SONA protesters charge police with human rights violations

“While BS Aquino is harping on his false achievements, it is at the same time whipping its stick on the people who are expressing discontent amid poverty, corruption, unemployment and injustices.” – Cristina Palabay, Karapatan


MANILA — On the same day that President Aquino hailed the Philippine National Police for its supposed reforms, members of progressive groups who led the People’s SONA protest action on July 28 filed a criminal complaint against the police who violently dispersed and blocked them from holding their rally.

The complaints of human rights violations were filed before the Commission on Human Rights and at the Office of the Ombudsman.

“Those who exercise the right to express the people’s grievances to the Aquino administration were met with repression,” Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan and one of the complainants, said in a statement.

The complainants said that on July 18, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) applied before the office of the Quezon City mayor for a permit to hold a protest action along the IBP road in front of Batasang Pambansa.

Leaders of progressive groups file complaint against police for violent dispersal last SONA rally (Photo by J. Ellao /
Leaders of progressive groups file complaint against police for violent dispersal last SONA rally (Photo by J. Ellao /

“The application was never acted upon within the two working day period as mandated by Section 6 (b) of the said law,” the complainants said referring to Batas Pambansa 880, “As such, the rally permit application was deemed approved as of the end of business hour on July 22.”

On July 24, Bayan received a letter from the Quezon City government forbidding protesters to hold rally along the IBP road as “there is not enough space to assemble in the area without obstructing the free flow of traffic.”

Protesters were instead told to hold the rally at the Freedom Park at the football field of the Quezon City Hall compound.

Days before Aquino delivered his fifth State of the Nation Address, the police set up barricades, forcing protesters to conduct the program, along Commonwealth Avenue near Ever Gotesco mall.

At around 5 p.m., protesters “decided to exercise their right to march toward the Batasang Pambansa and to get closer to the barricades illegally put there by the respondents.

“Exercising their constitutional rights, they shook and pulled down some of the concrete barriers as a symbol of their defiance. Minutes later, the police fired water canons on the protesters. This is a matter of public knowledge and can be personally attested to by the CHR-NCR Director,” the complaint read, referring to the CHR-NCR director Gilbert Boiser who called on the police to stop hitting protesters with the water canon.

“Instead of honoring the rally application permit, the PNP violated the rights of the people to free expression, peaceful assembly and redress of grievances during the SONA through the use of water canon, concrete barriers, concertina wires and container vans,” Palabay said.

She added that, “the barriers used to contain protesters are signs that the BS Aquino government does not want the true state of the nation to be heard. The use of water canon was even unnecessary. It was already impossible for the protesters to go beyond the barriers, container vans and barb wires, let alone the layers of police with shields and truncheons.”

Lawyer Rey Cortez of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, who assisted thecomplainants, said the police should have negotiated with the leaders of the protesters first before a dispersal, but it did not happen at the last Sona rally.

The complaint also cited three incidents where participants from neighboring cities and provinces were blocked by the police from joining the protest. The police said jeepneys rented by the protesters were out of route and confiscated the driver’s license.

The complainants were: Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bayan, Antonio Flores, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Nenita Gonzaga, vice chairperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno, Pastor Guillermo Sediarin, spokesperson of Karapatan – Southern Tagalog, Gertrudes Libang, vice chairperson of Gabriela, Carlito Badion, secretary general of Kadamay, George San Mateo, national president of Piston, Paraluman Catuira, spokesperson of Migrante International, Gloria Bongon, spokesperson of KMU – Metro Manila and Palabay of Karapatan.

Use of taser gun

Rodel Tortola, a resident of Holy Spirit village in Quezon City, said it was the first time that he saw police use a taser gun on protesters, and they had to use it on him.

