2 Surigao City councilors face illegal assembly raps

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/05 Oct.) — Two city councilors and other personalities have been charged for alleged illegal assembly before the City Prosecutor’s Office.

The city police office filed a complaint on October 2 against City Councilors Baltazar Abian and Jose Begil and some activists led by Edgar Canda of Bayan Muna Surigao del Norte for alleged violation of city ordinance 245. The ordinance designates areas where rallies may be held.

Abian and Begil said they will face the charge, but expressed confidence it will be dismissed.

Another councilor meanwhile called the case a curtailment of the people’s democratic rights and an act that showed ignorance of the law.

Last September 21, militant groups in Surigao City and the Coalition of Surigaonons for Good Governance Transparency and Accountability held a rally on the main street at the city market to mark the 41st anniversary of Martial Law.

The protesters also signed a petition asking the Ombudsman to act on the complaint for plunder against Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco Matugas, and graft cases against Surigao del Norte Governor Sol F. Matugas and Surigao City Mayor Ernesto T. Matugas.

Abian and Begil are known critics of the Matugases.

The protesters then burned the effigies of lawmakers implicated in the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

They chanted “Kawatan sa Kongresso, Ipapreso,” (Jail the Thieves in Congress) and “Martial Law Never Again!”

Senior Police Officer 1 Leo Espina on Thursday said he had filed the complaint but refused to give more details.

Supt. Joseph R. Nohara, the city police director, did not reply to a text message asking for more information on the case.

City Ordinance Number 245 passed in 2006 designates the Luneta Park and City Boulevard as “Freedom Parks where people may congregate, peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” It was based on Batas Pambansa 880 or the Public Assembly Act of 1985.

The ordinance carries no penal clause though.

“Since the ordinance has no penalty, they can’t be held liable,” Vice Mayor Danilo C. Menor said in mixed English and Cebuano when sought for comment.

On Thursday, City Councilor Fernando S. Almeda III called the complaints against his fellow councilors and some protesters an assault on their democratic rights.

“What makes it more despicable is that threat or curtailment comes from the very same officials who are supposed to assure our people that these rights may and can be exercised,” he said in a privilege speech.

“How dare these people interfere and threaten our constitutional rights!” Almeda said.

He added that the case “is an obnoxious abridgement of our constitutional rights and will serve no other purpose except to expose and confirm their incompetence and ignorance of the law.”

“Whoever is the genius behind this abhorrent idea should be instructed that the felony of Illegal Assembly penalized under Article 146 of the Revised Penal Code can be committed in two ways. First, when the meeting is attended by armed persons for the purpose of committing crimes and second, when the audience whether armed or not, is incited to the commission of the crimes of treason, rebellion, insurrection, sedition or direct assault.”

Almeda stressed that none of these conditions was present because it was a peaceful assembly.

He noted that the city police chief was present during the rally and never lifted a finger to stop or dispense the rally.

“This goes only to prove that the assembly in the morning of September 21, 2013 was a peaceful assembly,” he said.

“I would like to remind these nincompoops that public is not without any legal remedies against those who directly or indirectly obstruct, defeat, violate, or in any manner impede or impair the people’s right to freedom of speech and the right to take part in a peaceful assembly,” he warned.

“In addition to administrative remedies with the office of the Ombudsman, Article 32 of the Civil Code holds these people liable for damages. This is also without prejudice to a case of ‘gross ignorance of the law’ which can be raised in the bar of public opinion,” he added. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)