Press Release
February 14, 2006


Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Nene Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today challenged the Arroyo government to prove its respect for the rule of law, human rights and people power by upholding the citizens constitutional right to peaceful assembly as a means of settling their legitimate grievances.

The call was made amid reports that various opposition and sectoral groups will stage a series of protest rallies that will coincide with the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution on Feb. 22-25.

Pimentel assailed the administrations continued policy of suppressing this basic right, as indicated by the policemens violent dispersal of members of the cause-oriented group Akbayan as they were marching on Recto Street in front of the San Sebastian University on their way to Mendiola Bridge, Manila last week.

He said this is a flagrant violation of Batas Pambansa 880, enacted during the martial law era, which implements the constitutional mandate that the State shall ensure the free exercise or the peoples right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances without prejudice to the right of others to life, liberty and equal protection of the law.

Under Batas Pambansa No. 880, it is now a part of State policy that all peaceful assemblies of people for the redress of their grievances are legal and could not, therefore, be stopped, dispersed, dispensed or disbanded, the minority leader said in a privilege speech at the Senate.

Pimentel argued that this law provides that:

1. A permit is not indispensable for a peaceful activity to take place.
2. A permit is not necessary to make the activity legal.
3. A permit is necessary only to provide order to the activity and security of its participants.

In fact, the lone senator from Mindanao said that if the authority for issuing the rally permit does not act on the application for a permit after two working days, the application is deemed approved.

Pimentel bewailed that law enforcement authorities, presumably acting upon order of Malacañang , did not have any qualm in dispersing even a religious procession that was held in the university belt on Oct. 14, 2005, and was led by three Catholic bishops and prominent opposition leaders headed by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr. and Sen. Jamby Madrigal.

Crowd dispersal policemen broke up the procession after the participants left the San Sebastian Church and were about to proceed to San Beda Church, despite the fact that the activity was legal, being covered by a special permit issued by the City of Manilas Mayors office.

Despite the fact that the participants in the procession were the aggrieved parties, Pimentel said ironically the Manila Western Police District charged that the respondents violated section 13 of BP 880 by holding a public assembly without a permit because they went beyond the area indicated in their special permit.

For people originally engaged in a peaceful procession in a particular place to proceed to any other area also in a peaceful manner cannot be deemed to have committed a crime, Pimentel said.

He said the procession participants would have violated the law if they acted with aggression, violence or intimidation against anyone in the course of their procession.

But not even the complaining police officers said so. It must therefore, be taken as true that as far as the police are concerned, the respondents did not act with aggression, violence or even intimidation towards anyone in the course of their peaceful activity, Pimentel said.

The M-WPD also charged the participants with violation of section 1119 the Revised Ordinances of the City of Manila by allegedly causing obstruction of the public streets of Manila to the prejudice of the public.

Pimentel said a reading of section 1119 of the said city ordinance shows that it is intended to govern the use of public streets and other public places for activities that are not a religious nature.

Although such activities are placed within the jurisdiction of the local governments, Pimentel said still BP 880 mandates that the declaration of national policy as provided in section 2 of the Act shall always prevail.

It stands to reason, then, that no ordinance of any local government could curtail, amend, repeal, modify, reduce, rescind or restrict any right that Batas Pambansa No. 880 confers upon our citizens. That position is not only directed by reason. It is also mandated by the rule of law. Otherwise, if local ordinances were to supersede the requirements of national law or the Constitution, there would be chaos in the land, Pimentel said.

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