The Aborted Walk in the Park
We thought it was going to be a walk in the park. Some of us were even planning to watch "V for Vendetta" after the walk. But it was not to be.
As soon as we stepped out of Aristocrat restaurant, a group of about 50 policemen blocked us demanding that we present a rally permit before they allow us to cross Roxas Blvd. towards Baywalk.
We argued that we were not holding a rally, we had no intentions to hold a program or deliver speeches, we had no placards or streamers, and we had no bullhorns or any sound system to call attention to ourselves. We simply wanted to walk at Baywalk, just as ordinary citizens are allowed to do. We did not need a permit for that. Besides, there were only about 22 of us plus a 3-year old child. How difficult would it be for them to stop us if they thought we were making trouble at the Baywalk?
They argued that they received intelligence report about our planned action for that day. (I wanted to say it didn't take much intelligence to figure it out; it's all published at our blog site www.blackfridayprotest.blogspot.com). They insisted that the presence of media people was proof of the planned action. And that the T-shirts some of us were wearing which emblazoned the slogan: "Patalsikin na. Now na!" showed we were planning for more than just a walk.
Even assuming they had intelligence report of a huge rally-like gathering, the reality on the ground should have alerted the police commanding officer that this was not the rally they were anticipating. 22 people and a child can hardly be called a rally that could disrupt normal activities at the park. But the commanding officer stuck to his script-- yes, it was almost like he was reciting his lines in rote, unmindful of whatever arguments we would present.
What about the presence of media? When GMA decided to take a Sunday stroll at Baywalk with her daughter and grandchild to project an image of stability, there was media too. And there were about 25 of them as well, if you count all of their security people. Did they get a permit for that walk? Are they now so paranoid that they fear 22 people and a child strolling along Baywalk and being covered by media would project instability? We have no control over what media decides to cover.
What about the printed slogan in our T-shirts? What about it? Is it now illegal to wear T-shirts proclaiming your convictions, even if it's a political one? Do they find the slogan "Patalsikin na. Now na!" seditious? If they do, I suggest they ban Nike too. Their slogan, "Just do it!" when directed to the disaffected within the military is more seditious.
We decided to exercise our rights-- we will cross Roxas Blvd, even if it meant doing so, one or two at a time.
And then it happened. While Dinky and I were waiting for the light to turn green at the pedestrian crossing, they arrested us. The charge: illegal assembly.
They brought us to the Manila Police headquarters along UN Avenue. It took more than 3 hours for them to prepare their affidavit of arrest. Either they were waiting for instructions from higher authority on how to "handle" the situation, or they were maliciously delaying the process so that the office of the inquest fiscal would be closed by the time the affidavit was ready. This would give them reason to detain us over the weekend.
By 11 pm, we were transported to the fiscal's office at City Hall for inquest. I could sense that the fiscal found no basis for the charges. But she did not want to embarrass the arresting officers, and did not want to risk being reprimanded for a possible "politically incorrect" decision so she decided to play it safe-- recommended "for further investigation". Meanwhile, SOP dictates we remain in the custody of the police. Our lawyers argued. After consultation with her chief fiscal, she finally decided to release us, pending filing of formal charges.
I am convinced that, aside from the capable skills of our lawyers, what kept us from spending time in jail over the weekend were the presence of friends who staked out at the Police headquarters and at the City Hall and, of course, the presence of President Cory Aquino. She was with us the whole time. She did not need to call anyone or to say anything. Her mere presence exerted moral suasion on people to do what is right, or at least, to desist from doing wrong.
The intentions are clear-- intimidate people from participating in even the most benign form of protest. Absolutely no activity critical of GMA will be allowed.
The methods are becoming increasingly more brazen, bereft of any attempt to cloak their actions with civility and some semblance of upholding the law. It's almost as if the police have been given a blanket license to violate the basic rights of citizens. It's de facto martial rule-- promulgated with such arrogance that they feel they don't even have to declare it.
And for as long as people who are convinced GMA should go, remain uninvolved, the abuse of our civil liberties will continue to escalate. It is our silence that emboldens them to raise the bar of oppression a notch higher.
It is time to stand up and speak out. Join us in the coming Black Friday silent protests. Invite your friends, too. Send a blank email to BlackFridayProtestfirstname.lastname@example.org to receive a regular bulletin of our upcoming actions.
Perhaps, the T-shirt slogan is timely after all. Patalsikin na. Now na!