Monday, August 31, 2015

41. Freedom of Assembly

Time was when Illegal Assembly was a cool crime, a badge of honor, a solid proof that not all criminals are crooks. As a high school student studying in San Beda near the fabled Mendiola Bridge, I once saw Senator Lorenzo Tanada being hauled off in a police van for holding a rally without a permit. Tanada even brandished his fist in defiance of the police as the old man got sped off to prison. He got rescued by his lawyers, posted bail, and then prepared for the next rally. As I got older,  I participated in rallies myself: in 1986 EDSA One,  in the late 80's against the US bases, in the 90's against the Ramos planned constitutional amendment, in 2001 EDSA Dos, and then in 2006 at the Black and White Movement's photo ops at Luneta where I met Edwin Lacierda. My protest resume is rather thin, compared to veteran street parliamentarians like Argee Gueverra who even got jailed for it. But this constitutional right to free assembly is something I use for good measure. When I resolve to go to the streets, I don't care about the traffic we're going to cause. The goal is to get noticed, and causing traffic is one of the ways to get noticed. When you're out there, you're telling the people, things are not normal, something is wrong, so stop whatever you're doing, and join us. Now, it's almost ten years since I've attended my last rally. I looked at the  Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) mass actions in EDSA recently and analyzed the grievance. Leila de Lima's actions as Secretary of Justice were perceived as bias against the INC, because she received the complaint for Illegal Detention against the INC's central committee personally, and she created a special panel to investigate the case. If the case prospered, it would be like the entire cabinet going to jail. So, the implications to the INC's followers may be alarming. Well, as a lawyer, I would have to admit that most of my cases never received that kind of special treatment and attention -- not from this current Secretary of Justice or from the others before her. And I have yet to see any rule from the Department of Justice that provides this kind of special procedure for special circumstances, which have also been undefined. Thing is she's been doing this in the hot items in her checklist, like the PAGCOR cases and PDAF cases, and all of them went unfavorably against the respondents. Thus, we now have the INC flock at EDSA, telling us things are not normal. The Secretary is acting as if she's going to send their central committee to jail. Well, I'm not inclined to join them. But, I'm not going to heckle them either.  Max Ehrman's Desiderata, which we memorized in San Beda High, had special lines for these circumstances, "Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story." The INC's reputation among the Catholic elite is not very good, principally because of their bloc voting schemes. They have been depicted as mindless minions obeying the command of their leaders, which is inaccurate and unkind. Yet, I have to concede, regardless of who sent them to EDSA, the INC flock has a story here, which might even be a good one.

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