Pandemic cannot stop basic rights and freedom – CHR
CEBU CITY, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) reminded the public that basic freedom and rights shall not be curtailed despite an ongoing health crisis.
Lawyer Jacqueline de Guia, spokesperson of CHR, said in a statement that protecting health and safety in a pandemic “does not halt fundamental rights including freedom of peaceful assembly and activism.”
The commission was referring to the arrest of eight individuals during a Black Friday Protest organized by several militant groups and student activists in front of the University of the Philippines Cebu (UP Cebu) in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City last June 5, 2020.
Cebu City has been placed under general community quarantine (GCQ) since June 1.
The arrested people, often collectively known as Cebu 8, was released last June 8 through a court order.
“Despite their release, the Commission on Human Rights reiterates our stern reminder that the health crisis does not halt fundamental rights including freedom of peaceful assembly and activism,” Guia said.
Guia also expressed concern on how the police ‘in full battle gear and heavy firearms’ handled the dispersal of the protest-rally.
“Any alleged violation should be dealt with utmost proportionality, respectful of human dignity, and with due accord to civil and political liberties,” she added.
While conducting a motu proprio investigation on the incident, CHR advised the police and other state forces to respect the UP – Department of National Defense (DND) Peace Accord signed in 1989 that barred them from conducting operations inside UP campuses without prior permission from university officials.
“Up until today, this agreement serves as a safeguard to ensure that schools remain as safe spaces for intellectual discussions and tackling of social issues and concerns without fear of reprisal or retaliation, which are necessary for a thriving academic environment,” they said.
Meanwhile, the commission also reminded the public that they should always comply with health protocols while exercising their rights.
“We equally remind all citizens of their obligation to observe and comply with health and physical distancing protocols in the exercise of their rights to ensure that it does not impinge on the rights of others,” said Guia.
Police in Cebu brought to their custody seven activists and one bystander after the rally last June 5 and accused them of violating quarantine protocols, particularly the prohibition of mass gatherings.
Section 14 of the Executive Order (EO) that laid down the GCQ guidelines disallowed the conduct of ‘public and mass gatherings’. /bmjo
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