Manila police dispersed a small group of women who were protesting against the anti-terrorism law outside the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday, claiming they did not observe COVID-19 safety measures.
Police "harassed" a rally that was in support of the filing of at least the 35th petition against the anti-terrorism law, said lawyer Virginia Suarez.
"Kinuha ang tarpaulin, pinipilit na paalisin," she said.
The women were eventually allowed to stage their protest.
Police Lieutenant Colonel Alex Daniel, who took over the Ermita police station after its commander was relieved from post over the weekend, claimed that the protesters did not observe physical distancing and some did not wear face shields.
"Umakto lang po ang pulis na paghiwa-hiwalayin po sila kasi [magkakahawahan] naman po tayo dito kaya napilitan po silang paalisin dito sa harapan ng Supreme Court," he told reporters.
He said rallies are not prohibited if the protesters could show permits.
Daniel is in charge of the Manila Police District Station 5 after Police Lieutenant Colonel Ariel Caramoan was removed from his post over his station's failure to maintain physical distancing among the visitors who attended the opening of Manila Bay's artificial white sand beach.
Suarez, on the other hand, claimed that distancing was observed in the protest. "But the police confiscated the tarp at pinapaalis kaya nagkagulo," she said in a message.
"But it ended well naman," she added.
Suarez represents 27 petitioners, including 11 women's organizations and 16 individual women from different sectors, who were among to register their objection to the controversial anti-terrorism law before the highest Philippine court.
Another set of petitioners, composed of civil society groups led by the Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc., also filed a petition on Monday.
They asked the SC to declare the anti-terrorism law unconstitutional.
"ATL (anti-terrorism law) is meant to silence critiques. Silence breeds impunity. Impunity breeds violence. Thus, we will not be silenced. We shall resist and persist," Suarez said.
According to the SC, there are now 35 petitions against the anti-terrorism law. Two more petitions reported by the media and which were filed via registered mail have yet to be counted in official records.
The anti-terrorism law is challenged by a wide range of sectors, from retired justices to students, that claim that its provisions could violate basic rights such as the freedom of expression and association.
The SC has said it will conduct oral arguments on the case, but a schedule has yet to be announced. —KBK, GMA News