Briones: Unnecessary show of force

Publio J. Briones III

I COULD write about the recently passed anti-terrorism bill. Then again, I don’t know much about it save for the provisions, which Cebu City North District Rep. Raul del Mar said should be corrected because these worried him.

But hey, the fact that he and five other Cebuano legislators still voted for its passage means there was no cause for alarm. Just worry. And people, there’s a difference.

So I’m just going to leave the matter to experts until I’m better informed, especially since my politics has gotten more conservative and pro-establishment as I’ve gotten older.

However, I will write about the incident outside the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu campus in Cebu City on Friday, June 5, 2020.

I wasn’t there to witness the arrest of several people, including student leaders, protesting the passage of the anti-terrorism bill, but I have read statements from both sides. I have also seen the photos posted on social media and the ones that came out on the paper.

And I have to say the police overreacted when they went after the protesters because the latter allegedly violated guidelines of the general community quarantine, which forbids mass gathering.

Let’s face it, based on the photos I saw, the protesters observed social distancing and wore masks. According to one of those arrested, they even had quarantine passes.

Still, we are in the grips of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

They should have waited for the health crisis to be over to stage their protest against the anti-terrorist bill. But hey, the same could be said about the legislators who passed the bill.

Brig. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferrero, Police Regional Office 7 director, said “those arrested endangered their safety and that of Cebuanos gathering in groups.”

But didn’t he also endanger the lives of his men by deploying them there? They were unnecessarily exposing themselves to possible contagion when they manhandled those they arrested. There should never have been any physical contact.

And why were some of them armed with assault weapons? Were they expecting an attack? With what? Empty milk tea cups?

The police should have just watched the proceedings from a distance and waited for the protesters to get tired and go home. Or, they could have taken a page from Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas’ book and played loud music to drown out the voices of the protesters.

The show of force “heightened rather than allayed the risks to the safety of the people involved,” according to UP Cebu chancellor Liza Corro.

So where was Mayor Edgardo Labella while this was all happening? I have no idea.

Some netizens said he was at a party at the MCWD hall shortly thereafter. This was denied by the mayor’s allies. Not a party, they said, but a meeting. Where lunch and lechon just happened to be served.