Tortola and 12-year-old daughter file separate complaint against police before the Office of the Ombudsman for use of taser gun on them during the dispersal. (Photo by J. Ellao /
Tortola and 12-year-old daughter file separate complaint against police before the Office of the Ombudsman for use of taser gun on them during the dispersal. (Photo by J. Ellao /

Tortola, 33, said he always rents out his jeepney to progressive groups whenever they hold a rally. He said this helps to augment his meager income, which would fall somewhere between virtually nothing to, at times, P500 ($11.36) a day.

“It is not steady. My income would depend if there is heavy traffic. The price of diesel has increased and so has my boundary,” he told during the filing of complaint at the CHR.

On July 28, during the dispersal of the protesters in Holy Spirit village along Commonwealth Avenue, Tortola said, he heard the “leader of the police” order his men to “arrest the driver, too!”

The “leader of the police” he was referring to was later identified as Police Superintendent Victor Pagulayan, station commander of the Quezon City Police District – Station 11.

In her complaint submitted before the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO) at the Office of the Ombudsman, Tortola’s 12-year-old daughter, who was sitting next to her father in the jeepney, narrated that the police insisted in confiscating the key to the vehicle.

“Papa did not want to give it to him. Then the police brought out a ‘flashlight.’ He aimed at my papa but he was not hit. But on the second time, both of us were hit in our arms. I cried because I was in pain and I was afraid of the ‘flashlight’ that was emitting lights. A TV crew from Channel 5 took a video of us,” girl’s complaint read.

She added that the police tried to drag her father out of the jeepney. “My papa hugged the steering wheel.”

Tortola told he was hesitant to get off the jeepney but he heard one of the police officers ordering his men to hit him. “I decided to get off. If they could use a taser gun on me, then they would not think twice about hitting me.”

“They gathered around me. I thought I would be arrested but the paralegal team came just in time. The police left,” Tortola said, adding, however, that the police did get his jeepney’s key and had not returned it as of this writing.

Cortez said the use of taser gun is an “overkill.”

Tortola and his daughter formally filed a separate complaint against Pagulayan before the Office of the Ombudsman for grave coercion, grave threats, physical injury, theft and conduct prejudicial to public service.

In his interview with the media, Tortola said he is determined to fight for the case he filed against Pagulayan so that other police officers would not emulate him.

Freedom of expression curtailed

Complainants said respondents violated the provisions of the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Philippines is a Party.

(Photo by J. Ellao /
(Photo by J. Ellao /

“Under the provisions of the ICCPR, the said rights may only be restricted or curtailed on grounds ‘imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.’ The allowable grounds for the restriction of this right under the ICCPR are the same as those allowed under the Philippine Constitution, the pertinent law, and prevailing jurisprudence,” the complaint read.

The complainants said they were not engaged in an illegal assembly as their rally permit was deemed granted as stipulated in BP 880. They said the letter, dated July 24, held no valid ground to restrict the complainants from holding the rally as stated in their permit.

“Definitely, traffic congestion is not included in the allowable restrictions on the right to free expression and to peaceably assemble. Its effect is not as ‘substantive,’ as ‘extremely serious’ and not of high degree of imminence. Traffic congestion does not provide any threat to public order, public safety and public health and as such, it cannot be used as basis to curtail the exercise of the right to free expression and peaceably assemble,” the complaint read.

Complainants further described the harassment, checkpoints, illegal barricades and the violent dispersal as “draconian measures and criminal acts perpetrated by the respondents in violation of the constitutionally protected rights of the complainants.”

Palabay said, “this is the image of a coward dictator tainted with issues of criminal negligence, corruption and violation of the constitution. While BS Aquino is harping on his false achievements, it is at the same time whipping its stick on the people who are expressing discontent amid poverty, corruption, unemployment and injustices.”

Dennis Mosquerra of the Commission on Human Rights, who received the complaint, said they already have initial information on the incident as they, too, were present during the rally. The agency, he added, is also conducting an investigation, independent of the complaint filed.

The complaint, he said, will go through the necessary procedure in the agency. They would also ask for the side of the respondents. ()

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