Section 6 of the Public Assembly Act reads:
Section 6. Action to be taken on the application –
(a) It shall be the duty of the mayor or any official acting in his behalf to issue or grant a permit unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the public assembly will create a clear and present danger to public order, public safety, public convenience, public morals or public health.
(b) The mayor or any official acting in his behalf shall act on the application within two (2) working days from the date the application was filed, failing which, the permit shall be deemed granted. Should for any reason the mayor or any official acting in his behalf refuse to accept the application for a permit, said application shall be posted by the applicant on the premises of the office of the mayor and shall be deemed to have been filed.
(c) If the mayor is of the view that there is imminent and grave danger of a substantive evil warranting the denial or modification of the permit, he shall immediately inform the applicant who must be heard on the matter.
(d) The action on the permit shall be in writing and served on the application [sic] within twenty-four hours.
(e) If the mayor or any official acting in his behalf denies the application or modifies the terms thereof in his permit, the applicant may contest the decision in an appropriate court of law.
(f) In case suit is brought before the Metropolitan Trial Court, the Municipal Trial Court, the Municipal Circuit Trial Court, the Regional Trial Court, or the Intermediate Appellate Court, its decisions may be appealed to the appropriate court within forty-eight (48) hours after receipt of the same. No appeal bond and record on appeal shall be required. A decision granting such permit or modifying it in terms satisfactory to the applicant shall, be immediately executory.
(g) All cases filed in court under this Section shall be decided within twenty-four (24) hours from date of filing. Cases filed hereunder shall be immediately endorsed to the executive judge for disposition or, in his absence, to the next in rank.
(h) In all cases, any decision may be appealed to the Supreme Court.
(i) Telegraphic appeals to be followed by formal appeals are hereby allowed. (underscoring supplied)
In Bayan, Karapatan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) v. Ermita, the Court reiterated:
x x x Freedom of assembly connotes the right of the people to meet peaceably for consultation and discussion of matters of public concern. It is entitled to be accorded the utmost deference and respect. It is not to be limited, much less denied, except on a showing, as is the case with freedom of expression, of a clear and present danger of a substantive evil that the state has a right to prevent. Even prior to the 1935 Constitution, Justice Malcolm had occasion to stress that it is a necessary consequence of our republican institutions and complements the right of free speech. To paraphrase the opinion of Justice Rutledge, speaking for the majority of the American Supreme Court in Thomas v. Collins, it was not by accident or coincidence that the rights to freedom of speech and of the press were coupled in a single guarantee with the rights of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances. All these rights, while not identical, are inseparable. In every case, therefore, where there is a limitation placed on the exercise of this right, the judiciary is called upon to examine the effects of the challenged governmental actuation. The sole justification for a limitation on the exercise of this right, so fundamental to the maintenance of democratic institutions, is the danger, of a character both grave and imminent, of a serious evil to public safety, public morals, public health, or any other legitimate public interest. (emphasis supplied)
The Court in Bayan stated that the provisions of the Public Assembly Act of 1985 practically codified the 1983 ruling in Reyes v. Bagatsing. In juxtaposing Sections 4 to 6 of the Public Assembly Act with the pertinent portion of the Reyes case, the Court elucidated as follows:
x x x [The public official concerned shall] appraise whether there may be valid objections to the grant of the permit or to its grant but at another public place. It is an indispensable condition to such refusal or modification that the clear and present danger test be the standard for the decision reached. If he is of the view that there is such an imminent and grave danger of a substantive evil, the applicants must be heard on the matter. Thereafter, his decision, whether favorable or adverse, must be transmitted to them at the earliest opportunity. Thus if so minded, they can have recourse to the proper judicial authority. (italics and underscoring supplied)
In modifying the permit outright, respondent gravely abused his discretion when he did not immediately inform the IBP who should have been heard first on the matter of his perceived imminent and grave danger of a substantive evil that may warrant the changing of the venue. The opportunity to be heard precedes the action on the permit, since the applicant may directly go to court after an unfavorable action on the permit.
Respondent failed to indicate how he had arrived at modifying the terms of the permit against the standard of a clear and present danger test which, it bears repeating, is an indispensable condition to such modification. Nothing in the issued permit adverts to an imminent and grave danger of a substantive evil, which blank denial or modification would, when granted imprimatur as the appellate court would have it, render illusory any judicial scrutiny thereof.
It is true that the licensing official, here respondent Mayor, is not devoid of discretion in determining whether or not a permit would be granted. It is not, however, unfettered discretion. While prudence requires that there be a realistic appraisal not of what may possibly occur but of what may probably occur, given all the relevant circumstances, still the assumption especially so where the assembly is scheduled for a specific public place is that the permit must be for the assembly being held there. The exercise of such a right, in the language of Justice Roberts, speaking for the American Supreme Court, is not to be “abridged on the plea that it may be exercised in some other place. (emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Notably, respondent failed to indicate in his Comment any basis or explanation for his action. It smacks of whim and caprice for respondent to just impose a change of venue for an assembly that was slated for a specific public place. It is thus reversible error for the appellate court not to have found such grave abuse of discretion and, under specific statutory.
INTEGRATED BAR OF THE PHILIPPINES represented by its National President, Jose Anselmo I. Cadiz, H. HARRY L. ROQUE, and JOEL RUIZ BUTUYAN, Petitioners, – versus – HONORABLE MANILA MAYOR JOSE LITO ATIENZA, Respondent.