CHR chides police for ‘unnecessary show of force’ in Cebu anti-terror protest

The Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) today called out Cebu City police for its “unnecessary show of force” in handling the arrest of anti-terror bill protesters in the city, reminding the public that Filipinos have a basic right to peaceably assemble.

Eight students and alumni of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu were arrested on Friday for allegedly violating the ban on mass gathering during a peaceful protest near the campus’ entrance. Following public outcry, and after spending the weekend detained at the city’s police headquarters, the Cebu municipal court ordered the release of the 7 activists and one bystander, on Monday.

Read: Irony of ironies: Cops arrest 7 Cebu students while protesting anti-terror bill

“Despite their release, the Commission on Human Rights reiterates our stern reminder that the health crisis does not halt fundamental rights including freedom of peaceful assembly and activism,” CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said in a statement.

“While protecting health and safety are paramount in this time of pandemic, there cannot be a blanket restriction on basic rights and freedoms,” the commission’s spokesperson added.

De Guia warned that said restrictions “may gravely disadvantage the citizens’ rights while providing broad powers to the State” resulting to an imbalance of power, “negating any semblance of democracy.”

The CHR Spokesperson reiterated that in carrying out the arrests, police forces had also broken the UP-DND (Department of National Defense) Peace Accord, which prohibits armed forces and the police from entering any UP campus, especially if for the purpose of arresting critics of the government.

De Guia also chided the police for springing into the peaceful assembly in full combat gear.

“We equally express concern on the unnecessary show of force considering the alleged manner of handling of the peaceful protesters by security forces in full battle gear and heavy firearms,” she said, adding that pursuit of any suspected breach of law shouldn’t trample on basic dignities.

A video taken during the arrests which circulated online showed activist Dyan Gumanao of the Kabataan party list screaming and visibly resisting arrest while she’s being hauled into a truck, as members of SWAT and Cebu police chased down other protesters.

“[A]ny alleged violation should be dealt with utmost proportionality, respectful of human dignity, and with due accord to civil and political liberties,” De Guia said.

Meanwhile, she also reminded protesters “of their obligation to observe and comply with health and physical distancing protocols in the exercise of their rights to ensure that it does not impinge on the rights of others.”

“Continuous free flow of ideas and engagement between the people and the government remain essential in crucial times like these. While protection of public health must be guaranteed by the State, the holistic needs and rights of the citizens should also be taken into account towards upholding the dignity of all,” she added.

De Guia said that the CHR will continue to do an independent investigation on the incident.


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