Davao City cops put barricade around Freedom Park, venue of SONA protest

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 27 July) — Hours before President Rodrigo R. Duterte will deliver his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, the Davao City Police Office (DCPO) placed barricades around the protest venue of militant groups along Roxas Avenue here.

Police officers manning the barricades required those entering the venue to present food and medicine (FM) pass before allowing them entry.

The protest rally was set to start at 3 p.m.

DCPO chief Col. Kirby Kraft said in a phone interview on Monday that the barricaded venue has seats intended for 50 people to ensure a two-meter physical distancing.

He said that there would only be one entry point and one exit point.

Kraft said the police would check protesters at the entry point if they have face masks, alcohol sanitizers and FM passes.

The City Government of Davao earlier issued the FM passes to residents for the purpose of buying food and medicines in supermarkets and pharmacies only.

Asked why the protesters are required to present their FM passes, Kraft insisted “that it would be used as a proof that they are allowed to leave their homes.”

“First of all, the DCPO is not against the protesters, we are not suppressing their rights. We have a pandemic where mass gatherings are prohibited. Just so they can air out their grievances at the Freedom Park, there are health protocols that must be implemented,” Kraft said.

On Sunday, Kraft said that “protesters would be arrested since mass gatherings are prohibited.”

Karapatan-Southern Mindanao spokesperson Jay Apiag urged Kraft to respect the constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly after the official made a threat to arrest protesters during Duterte’s SONA.

Apiag reminded Kraft that the rights of the rallyists, enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, are not paralyzed even in the time of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

He said the omnibus guidelines of the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease “are merely rules that could not replace the Constitution and other international rights instruments.”

“We (would like to) remind Kraft not to violate the law. The constitutional rights of the people for free expression and freedom of assembly are still in place even if we face a global pandemic,” Apiag said earlier Monday.