Eight UP students and alumni of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu were arrested last 5 June 2020 due to alleged violation of the government’s ban on mass gatherings for holding a protest rally against the Anti-Terrorism Bill in front of the university entrance.
Despite their release, the Commission on Human Rights reiterates our stern reminder that the health crisis does not halt fundamental rights including freedom of peaceful assembly and activism. While protecting health and safety are paramount in this time of the pandemic, there cannot be a blanket restriction on basic rights and freedoms. Carte blanche application of quarantine restrictions may gravely disadvantage the citizens’ rights while providing broad powers to the State thereby resulting to huge disparity and imbalance tantamount to negating any semblance of democracy.
In accordance with international law as well as domestic laws, restrictions on rights must adhere and be assessed based on the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality to ensure balance in protecting public health while respecting human rights. The UP-DND (Department of National Defense) Peace Accord must also be put in consideration in this context. Up until today, this agreement serves as a safeguard to ensure that schools remain as safe spaces for intellectual discussions and tackling of social issues and concerns without fear of reprisal or retaliation, which are necessary for a thriving academic environment.
We equally express concern on the unnecessary show of force considering the alleged manner of handling of the peaceful protesters by security forces in full battle gear and heavy firearms. While enforcing the law is the mandate of the police, standing agreements should be observed so appropriate and proportionate measures are applied in coordination with the university administrators. Any alleged violation should be dealt with utmost proportionality, respectful of human dignity, and with due accord to civil and political liberties. However, we equally remind all citizens of their obligation to observe and comply with health and physical distancing protocols in the exercise of their rights to ensure that it does not impinge on the rights of others.
Basic rights that enable citizens to seek redress for grievances, to contest policies, and to express their opinions are equally crucial in a state of emergency towards a collaborative perspective in addressing the current social, economic, and political uncertainties that beset our society. Continuous free flow of ideas and engagement between the people and the government remains essential in crucial times like these. While protection of public health must be guaranteed by the State, the holistic needs and rights of the citizens should also be taken into account towards upholding the dignity of all.
CHR shall continue with its motu proprio investigation on the said case.
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