Blog Lecture No. 44: Right To Peaceful Assembly

Ok class! Prepare for a long lecture this time.

What is the basis of the right to peaceful assembly in the Philippines?

Its foundation is found in Section 4, Article III of the 1987 Constitution that says:

SEC. 4. No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances.

What is the law that implements/regulates it?

It is Batas Pambansa Bilang 880, otherwise known as the “Public Assembly Act of 1985.” I have qouted it in its entirety below:

BATAS PAMBANSA BLG. 880

AN ACT ENSURING THE FREE EXERCISE BY THE PEOPLE OF THEIR RIGHT PEACEABLY TO ASSEMBLE AND PETITION THE GOVERNMENT FOR OTHER PURPOSES

Section 1. Title – This Act shall be known as “The Public Assembly Act of 1985.”

Section 2. Declaration of policy – The constitutional right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances is essential and vital to the strength and stability of the State. To this end, the State shall ensure the free exercise of such right without prejudice to the rights of others to life, liberty and equal protection of the law.

Section 3. Definition of terms – For purposes of this Act:

(a) “Public assembly” means any rally, demonstration, march, parade, procession or any other form of mass or concerted action held in a public place for the purpose of presenting a lawful cause; or expressing an opinion to the general public on any particular issue; or protesting or influencing any state of affairs whether political, economic or social; or petitioning the government for redress of grievances.

The processions, rallies, parades, demonstrations, public meetings and assemblages for religious purposes shall be governed by local ordinances: Provided, however, That the declaration of policy as provided in Section 2 of this Act shall be faithfully observed.

The definition herein contained shall not include picketing and other concerted action in strike areas by workers and employees resulting from a labor dispute as defined by the Labor Code, its implementing rules and regulations, and by the Batas Pambansa Bilang 227.

(b) “Public place” shall include any highway, boulevard, avenue, road, street, bridge or other thoroughfare, park, plaza, square, and/or any open space of public ownership where the people are allowed access.

(c) “Maximum tolerance” means the highest degree of restraint that the military, police and other peace keeping authorities shall observe during a public assembly or in the dispersal of the same.

(d) “Modification of permit” shall include the change of the place and time of the public assembly, rerouting of the parade or street march, the volume of loud-speakers or sound system and similar changes.

Section 4. Permit when required and when not required – A written permit shall be required for any person or persons to organize and hold a public assembly in a public place. However, no permit shall be required if the public assembly shall be done or made in a freedom park duly established by law or ordinance or in private property, in which case only the consent of the owner or the one entitled to its legal possession is required, or in the campus of a government-owned and operated educational institution which shall be subject to the rules and regulations of said educational institution. Political meetings or rallies held during any election campaign period as provided for by law are not covered by this Act.

Section 5. Application requirements – All applications for a permit shall comply with the following guidelines:

(a) The applications shall be in writing and shall include the names of the leaders or organizers; the purpose of such public assembly; the date, time and duration thereof, and place or streets to be used for the intended activity; and the probable number of persons participating, the transport and the public address systems to be used.

(b) The application shall incorporate the duty and responsibility of applicant under Section 8 hereof.

(c) The application shall be filed with the office of the mayor of the city or municipality in whose jurisdiction the intended activity is to be held, at least five (5) working days before the scheduled public assembly.

(d) Upon receipt of the application, which must be duly acknowledged in writing, the office of the city or municipal mayor shall cause the same to immediately be posted at a conspicuous place in the city or municipal building.

Section 6. Action to be taken on the application –

(a) It shall be the duty of the mayor or any official acting in his behalf to issue or grant a permit unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the public assembly will create a clear and present danger to public order, public safety, public convenience, public morals or public health.

(b) The mayor or any official acting in his behalf shall act on the application within two (2) working days from the date the application was filed, failing which, the permit shall be deemed granted. Should for any reason the mayor or any official acting in his behalf refuse to accept the application for a permit, said application shall be posted by the applicant on the premises of the office of the mayor and shall be deemed to have been filed.

(c) If the mayor is of the view that there is imminent and grave danger of a substantive evil warranting the denial or modification of the permit, he shall immediately inform the applicant who must be heard on the matter.

(d) The action on the permit shall be in writing and served on the application within twenty-four hours.

(e) If the mayor or any official acting in his behalf denies the application or modifies the terms thereof in his permit, the applicant may contest the decision in an appropriate court of law.

(f) In case suit is brought before the Metropolitan Trial Court, the Municipal Trial Court, the Municipal Circuit Trial Court, the Regional Trial Court, or the Intermediate Appellate Court, its decisions may be appealed to the appropriate court within forty-eight (48) hours after receipt of the same. No appeal bond and record on appeal shall be required. A decision granting such permit or modifying it in terms satisfactory to the applicant shall, be immediately executory.

