MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Thursday maintained that peaceful assembly and street protests are allowed as it is part of the full exercise of the people’s right to self-expression.
“Our position on the right of peaceful assembly and street protest has not wavered. Public displays of constructive criticism, including youth participation in the protest, are allowed as part of the full exercise of the citizens’ right to express their grievances,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing.
Roque was reacting to an anticipated student rally set on February 23.
However, the spokesman called on the students not to skip classes and use the rally as an excuse to neglect their studies.
Roque, nonetheless, added the authorities will observe maximum tolerance and respect the right of the protesters to peaceful assembly as a matter of standard operating procedure.
Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte warned University of the Philippines (UP) students that he would let “bright” Lumads take their places in the university if they would continue skipping classes to join protest actions against the administration.
“These UP students who keep on walking out, earlier, they walked out. Okay. Those who don’t want to go to school, get out because I will bring the bright Lumads there, I will enroll them there in UP. A lot of Filipinos want a good education,” Duterte said in Bisaya.
However, Senator Bam Aquino, the principal sponsor and co-author of RA 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, exclaimed that the government should not use free education as “blackmail” or as “hush money” to prohibit students from exercising their right to free expression and dissent.
“Free college should not be used as an exchange for something. The government should not control the rights of the students in exchange of the free education at public universities and colleges,” Aquino said.