Monday, September 26, 2005

Symbols of Democracy

Our government, or the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to be more specific, is now beginning to act like a huge cynic further losing its composure. As if it believes that the sky is already falling down, and then it goes on a panic streak---yelling and hollering "the sky is falling!" If this is not pushing the panic button, then I do not know what it is.

MalacaƱang has recently announced that "maximum tolerance" won’t be applied anymore to any street marcher that does not boast of any rally permit and instead the police would take on “calibrated preemptive response(s)" as a manner of engaging permitless dissenters who troop into the streets, highways, parks and avenues of Metro Manila. This reminds me by the way of the term "preemptive response", a wartime idiom invented by Australian PM John Howard amidst the rising global terrorism crisis, to which every human rights activists in the world howled with steep protestations where such policing mode allows arrest and detention of suspected terrorist even with doubtful and hazy probable causes---thereby imbibing possible warrantless arrests.

Just yesterday, Metro Manila Police Chief Vidal Querol had proclaimed in no uncertain manner and in with almost violent emphasis that from now on, street protesters have "to respect the law" and that "Dura lex sed lex (the law may be harsh, but it is the law)". Meaning to say, police authorities would not just stare at a distance when the protesters begin howling in the streets of Manila, instead they would have to take them in, and take them in hard. Because of this, there could just be a rise in the number of arrests of street militants starting from now, and knowing how Manila activists are adamant as hell, there could be a Marcosian scale of street arrests once more, as if the dreaded members of the now defunct Philippine Constrabulary have resurrected from the dead in order to scour the eskinitas and slums of Manila for suspected activists. This is a fearful image in my mind that I am not surprised now if the national anxiety for a return to martial rule is at an all-time high.

To be sure, the constitutionally protected right to peaceful assembly (like political rallies, religious parades, labor protests, etc.) is one liberty that is held dearest by the Filipino people, and one mode of public act that has certainly helped shaped our history through the years, and what we have now become. From the moment those valiant Katipuneros tore angrily their cedulas as a manner of civil disobedience against the tyrannical Spanish conquistadors in the days so old to recollect to the boisterous street singing in Mendiola under Martial hands of Marcos, public assembly had always shown its benefits to us even while admitting that at times, they are just inconvenient and injurious to public peace and order.

In our legal jurisprudence, the freedom of assembly is a constitutionally guaranteed freedom although it is not a freedom absolute (just like any other freedom mentioned in the Bill of Rights). Juridical precedence lays out clearly how this freedom may be limited under a number of tests foremost among are the “Clear and Present Danger Rule” and “The Balancing of Interest Test”. In the clear-and-present-danger rule, any public congregation of people may not be permitted or be impeded immediately if such assembly actually harms the peace of the land. Not only ordinary and common peace we know in the streets but the assembly must be violent enough or seditious enough so as to bring disruption and danger to national peace, to the extent of directly endangering the present status quo or the government. If the assembly is far from directly harming national peace and order, it shall pass the clear and present danger rule and may not be prevented by any means. The key word here is “direct”.

In the balancing-of-interest test, the authorities go on weighing the effect of a particular public assembly, whether or not it harms directly our national interest. This is a much simpler test than the one mentioned above where it is only to be determined if actually, and not by just mere speculation and estimate, that such and such rally poses grave danger to the status quo.

Among other conditions, rallies are permitted in so long as the congregation of people shall not impede or halt public functions or duties, or obstruct the natural flow of people and vehicles. If street protesters fulfill the conditions set in our laws and legal precedence, and pass legal tests for legality and propriety of public assemblies, then “maximum tolerance” must still be applied to them by the police authorities. The marches must go on. The rallies must remain. They are sacred symbols of democracy.

Let us not forget that if not for the angry marches of the people in 1986, we would have not toppled completely a ruinous dictator and there would have been no EDSA Revolution to speak of, or People Power to breathe out into the ears of our young at present.

Without marches and rallies, the scandal-prone administration of Joseph Estrada would have brought us down completely towards economic hell and President Arroyo would not have been in office right now in the first place. She should know that and at least she would be grateful for that.

And yet now, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has made known without any pretense how she had become so allergic to street protests that she had virtually ordered a Marcosian-like attitude towards militants with the so-called “calibrated preemptive response” I wonder how calibrated the response would be. The President must have not realized this, by declaring an all-out war against street militants, she had just showed her great inclination towards autocracy and the people might just one day believe that she could really have the temerity to waddle into martial rule. The signs and symptoms are present and if the people would finally believe that she could really do such crazy thing, that’ll be the day that she might just regret completely.


  1. from HALOSCAN4:11 PM GMT+8

    Every politician are "crazy" with street protests. Darns! That's why I really am stunned that they aren't listening to the voice of the masses! Geez!
    trickyboy | Homepage | 10.01.05 - 11:02 am | #


    They may have been numbed already by their mischief Trickyboy, and their emotions stunted by self-interest...
    Major Tom | Homepage | 10.03.05 - 2:21 pm | #

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