(g) All cases filed in court under this Section shall be decided within twenty-four (24) hours from date of filing. Cases filed hereunder shall be immediately endorsed to the executive judge for disposition or, in his absence, to the next in rank.

(h) In all cases, any decision may be appealed to the Supreme Court.

(i) Telegraphic appeals to be followed by formal appeals are hereby allowed.

Section 7. Use of public thoroughfare – Should the proposed public assembly involve the use, for an appreciable length of time, of any public highway, boulevard, avenue, road or street, the mayor or any official acting in his behalf may, to prevent grave public inconvenience, designate the route thereof which is convenient to the participants or reroute the vehicular traffic to another direction so that there will be no serious or undue interference with the free flow of commerce and trade.

Section 8. Responsibility of applicant – It shall be the duty and responsibility of the leaders and organizers of a public assembly to take all reasonable measures and steps to the end that the intended public assembly shall be conducted peacefully in accordance with the terms of the permit. These shall include but not be limited to the following:

(a) To inform the participants of their responsibility under the permit;

(b) To police the ranks of the demonstrators in order to prevent non-demonstrators from disrupting the lawful activities of the public assembly;

(c) To confer with local government officials concerned and law enforcers to the end that the public assembly may be held peacefully;

(d) To see to it that the public assembly undertaken shall not go beyond the time stated in the permit; and

(e) To take positive steps that demonstrators do not molest any person or do any act unduly interfering with the rights of other persons not participating in the public assembly.

Section 9. Non-interference by law enforcement authorities – Law enforcement agencies shall not interfere with the holding of a public assembly. However, to adequately ensure public safety, a law enforcement contingent under the command of a responsible police officer may be detailed and stationed in a place at least one hundred (100) meter away from the area of activity ready to maintain peace and order at all times.

Section 10. Police assistance when requested – It shall be imperative for law enforcement agencies, when their assistance is requested by the leaders or organizers, to perform their duties always mindful that their responsibility to provide proper protection to those exercising their right peaceably to assemble and the freedom of expression is primordial. Towards this end, law enforcement agencies shall observe the following guidelines:

(a) Members of the law enforcement contingent who deal with the demonstrators shall be in complete uniform with their nameplates and units to which they belong displayed prominently on the front and dorsal parts of their uniform and must observe the policy of “maximum tolerance” as herein defined;

(b) The members of the law enforcement contingent shall not carry any kind of firearms but may be equipped with baton or riot sticks, shields, crash helmets with visor, gas masks, boots or ankle high shoes with shin guards;

(c) Tear gas, smoke grenades, water cannons, or any similar anti-riot device shall not be used unless the public assembly is attended by actual violence or serious threats of violence, or deliberate destruction of property.

Section 11. Dispersal of public assembly with permit – No public assembly with a permit shall be dispersed. However, when an assembly becomes violent, the police may disperse such public assembly as follows:

(a) At the first sign of impending violence, the ranking officer of the law enforcement contingent shall call the attention of the leaders of the public assembly and ask the latter to prevent any possible disturbance;

(b) If actual violence starts to a point where rocks or other harmful objects from the participants are thrown at the police or at the non-participants, or at any property causing damage to such property, the ranking officer of the law enforcement contingent shall audibly warn the participants that if the disturbance persists, the public assembly will be dispersed;

(c) If the violence or disturbances prevailing as stated in the preceding subparagraph should not stop or abate, the ranking officer of the law enforcement contingent shall audibly issue a warning to the participants of the public assembly, and after allowing a reasonable period of time to lapse, shall immediately order it to forthwith disperse;

(d) No arrest of any leader, organizer or participant shall also be made during the public assembly unless he violates during the assembly a law, statute, ordinance or any provision of this Act. Such arrest shall be governed by Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended:

(e) Isolated acts or incidents of disorder or branch of the peace during the public assembly shall not constitute a group for dispersal.

Section 12. Dispersal of public assembly without permit – When the public assembly is held without a permit where a permit is required, the said public assembly may be peacefully dispersed.

Section 13. Prohibited acts – The following shall constitute violations of this Act:

(a) The holding of any public assembly as defined in this Act by any leader or organizer without having first secured that written permit where a permit is required from the office concerned, or the use of such permit for such purposes in any place other than those set out in said permit: Provided, however, That no person can be punished or held criminally liable for participating in or attending an otherwise peaceful assembly;

(b) Arbitrary and unjustified denial or modification of a permit in violation of the provisions of this Act by the mayor or any other official acting in his behalf.

