EXPLAINER: Abellanosa ordinance on ‘anti-violence and school safety’ draws activist flak. Protesters see it as attempt to muzzle academic freedom. Police had admitted they don’t have enough people for Cebu City schools.

A PUBLIC hearing by the Cebu City Council Wednesday, January 18, 2023 on the proposed ordinance titled “Anti-Violence and School Safety Ordinance” drew opposition from the student council and a faculty organization of University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu.

The ordinance, filed by Councilor Jose Lorenzo Abellanosa, mainly requires schools “to submit its calendar of activities for the academic year to the CCPO (Cebu City Police Office) within 15 days before the beginning of each school year.”

DECLARED PURPOSE. “Purpose and objective,” says the ordinance, is “to protect schools and universities from all forms of lawlessness, criminality and other threats to peace and order.” It cites (a) the July 24, 2022 shooting incident in Ateneo de Manila University law school that resulted in the death of three people, including an ex-mayor, and the wounding of her daughter and (b) a day-care center rampage by an ex-policeman in Thailand last October 8, 2022, which killed 34 people and 23 children.

Abellanosa mentioned the Ateneo incident in explaining at Wednesday’s the public hearing the purpose of his ordinance but not the Thailand massacre.

WHAT EXACTLY IS REQUIRED? Schools are “mandated” to (a) submit the calendar of activities within 15 days before the beginning of each school year; (b) follow up with the CCPO within the week to ensure that the police do its job as listed under the ordinance; and (c) prepare an “emergency or crisis preparedness and evacuation plan to ensure the safety” of people attending the event.

While three duties are listed by the ordinance, only one violation is actually listed as punishable: non-submission of the school calendar of activities, indicating time and number of attendees. Penalty is imposed on the school principal/director/administrator: P1,000 for first offense; P2,000 second offense: P3,000 for third offense. If it is a private school, additional penalty is revocation of its business permit.

Owners and administrators of schools, especially the privately owned -- which will be affected more by the ordinance – were yet to be heard from. The initial noise has come from UP Cebu student leaders and academics.

GRIPES ‘NOT RELATED TO ORDINANCE.’ Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera reportedly “cut short” the speech of Cleistel Cimafranca, who identified herself as president of UP Cebu Student Council. Pequera noted that Cimafranca’s listing of incidents, on and off campus, which involved the police, would’ve nothing to do with the Abellanosa ordinance. The measure, she said, doesn’t curtail the rights of students or schools.

The ordinance mostly requires the giving of calendar of events of each school in Cebu City that’s regulated by the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (Ched) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda). And only events with at least 100 attendees, although the phrase “including but not limited to” might be used to cover other school events.

Cimafranca and Noe Santillan, who said he is vice president of All-UP Academic Employees Union, both cited past events that firmed up their fear about the ordinance. Those included the February 15, 2021 rescue/arrest of Lumad students at the University of San Carlos in Talamban and the June 5, 2020 police breakup of a demonstration and arrest of protesters at the UP Cebu campus.

Santillan, referencing George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian science fiction novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” about a society spied upon by the state, said the ordinance is an “Orwellian license to implant 1984 in Cebu City.”

WHAT ISN’T CLEAR in the ordinance is whether the giving of calendar of events by a school amounts to inviting the police to come to the event.

It appears that it does. The ordinance provides that schools are “mandated to cooperate with the CPPO in reviewing and approving all security plans” and the police office shall “coordinate with the schools, monitor the use and carrying of firearms and shall exercise due diligence in securing all areas that might be...compromised and (are) potential threats.” That would mean the presence of police at the school.

If police presence, however, is with the knowledge, if not consent, of the school, would it still be offensive to the freedom that campuses such as UP Cebu wants to protect?

LACK OF POLICE PERSONNEL. Last December 14, 2022, the City Council, on Abellanosa’s motion, deferred the third and final reading of his ordinance. In last Wednesday’s public hearing, the Sanggunian didn’t resolve the issue that bugged the project last year, namely, police “admission” that they didn’t have enough personnel to secure all the activities to be listed and submitted by the schools.

Councilors Joel Garganera and Philip Zafra pointed out the lopsided disproportion between number of police and the population. Zafra said graduation exercises, for example, are often held simultaneously. Garganera said, we cannot pass on all the problems of security to the police; each institution must help in securing their public activities that draw a large number of people.

TICKLERS IN ISSUE. If the police themselves are not too enthusiastic about the additional work – for the CCPO, especially, that is given five specific “duties” under the ordinance schools – which the Abellana ordinance would impose, why push it? Enforcement of the ordinance will need the police as essential component.

Why does the police have to get calendars of events from the schools when those are publicized in advance? If the school wants police help, it can make a request to the police for its presence at the event or in preparing for a contingency plan. As to evil motive, if the police want to enter a school, they have a way of knowing which and how.

What happened in Ateneo (a murder) and in Thailand (an outburst of insanity) can hardly evoke fear of imminent danger to us. in Cebu.

At its best, the Abellanosa proposal reminds schools of their duty to provide security within their respective premises during large gatherings and the police to rush and help when public safety is endangered.

And about that ordinance title – Anti-Violence and Safety Ordinance -- it aspires big but, everyone knows, will be hard to deliver.[]