PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has officially suspended the work in government offices and classes in public schools at all levels nationwide as he formally declared September 21 as a “National Day of Protest.”

On September 19, the President inked Proclamation 319, declaring September 21 as a “National Day of Protest,” to pave way for the Filipino people’s “call against all excesses and shortcomings of the government” and their “desire to uphold the highest standards of integrity, efficiency, and accountability in government.”

The declaration coincides with the commemoration of 45th anniversary of martial law implemented by the late President Ferdinand Marcos.

Duterte, in his proclamation, said he acknowledged the public’s fears of possible “repetition and perpetuation” of human rights abuses during the Marcos regime.

“The martial law era that began with the promulgation of Proclamation No. 1081 (s. 1972) has imprinted itself in the collective memory of the people as a time attended by the commission of gross human rights violations, arbitrary state interventions, rampant corruption, and disregard of fundamental civil liberties,” the Chief Executive said.

“This administration recognizes the fear and indignation of the people against a repetition and perpetuation of such human rights violations and all other failings of the government,” he added.

Acting Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra, by authority of the President, signed Memorandum Circular (MC) 26 on September 19, suspending “work in government offices, both national and local, and classes in public schools at all levels, including state universities and colleges,” in view of Proclamation 316.

Health and Social Welfare departments, Bureau of Fire and Protection, and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, which all provide delivery of basic and health services, and preparedness to disasters and calamities, were however directed “to provide stand-by emergency assistance near protest sites and areas of mass actions.”

The memorandum circular also provided that the suspension of work in private companies and classes in private schools in affected areas was “left to the sound discretion of their respective heads.”

In a statement, the Office of the Executive Secretary clarified that MC 26 only covered the executive department, including local government units (LGUs) and public schools.

“The other branches of government where the executive branch has no jurisdiction is not covered by the MC,” the statement read.

“Government employees who will be assigned to report for work on September 21 shall be remunerated through compensatory time-off for hours of work rendered, per Civil Service Commission rules and regulations,” it added.

Duterte reiterated his reminder to the public to maintain peace and order during the mass protests.

He also instructed the Philippine National Police to observe maximum restraint and allow the protesters to exercise their constitutional rights.

He also ordered all LGUs to dispense with the permit requirements for holding public assemblies, marches, and demonstrations in areas within the jurisdiction during the National Day of Protest.

“I urge all protesters to act within the bounds of the law, maintain a peaceful conduct of rallies, marches, and demonstrations, be vigilant of possible infiltrators who may instigate violence in an effort to provoke the police and other law enforcement authorities, and avoid causing undue inconvenience to their fellow citizens,” the President said in Proclamation 318.

“I hereby order all police and other law enforcement authorities to observe maximum restraint and maintain such distance from these assemblies and mass actions as may be necessary to allow protesters the full exercise of their rights within the bounds of the law,” he added. (SunStar Philippines)