Protest | COVID-19 | Freedom of speech

Ateneo Human Rights Center


Atty. Marianne Agunoy

Anti-Terror Law

Online rally

Virtual rally

Protesting in the time of COVID-19: Before the protest

We sat down with Atty. Marianne Agunoy of the Ateneo Human Rights Center to bring you this 3-part article series discussing your right to protest and practical tips on how to safely exercise this right

Your right to protest is at the core of freedom of speech. This right is now more crucial than ever with Filipinos demanding to be heard on important issues such as the government’s response to COVID-19, the Anti-Terror Law, or the closure of ABS-CBN.

However, given the COVID threat and with the recent passing of the Anti-Terror law, how can you exercise this right safely?

Being in quarantine, you can join many Filipinos who have been resourceful in making their voices heard. The most common way is to use social media like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to express your thoughts and opinions. Some have also maximized online platforms like Zoom and Facebook to hold virtual rallies while others have organized noise barrages from their respective homes.

However, if you still prefer to join a traditional rally on the streets, you should be aware of your legal rights and even the risk of getting arrested.

To guide you, Legal Tree (“LT”) sat down with Atty. Marianne Carmel B. Agunoy [1] of the Ateneo Human Rights Center (“AHRC”) to bring you this 3-part article series discussing your right to protest and practical tips on how to safely exercise this right.


LT: Are we allowed to attend a rally, even during the community quarantine?

Atty. Agunoy: Protesters and law enforcers should remember that the right to peaceably assemble is a Constitutionally protected right, even during the time of a pandemic.

Section 9 of Batas Pambansa 880 (otherwise known as the “Public Assembly Act”) prohibits police interference in peaceful assemblies. Section 13 provides that “no person can be punished or held criminally liable for participating in or attending an otherwise peaceful assembly”. The law also demands that maximum tolerance be observed in allowing the exercise of the right to peaceably assembly, and the exercise of this constitutional freedom should not be stifled by arbitrary arrests.

LT: Since mass gatherings are not allowed due to COVID-19, am I not breaking any law by joining a rally?

Atty. Agunoy: Strictly speaking, there is no law criminalizing the holding of peaceful assemblies even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The laws and issuances often cited to justify arrests as a result of the alleged violation of the prohibition on mass gatherings are the (a) Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (“IATF”) rules and (b) Republic Act No. 11332 otherwise known as the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Concern Act”.

Of the two, only the IATF rules prohibit mass gatherings, and even then, it is not a penal statute. Also, both the IATF rules and RA 11332 do not have provisions allowing outright arrest based on the alleged violation of the prohibition on mass gatherings. However, despite the ambiguity in the aforementioned rules and law, this hasn’t stopped the police from arresting protesters as we have seen in the cases of San Roque, UP Cebu, and the Pride 20.

LT: If I decide to attend a rally, how can I prepare for it?

Atty. Agunoy: Organizers and protesters should ensure that there are health protocols in place and that physical distancing is observed. As much as possible come with a group or a companion, and find people you can trust to look out for you. You can also do the following:

  1. Check-out a map of the venue and have a designated meeting place;
  2. Charge your mobile phone and power bank;
  3. Know your rights;
  4. Always bring an ID;
  5. Let your family and friends know that you’ll be attending a protest;
  6. Have a lawyer or a person you can trust in speed dial; and
  7. Keep in your person a copy of a bust card containing your rights, so that you may assert them if needed.

Being familiar with the venue and having a designated meeting place ensures you have exit routes in case of sudden dispersal, or if you get separated from your group.

A bust card details the rights you are entitled to when being arrested, including what you can demand and what you can refuse. Here is a sample of a Paralegal Bust Card prepared by the human rights coalition, KARAPATAN.  

<to be continued>

Watch out for Part 2 next week where Atty. Agunoy continues to walk us through what you should do during a protest. We’ll tackle topics like how to respond if you’re approached by the police or law enforcers and, in the worst case, if you’re arrested.

If you need to consult a lawyer about your right to protest and to help you if you're arrested, our Partner Lawyers are ready to help you. Just send us your legal concern using our “Ask an Attorney” service and our Partner Lawyers will contact you within 1 to 2 business days.

[1] Atty.  Marianne Carmel B. Agunoy is the current program manager of AHRC. As program manager, she does research, coordination, and training on various projects concerning the promotion and protection of human rights. She is also one of the petitioners who filed a case before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terror Law.

The photograph used in this article is subject to copyright of CBS News.