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The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) warned the Philippine National Police (PNP) against arresting and dispersing protesters during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rodrigo Duterte this Monday (July 27).

“There are legal and ethical limits to what the police can do – even when done in the name of the government’s campaign against a pandemic,” it declared in a statement.

The group cited “Section 9 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 880 (The Public Assembly Act) mandates that law enforcement agencies – and that includes the PNP – shall NOT interfere with the holding of a public assembly.”

“Section 11 states that no public assembly with a permit shall be dispersed. And Section 13(a) provides that, even if a public assembly is held without a permit, no person can be punished or held criminally liable for participating in or attending an otherwise peaceful assembly,” it added.

The NUPL said various groups have already secured permits from local government units (LGUs) and will be observing the wearing of masks and physical distancing.

“So, before the PNP even considers dispersing, arresting, or in any way interfering with rallies on July 27, they should bear in mind that, in doing so, they would themselves be violating the clear letter of the law,” the group stressed.

The NUPL pointed this out after the PNP issued a warning against the conduct of protests during the SONA since the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) have issued prohibitions.

“No DILG advisory or IATF memorandum will shelter them from criminal, civil, and administrative liability if and when they do decide to run roughshod on people’s rights,” the NUPL said.

“Neither the DILG nor the IATF is above the law; and neither has the power to change or ignore it at will, as the DILG appears to be doing by issuing its July 23 advisory,” the group added.

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