(c) The unjustified and arbitrary refusal to accept or acknowledge receipt of the application for a permit by the mayor or any official acting in his behalf;

(d) Obstructing, impeding, disrupting or otherwise denying the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly;

(e) The unnecessary firing of firearms by a member of any law enforcement agency or any person to disperse the public assembly;

(f) Acts in violation of Section 10 hereof;

(g) Acts described hereunder if committed within one hundred (100) meters from the area of activity of the public assembly or on the occasion thereof;

1. the carrying of a deadly or offensive weapon or device such as firearm, pillbox, bomb, and the like;

2. the carrying of a bladed weapon and the like;

3 the malicious burning of any object in the streets or thoroughfares;

4. the carrying of firearms by members of the law enforcement unit;

5. the interfering with or intentionally disturbing the holding of a public assembly by the use of a motor vehicle, its horns and loud sound systems.

Section 14. Penalties – Any person found guilty and convicted of any of the prohibited acts defined in the immediately preceding Section shall be punished as follows:

(a) violation of subparagraph (a) shall be punished by imprisonment of one month and one day to six months;

(b) violations of subparagraphs (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), and item 4, subparagraph (g) shall be punished by imprisonment of six months and one day to six years;

(c) violation of item 1, subparagraph (g) shall be punished by imprisonment of six months and one day to six years without prejudice to prosecution under Presidential Decree No. 1866;

(d) violations of item 2, item 3, or item 5 of subparagraph (g) shall be punished by imprisonment of one day to thirty days.

Section 15. Freedom parks – Every city and municipality in the country shall within six months after the effectivity of this Act establish or designate at least one suitable “freedom park” or mall in their respective jurisdictions which, as far as practicable, shall be centrally located within the poblacion where demonstrations and meetings may be held at any time without the need of any prior permit.

In the cities and municipalities of Metropolitan Manila, the respective mayors shall establish the freedom parks within the period of six months from the effectivity of this Act.

Section 16. Constitutionality – Should any provision of this Act be declared invalid or unconstitutional, the validity or constitutionality of the other provisions shall not be affected thereby.

Section 17. Repealing clause – All laws, decrees, letters of instructions, resolutions, orders, ordinances or parts thereof which are inconsistent with the provisions of this Act are hereby repealed, amended, or modified accordingly.

Section 18. Effectivity – This Act shall take effect upon its approval.

Approved, October 22, 1985.

Wait a minute! This was before the 1987 Constitution. How come it is still in force?

For as long as the law is consistent with the new constitution, it is not repealed. Following your logic would mean the Civil Code and the Revised Penal Code should have been repealed long ago, but still enforced now.

This law was based on the Supreme Court ruling in JBL Reyes vs. Bagatsing (125 SCRA 665 [1983]).

In summary, it set down the basic principles by stating:

“xxx The applicants for a permit to hold an assembly should inform the licensing authority of the date, the public place where and the time when it will take place. If it were a private place, only the consent of the owner or the one entitled to its legal possession is required. Such application should be filed well ahead in time to enable the public official concerned to appraise whether there may be valid objections to the grant of the permit or to its grant but at another public place. It is an indispensable condition to such refusal or modification that the clear and present danger test be the standard for the decision reached. If he is of the view that there is such an imminent and grave danger of a substantive evil, the applicants must be heard on the matter. Thereafter, his decision, whether favorable or adverse, must be transmitted to them at the earliest opportunity. Thus if so minded, then, can have recourse to the proper judicial authority. Free speech and peaceable assembly, along with the other intellectual freedoms, are highly ranked in our scheme of constitutional values. It cannot be too strongly stressed that on the judiciary, — even more so than on the other departments — rests the grave and delicate responsibility of assuring respect for and deference to such preferred rights. No verbal formula, no sanctifying phrase can, of course, dispense with what has been so felicitiously termed by Justice Holmes “as the sovereign prerogative of judgment.” Nonetheless, the presumption must be to incline the weight of the scales of justice on the side of such rights, enjoying as they do precedence and primacy.”

So what are the salient features of this law for holding a peaceful rally or assembly?

Take note of all of these, class:

1. The general rule is indeed, “No Permit, No Rally,” in a public place. The exemptions are if it is held in a freedom park established by law or ordinance, on private property (with the owner’s consent, of course), or on government campuses subject to school regulations.

2. THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT CANNOT DENY ISSUANCE OF A PERMIT, unless there is CLEAR and CONVINCING EVIDENCE that the public assembly will create a clear and present danger to public order, public safety, public convenience, public morals or public health.

