Protest | COVID-19 | Freedom of speech

Ateneo Human Rights Center


Atty. Marianne Agunoy

Protesting in the time of COVID-19: I'm being arrested, what should I do?

This is part 2 of our 3-part article series where we discuss with Atty. Marianne Agunoy of the Ateneo Human Rights Center your right to protest and practical tips on how to safely exercise this right

You can read part 1 - "Protesting in the time of COVID-19: Before the protest" here.


Do you know what to do if you’re arrested at a protest? Knowing how to act when being arrested is now more important than ever. During President Rodrigo Duterte’s 5th State of the Nation Address last July 27, many protesters were arrested for different reasons, ranging from carrying protest materials to violating community quarantine restrictions and physical distancing rules.

In part 2 we talk with Atty. Marianne Carmel B. Agunoy [1] of the Ateneo Human Rights Center (“AHRC”) on how protesting has changed with COVID-19, what police can lawfully do during a protest and what to do if you’re arrested during a protest.

Legal Tree (“LT”): How has COVID-19 changed the way protests are done?

Atty. Agunoy: COVID-19 has made rallies and gatherings more difficult and risky. The anxiety comes from actual health risks coupled with the risk of arrests based on ambiguous prohibitions that were not in place before the pandemic.

Rallies today require a lot more preparation, and attendees have to exercise extreme care and discipline in ensuring that they observe health protocols and physical distancing. 

As a result of the pandemic, people are also finding ways to protest creatively while staying at home. Online mass protests are being conducted via Zoom and Facebook live. This gives the message that though we may not be together physically, we remain in solidarity with one another and remain committed to fight for our rights. We have also seen the youth taking over the internet, using their social media platforms and making concerted efforts to raise awareness and express dissent on various issues.

LT: Let’s talk about police presence at rallies, what can they lawfully do during a rally?

Atty. Agunoy: First of all, the police are required to respect peaceful assemblies and to observe maximum tolerance.

The PNP operational procedures (“PNP Procedures”) require the police to respect and protect human dignity, maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons, and limit the use of force to situations where it is strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.

The PNP Procedures prohibit the following acts:

  1. Unnecessary firing of firearms to disperse the public assembly;
  2. Carrying of a deadly or offensive weapon or device such as firearm, pillbox, bomb, and the like; and
  3. Interfering with or intentionally disturbing the holding of a public assembly by the use of a vehicle, its horns and loud sound systems

LT: Can the police disperse a rally anytime they want?

Atty. Agunoy: Under the PNP Procedures the police are required to respect peaceful assemblies and to observe maximum tolerance.

The PNP Procedures provide different rules for dispersal depending on the rally having a permit or not.

In general, all public assembly with a permit will not be dispersed as long as it remains peaceful. It can be dispersed only if violence occurs or if it is being held in violation of the terms and conditions imposed in the permit.

If the public assembly is held without a permit but a permit is required, the public assembly may be peacefully dispersed.

If dispersal is necessary, the police should exercise maximum tolerance in conducting dispersal operations. 

LT: If a policeman approaches me at a rally and asks me questions, like what I’m doing there or my personal circumstances, what should I do?

Atty. Agunoy: Remain calm and unflustered. It is best to have a witness to the conversation and, if things turn for the worse, have someone capture it on video. It is still best to remain silent especially with regard to your personal circumstances.

You are under no obligation to answer questions about the rally unless you are the leader/organizer, and the police are asking questions within the bounds of their authority.

If authorities insist that you answer their questions, you may say that you will first consult your lawyer. If they insist on taking you with them, their acts become tantamount to an arrest.

LT: You mentioned police acts being tantamount to arrest, what should I do if I’m arrested?

Atty. Agunoy: Remain calm and have a family, friend, or anybody to witness and document the arrest by taking photos or videos. Make sure to get the witnesses’ name and address.

You may invoke your right to remain silent and refuse to have yourself or your possessions searched.

Ask the police for the basis of your arrest and ask for the identity and authority of the arresting officer. You may also ask where you will be brought and ask that you be accompanied by a witness.

Depending on the situation, it is not recommended to resist arrest or offer any physical resistance. Have a lawyer or a trusted person on speed dial to let them know of your situation.

LT: Can I record my arrest or the arrest of other persons?

Atty. Agunoy: Yes

LT: If do make a recording, can the police demand that I delete the recording or give them my phone?

Atty. Agunoy: No, the police cannot demand you to surrender your phone or delete the recording.

<to be continued>

Watch out for Part 3 next week where Atty. Agunoy discusses what will happen to you if, in the worst case, you're arrested at a protest and what you should do (or not do) after being arrested.

Need to talk to a lawyer?

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.

Submit your legal question using our “Ask an Attorney” service and our Partner Lawyers will contact you within 3 business days to advise you.


[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 Rappler.