“SUBVERSIVE” performances, exhibits and chalk art have been barred from the weekly Sunday closure of Baguio City’s Session Road in the new rules imposed by the City Tourism Office (CTO).
“Expression of political views and portrayals that negatively question or express opinions about social and political issues are not allowed,” according to the new rules, which also bans “graphic or literal suggestions and expressions of subversive acts or movements,” effective Sunday, May 7.
The new rules also impose restrictions on erotic, sexual, or violent content.
According to CTO head Alec Mapalo, the restrictions are intended to create a “wholesome and apolitical” Sunday in Session Road.
Session Road becomes a creative space every Sunday, after Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong in 2019 ordered its regular closure on the weekend to reduce air pollution and allow local establishments and creatives a space to showcase themselves. On the weekly, protest and political art spring up on the road, which is covered with chalk art every Sunday.
However, according to Mapalo, the new regulations stem from an audit last year, which found issues with the regularity of political art, and the crowding of the road.
Under the new rules, buskers and other performers, and traders, are required to register in a government-handled registry system before they can use the road on Sundays.
The new restriction on political content has led to criticism on grounds that it is against the fundamental right to free expression.
According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Baguio Chapter, the new rules run contrary to freedom of expression and is censorship.
“We acknowledge the city government’s mandate to regulate activities and conduct during the Sunday closure of Session Road. However, officials should remember that regulation should not trample on fundamental human rights. The Philippine Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice,” the NUJP wrote in its statement on May 11.
“We also remind that the same Constitution ensures the right to hold opinions and ideas and share them without the State interfering. The policy, restricting political views, infringes on these rights, considered the heart of all freedoms. It is censorship, plain and simple,” it adds.