The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
The Philippines is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The Philippines is also a party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
There is not yet a regional human rights treaty to which South-East Asian nations can adhere, although a non-binding human rights declaration was issued by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2013. Paragraph 24 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration provides that: "Every person has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly." The Philippines is a founder member of ASEAN.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Fundamental human rights are protected in Article III (the "Bill of Rights") of the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. Under Section 4, no law shall be passed abridging the right of the people "peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances".
The primary legislation governing assemblies is the 1985 Public Assembly Act. Under this Act, authorisation must be sought for public assemblies (other than in an approved place) five days in advance.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
An unauthorised or violent assembly may be dispersed by the police under the 1985 Public Assembly Act.
Under the Penal Code and its Operational Procedures, the Philippine National Police is only allowed to use such force as would be necessary and reasonable to overcome resistance from a suspected offender; subdue the clear and imminent danger posed by him; or to justify the force/act under the principles of self-defence or defence of others.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Police use of firearms is only justified under its Operational Procedures if the suspect poses an imminent danger of causing death or injury to the police officer or other persons. However, self-defence can only be used by officers when there is a real threat to their life and where the danger sought to be avoided is imminent and real.
The 1985 Public Assembly Act prohibits police officers from carrying firearms at assemblies.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2012 Concluding Observations on the Philippines, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly. In its 2017 Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council, the national report of the Philippines also did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2021 report on the Philippines:
Citizen activism and public discussion are robust, and demonstrations are common. However, permits are required for rallies, and police sometimes use violence to disperse antigovernment protests.
During most of 2020, mass gatherings were prohibited as a preventive measure to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Complaints of insufficient government aid amid the strict lockdown spurred protests that led to dozens of detentions and arrests, even as Duterte defended and subsequently promoted a top police official photographed having a large birthday party. Additional arrests occurred amid protests led by progressive organizations against the Anti-Terrorism Act signed into law in July; protesters were charged with violating both pandemic-related restrictions and public assembly laws.