not push through yesterday as the police insisted on the use of food and medicine pass and alcohol from the rallyists.
To make sure they observe physical distancing, the police closed off a portion of Roxas Avenue and prepared monobloc chairs equally spaced about two meters apart from each other.
Col. Kirby John Kraft, DCPO director, said that only those with food and medicine passes were allowed to attend the protest rally. They had to wear a face mask and bring their own alcohol.
Kraft said various left-leaning groups, spearheaded by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Southern Mindanao Region, planned to hold the rally around 3 p.m. They also intended to hold a candle-lighting activity and noise barrage in front of the ABS-CBN Davao in Shrine Hills in Matina.
Kraft said the protesters probably changed their plans following the advisory of the City Information Office that specific protocols needed to be implemented.
“The DCPO, by allowing them to hold the rally, cannot be accused of violating their human rights and at the same time the DCPO will also enforce health protocol, ” he further said.
Kraft said there were four who introduced themselves as leaders of the alliance of workers who first entered Freedom Park. But they left when they were told about the requirements. A little later, around 20 others arrived but they also walked away.
Transferred to Haran
In a separate interview, Maj. Jack Tilcag, the commander of San Pedro Police Station, said the protesters decided to abandon their original plan.
“Allegedly, they transferred to Haran (UCCP compound along Fr. Selga Street),” he added. “There was no rally here. They did not want to sit down on our prepared seats.”
Capt. Rosario Aguilar, the DCPO spokesperson, said they were instructed to arrest anyone who will disobey the security and health protocols.
“We will arrest those who will violate RA 11332, especially on mass gathering,” she added.
The city government earlier reminded all those who intend to conduct rallies that would require the convergence of people during the Sona to strictly observe physical distancing and keep a two-meter space from another person.
In a Facebook post, Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay reiterated that the efforts to ban protests and set up police checkpoints to prevent the public from joining the mass actions “were signs of a tyrannical regime.”
She said the COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the hollowness of President Duterte’s “promise of social change, unleashing upon the people the contagion of undisguised and unbridled State repression and terrorism.”
“For the past four years, we have seen this fascist spread throughout the country — claiming thousands of lives and facilitating more brutal, more gross, and more widespread violations of the people’s civil and political rights under the continued implementation of the Duterte government’s anti-people and murderous policies as well as his relentless attacks on press freedom even in the middle of a pandemic, and with the enactment of the draconian terror law,” the statement said.
“We won’t be surprised if Duterte parades these attacks on the people as achievements of his government — which has done nothing but protect and enrich his militarist minions and loyalist oligarchs as well as his imperialist masters like China and the United States — which only speaks of the true state of the nation: a nation in crisis, a nation under de facto martial rule,” Palabay stated.
After the risk of being aborted after some invitees tested positive for COVID-19, President Duterte started his SONA in the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City at the scheduled time of 4 p.m. As usual, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President opened the floor.
Known for veering away from his prepared speeches to make some offhanded, if not crude, remarks, the President mostly stuck to his script yesterday. However, he could not help but curse at telecommunication companies and gave them an ultimatum until December to improve their services.
The President delivered his penultimate report, which lasted nearly two hours, amid the specter of the global pandemic. The attendees were limited to the minimum, which meant suspending the tradition of elected officials and their spouses sashaying on the red carpet in their expensive gowns.
Naturally, COVID-19 dominated much of the President’s report as he outlined his administration’s achievements and roadmap to contain the devastating effect of the pandemic. He also commended the efforts of all the frontliners for their contributions to the fight.
He said that his administration prioritized life over all other considerations according to experts. The intervention that the government put in place prevented as many as 1.3 to 1.5 million infections, the President said.