Malacañang: Law limits public service operators' right to free speech

ILLEGAL STRIKE? Piston president George San Mateo vows to go on strike every month if President Rodrigo Duterte does not grant them a dialogue. Screenshot for Rappler video

ILLEGAL STRIKE? Piston president George San Mateo vows to go on strike every month if President Rodrigo Duterte does not grant them a dialogue.

Screenshot for Rappler video

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Tuesday, December 5, supported the arrest order against transport group leader George San Mateo, saying his right to freedom of expression and protest is limited by a law he is subject to as a holder of a certificate of public convenience.

He also advised San Mateo, president of the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston), and other public service operators or certificate holders to express their grievances in the "proper" manner, instead of holding a strike which is deemed illegal.

"The [right to] freedom of expression and right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the Constitution, subject to limitations set by law. And one limition is, if you're a holder of a certificate of public convenience, you can't engage in a tranport strike," said Roque.

He cited Section 19 of the Public Service Act which San Mateo allegedly violated for leading a transportation strike in February. It states that it is unlawful for a public service operators to "withhold or refuse any service which can reasonably be demanded and furnished."

However, the 1987 Constitution (Section 4) states that no law should be passed "abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances."

Instead of stopping the services to the public, jeepney drivers and operators should directly engage with the relevant government bodies, said President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman.

"They should dialogue with government. They don't need to cause inconvenience," he said.

Roque cited as an example the agreement between Piston and Senator Grace Poe to hold a meeting, leading the group to cancel their planned strike on December 4 and 5.

Roque, a former human rights lawyer, said there is "an exception to the bill of rights" when the acts of a person, specifically a provider of public service, will affect the public.

"Why do you have a certificate of public convenience? To render a service necessary to the public... But if you will be a tool to inconvenience the public, that's a violation of the trust  [given to] you by the state," he said.

Duterte had previously said Piston, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and other groups who participated in a previous strike were committing "rebellion" and that they are merely the "legal fronts" of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

He had then ordered the arrest of all members of leftist legal fronts for conspiring to commit terrorism.

Despite these remarks of the President, Roque said the arrest order for San Mateo "has nothing to do" with Duterte's arrest order against communists.

Duterte had also previously encouraged Piston and other groups to conduct "monthly" strikes.

Poe, on the other hand, questioned the timing of the arrest order for San Mateo.

"The PUV modernization program should be borne from a democratic process and not from underhanded tactics," the senator said in a statement on Tuesday.

She pointed out the need to "revisit" the Public Service Act to strike a balance between public service operators' right to peacably assemble and the need to provide public services. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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