No intelligence reports, please. These cannot be considered evidence. Besides, you know what the joke says: Military/Police intelligence is even lower that human and animal intelligence.

3. If the local government does not act on the application for permit within 2 working days from filing, it is deemed granted. So the rallyists can even present its application for permit and show it was filed two days before.

4. In case of denial of application, the applicant should be immediately informed, so it can resort to judicial remedies.

5. The applicant may contest this decision of the local government, and the decision should be rendered 24 hours after filing.

6. There is also the right to appeal such court decision within 48 hours. This is likewise exempt from the usual appeal bond and fees. Telegraphic appeals (arguably fax and email forms also) followed by the formal appeal shall be allowed.

7. Law enforcement is limited to 100 meters away.

8. Isolated acts or incidents of disorder or breach of peace shall not be grounds for dispersal.

9. The “calibrated response” should be governed by Sections 11 and 12 of this law, any police/military memorandum inconsistent with this is illegal and can be dealt with through its penal provisions.

10. Every city and municipality should have at least one freedom park.

Let’s eat!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Blog Lecture No. 44: Right To Peaceful Assembly

  1. So Ayala corner Paseo is a freedom park?

  2. Cat,

    No. But the mayor there always gives permits….

  3. If the Philippines is truly a democracy, we should consign this Marcosian relic BP 880 to the dustbin of history and turn the whole country into one big freedom park.

    BP 880 is always used by recalcitrant regimes to “legitimize” brutal dispersal of protest actions. “Maximum tolerance” of rallies is so objectionable in genuine democracies. Why merely “tolerate” rallies and assemblies when these are venues for the public to ventilate grievances and views in the so-called free marketplace of ideas?

    Below is a proposed Freedom of Expression Act authored by Rep. Satur Ocampo which we may study:

    HOUSE BILL NO. 1555

    Introduced by Reps. SATUR C. OCAMPO, TEODORO A. CASIÑO, JOEL G. VIRADOR,
    CRISPIN B. BELTRAN, RAFAEL V. MARIANO and LIZA L. MAZA

    AN ACT STRENGTHENING THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO FREE EXPRESSION,
    PEACEABLY ASSEMBLE AND PETITION THE GOVERNMENT FOR REDRESS OF
    GRIEVANCES, REPEALING BATAS PAMBANSA BILANG 880 AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES

    SECTION 1. Title. – This law shall be known as “The Freedom of
    Expression Act of 2004.”

    SECTION 2. Declaration of policy. – The constitutional rights of the
    people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress
    of grievances through all medium and means of expression are essential
    and vital to the individual and the collective strength and stability
    of the nation. Towards this end, the State shall ensure the free
    exercise of such rights without unnecessary and unreasonable
    impediments whatsoever.

    SECTION 3. Definition of terms. – For purposes of this Act:

    1. “Expression” refers to any statement of opinion for the purpose of
    presenting any cause, articulation of political, economic or social
    advocacies, or manifestation of support in any partisan political
    activity through the use of any means or media.

    2. “Public assembly” means any rally, demonstration, march, parade,
    procession or any other form of mass or concerted action held in a
    public place for the purpose of presenting any cause; or expressing an
    opinion to the general public on any particular issue; or protesting
    or influencing any state of affairs whether political, economic or
    social, including picketing and other concerted action in strike areas
    by workers and employees resulting from a labor dispute as defined by
    the Labor Code, its implementing rules and regulations; or petitioning
    the government for redress of grievances.

    The processions, rallies, parades, demonstrations, public meetings and
    assemblages for religious purposes shall be governed by local
    ordinances: PROVIDED, however, That the declaration of policy as
    provided in Section 2 of this Act shall be faithfully observed.

    3. “Public place” shall include any highway, boulevard, avenue, road,
    street, bridge or other thoroughfare, park, plaza, square, and/or any
    open space of public ownership where the people are allowed access.

    4. “Maximum tolerance” means the highest degree of restraint that the
    military, police and other peace-keeping authorities shall observe
    during a public assembly or in the dispersal of the same.

    SECTION 4. No permit required. – No permit shall be required for any
    person or persons to organize and hold a public assembly in a public
    place. The organizers and leaders of the public assembly shall however
    be responsible for the orderly and peaceful conduct of the same so as
    to produce the least inconvenience to the community without injuring
    or endangering the health or safety of others, or totally obstructing
    or interfering with the free passage of any public highway or street
    or any body of water. PROVIDED, the leaders and organizers of a public
    assembly shall police the ranks of the demonstrators in order to
    prevent non-demonstrators from disrupting the lawful activities of the
    public assembly, and to take positive steps that demonstrators do not
    molest any person or do any act unduly interfering with the rights of
    other persons not participating in the public assembly. PROVIDED
    FURTHER, should the public assembly involve the use, for an
    appreciable length of time, of any public highway, boulevard, avenue,
    road or street, the mayor or any official acting on his behalf may, to
    prevent grave public inconvenience, reroute the vehicular traffic to
    another direction so that there will be no serious or undue
    interference with the free flow of commerce and trade.

