STREET protesters risk being penalized under public health laws because rallies are banned during the lockdown meant to contain a coronavirus pandemic, the Justice department said on Thursday.

Mass gatherings are allowed only for public health reasons, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told reporters in a Viber message.

“Violations may give rise to penal sanctions under existing public health laws, not under criminal laws,” he said.

Protests called mañanitas are scheduled on June 12 in celebration of Philippine Independence Day.

Mañanita refers to a celebration of one’s birthday or a saint’s feast day, and critics have alluded to the birthday celebration held for Police Major General Debold M. Sinas on May 8 despite strict quarantine rules.

Mr. Sinas remains the National Capital Region police chief even after he was charged for violating lockdown rules.

A protest was held at the University of the Philippines-Diliman last week against the passage of a bill seeking to strengthen the country’s anti-terrorism law. Critics have said the government could use the law to violate human rights.

At least eight people were arrested in Cebu last week after a protest against the measure. They were ordered released on Monday.

Presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque warned that only 10 people were allowed at any mass gatherings. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas