PNP suggests online protest for rallyists on SONA

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MANILA — Instead of gathering to hold protest actions, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Archie Gamboa on Monday called on protesters to hold their gathering online.

Gamboa said online protests on President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27 would accede to the health protocols being implemented with a guideline prohibiting mass gathering.

Dun naman sa mga may planong mag-protesta again, lalo na dito sa SONA, nakikiusap po kami na kung pwede just do it online [To those who want to conduct protest, especially in SONA, we are pleading you to do it online],” Gamboa said in a virtual briefing.

Freedom of expression and public health should be tightly balanced in this time of the pandemic, he added.

Gamboa said that rallyists can air their grievances and share their opinion online, especially in social media which he said are popular today.

Throughout the past SONAs, the police did not curtail the right of the people to express their sentiments on the government as they had exercised maximum tolerance, Gamboa said.

“This is not an ordinary time, nakita nyo naman in the past SONA na inaallow naman natin yung protest [as you see in the past SONA, we allowed protest rally],” he said.

But now that the Philippines is among those hit with the global pandemic, Gamboa said that it would be for the safety of everybody to just stay at home and prevent unnecessary travel and also mass gatherings.

“If the intention is just to express your opinion and the PNP has always allowed this, but for this year, we are appealing to avoid mass gathering and do it online,” he said.

Gamboa said that police commanders are planning to meet with organizers of the planned protest actions for the July 27 SONA to discourage them from holding rallies due to the threat of coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) infection.

“So we hope everybody would cooperate because this is not only for our own good but also for you and for others lalo na sa prohibition ng mass gathering [especially on the prohibition of mass gathering],” he said.

Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Luis Licup, PNP director for Operations, said the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) has already prepared some of the security measures based on the scenarios provided by the Presidential Management Staff.

“But we are also asking the commanders to initiate dialogues to avoid protest action because of the current situation,” Licup said.

He said the NCRPO has prepared a traffic and security plan in the vicinity of the House of the Representative which will be implemented also if President Rodrigo Duterte will be physically present in the venue.

However, no announcement yet has been given if the President would deliver his SONA in the House of Representatives in Quezon City like in the previous years.

Earlier, NCRPO Chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas said they have developed a template that they have been using in securing events such as the annual SONA of the President and other big events.

“So far, ongoing ang preparations and we are waiting for the final scenario kung saan po mag deliver ng speech si President [So far, our preparations are ongoing, and we are waiting for the final scenario on where the President would deliver his speech],” Sinas explained.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said there were only two options for Duterte to deliver his SONA on July 27 amid the health crisis.

Should the President opt to physically show up at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives, Roque said only 50 percent of the members of both the Senate and House would be allowed to attend.

In areas under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), the least restrictive of all quarantine classifications, 50 percent attendance of guests is permitted.

Last month, Roque floated the possibility of having a “blended” style SONA, referring to a combination of having guests physically present while others opting to watch from their television sets or online.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said there was a suggestion for Duterte to deliver his next SONA at Malacañan Palace.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the SONA would likely be conducted via teleconferencing, which has been the method used by Congress to hold sessions and committee hearings.

Duterte delivered his past four SONAs at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives at the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City.

The SONA is delivered by the President of the Philippines every year to report the state of the country, unveil the government’s agenda for the coming year, and may also propose to Congress certain legislative measures. –PNA 

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