    SECTION 5. Non-interference by law enforcement authorities. – Law
    enforcement agencies shall not interfere with the holding of a public
    assembly. However, to adequately ensure public safety, a law
    enforcement contingent under the command of a responsible police
    officer may be detailed and stationed in a place at least two hundred
    (200) meters away from the area of activity to readily maintain peace
    and order at all times.

    SECTION 6. Police assistance when requested. – It shall be imperative
    for law enforcement agencies, when their assistance is requested by
    the leaders or organizers, to perform their duties, always mindful
    that their responsibility to provide proper protection to those
    exercising their rights peaceably to assemble and to freedom of
    expression is primordial. Towards this end, law enforcement agencies
    shall observe the following guidelines:

    1. Members of the law enforcement contingent who deal with the
    demonstrators shall be in complete uniform, with their nameplates and
    units to which they belong displayed prominently on the front and
    dorsal parts of their uniform and must observe the policy of “maximum
    tolerance” as herein defined;

    2. The members of the law enforcement contingent shall not carry any
    kind of firearms but may be equipped with baton or riot sticks,
    shields, crash helmets with visor, gas masks, boots or ankle high
    shoes with shin guards; and

    3. Tear gas, smoke grenades, water cannons, or any similar anti-riot
    device shall not be used unless the public assembly is attended by
    actual violence or deliberate destruction of property.

    SECTION 7. No dispersal of public assembly. – No public assembly shall
    be dispersed unless a public assembly has become actually violent and
    only under the following considerations:

    1. At the first sign of impending violence, the ranking officer of the
    law enforcement contingent shall call the attention of the leaders of
    the public assembly and ask the latter to prevent any possible
    disturbance;

    2. If actual violence starts to a point where rocks or other harmful
    objects from the participants are thrown at the non-participants or at
    any property causing damage to such property, the ranking officer of
    the law enforcement contingent shall audibly warn the participants
    that if the disturbance persists, the public assembly will be
    dispersed;

    3. If the violence or disturbances prevailing as stated in the
    preceding subparagraph should not stop or abate, the ranking officer
    of the law enforcement contingent shall audibly issue another warning
    to the participants of the public assembly;

    4. Isolated acts or incidents of disorder or breach of the peace
    during the public assembly shall not constitute a ground for
    dispersal; and

    5. No public assembly shall be dispersed without the consent of the
    leaders or organizers thereof unless there is clear and convincing
    evidence of grave public inconvenience or serious or undue
    interference with the free flow of commerce and trade. In any event,
    no member of any law enforcement agency or any person shall fire his
    or her firearms in the dispersal of a public assembly.

    SECTION 8. Immunity from arrest and taxation. – In order to give
    fullest protection to the right of the people to expression, peaceably
    assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances:

    1. No person can be punished or held criminally liable for
    participating in or attending a public assembly;

    2. No leader, organizer or participant shall be arrested during the
    public assembly; and

    3. No tax shall be imposed upon any means or media used and owned by
    private individuals for expression as defined herein.

    SECTION 9. Penalties. – Any person found guilty of violating any
    provision of this Act shall suffer imprisonment of seven (7) years and
    perpetual disqualification from public office.

    SECTION 10. Freedom days. – Every city and municipality in the country
    shall endeavor to coordinate with people’s organizations and
    cause-oriented groups before the dates fixed for commemorating
    historic or socially relevant events so that traffic re-routing plans
    are laid down and publicized for the information of the public.

    SECTION 11. Constitutionality. – Should any provision of this Act be
    declared invalid or unconstitutional, the validity or
    constitutionality of the other provisions shall not be affected
    thereby.

    SECTION 12. Repealing clause. – All laws, decrees, letters of
    instructions, resolutions, orders, ordinances or parts thereof which
    are inconsistent with the provisions of this Act, particularly Batas
    Pambansa Bilang 880, are hereby repealed, amended, or modified
    accordingly.

    SECTION 13. Effectivity. – This Act shall take effect twenty (20)
    days after its publication in a newspaper of general circulation.

  4. jonas

    Since I only see “maximum tolerance” as a means of restratint how then can we justify the use of “CPR” under this law?

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