TENSION rose outside the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu campus in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City after police arrested activists, including student leaders, protesting the passage of the Anti-Terror Bill on Friday, June 5, 2020.
Police arrested Jaime Paglinawan of Bayan Central Visayas; Joahanna Veloso, 22, associate vice president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP); Bern Canedo, 21, vice president of UP Cebu’s student council; Dyan Gumabao of Kabataan Party List; Nar Porlas of Anak Bayan UP Cebu; Janry Ubal, 29, of Food Not Bombs Cebu; Ai Ingking, 26, of the UP Alumnos; and Clement Ventic Corominos, 19, for mass gathering, which police said violated the general community quarantine (GCQ) guidelines.
The group condemned the 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act, which according to them, can be abused by law enforcement officials to arrest critics of the government.
Police Brigadier General Albert Ignatius Ferrero, Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 director, said those arrested endangered their safety and that of Cebuanos by gathering in groups.
Even though Cebu is under GCQ and some restrictions have been relaxed by authorities, mass gatherings remain prohibited as a means to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
“Because we are in the pandemic situation, ngano man sila mag protest diha? They are just exposing if they have the disease. They are just spreading the disease to other people so that’s why we are preventing. We are not against the expression of mass protest if it’s only in a normal situation,” said Ferro told reporters.
Warning to disperse
Cebu City policemen who were sent to UP Cebu initially warned the activists to disperse but arrested them after the protesters insisted on continuing their protest.
The rallyists hurriedly ran inside the campus but the policemen captured and handcuffed them and took them to the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) headquarters for booking and detention.
Ferro defended the policemen’s entry inside the UP Cebu campus, saying what they did was in line with hot pursuit operation.
“They went inside the UP campus so unsa to parang akala nila they haven’t done wrong na magpasok sila sa UP para lang ma safety sila? No, they have assaulted those persons in authority. That is a violation of the law. Unsa man to himuon nato? We will not pursue the rule of law?” Ferro said.
Veloso, one of the rallyists who got arrested, told reporters that they should not have been apprehended because they had quarantine passes and followed GCQ guidelines, including strict social distancing.
She added that the officers should have reprimanded them before they started the program. Instead, the officers stopped them in the middle of the activity.
Paglinawan said their arrest was inhumane. He said he was strangled by one of the police officers when he was dragged to get inside the police car.
Right to protest
Meanwhile, officials of UP Cebu, in a statement posted on UP Cebu’s official Facebook page, said they “were deeply disturbed” by the police’s act of dispersing and arresting the protesters within the campus’ vicinity.
“We always act to ensure public safety and order within our premises amid the pandemic, while respecting the right to protest. Previous protest actions by our students in the same vicinity had always remained peaceful and orderly for many years until today. The UP Cebu administration has always maintained maximum tolerance when it comes to protest movements of our constituents, especially where it is in relation to their freedom of expression. I personally respect and have consistently expressed support to student’s basic rights. We also however recognize the prevailing restrictions in light of the GCQ rules prohibiting mass gatherings,” said lawyer Liza D. Corro, UP Cebu Chancellor.
Corro said they are coordinating with the UP System officials on legal and other aspects of the matter, especially concerning the 1989 UP-DND Peace Accord, which bars state forces from conducting any operations inside any UP campuses.
Corro said she was disappointed that the local police didn’t coordinate with them in handling the situation.
“It is most unfortunate that what happened today, with the presence and action of the police anti-riot contingent, heightened rather than allayed the risks to the safety of the people involved,” Corro added.
The Commission on Human Rights-Central Visayas (CHR 7), for its part, sent a team to investigate what happened during the protest.
Lawyer Arvin Odron, CHR 7 director, said their quick reaction team went to the Cebu City Police Office and UP Campus “where it was confirmed that indeed the protesters were already in police custody and that charges will be filed against them in due time.”
He said considering that the subjects are now in in custody of the law and a group of lawyers have volunteered their legal services, CHR 7 will let the legal process take its course.
In full riot gear
Bayan Central Visayas, in a press statement, said they “vehemently condemn the violent dispersal” and
the alleged illegal and warrantless arrest of the seven protesters.
“Prior to the start of the protest, Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) teams, and trucks full of police officers in riot gear started arriving, now numbering at 4050 personnel,” reads a portion of their statement.
“Minutes into the start of the protest, police warned the protesters to end the protest in five minutes or they will be forced to violently disperse the group. epresentatives from the protester asked to just let them finish the protest and then they will disperse peacefully. Eventually, the dispersal team that heavily outnumber the peaceful protesters, in their full riot gear started preparing to engage the protesters,” they added.
Bayan said as the dispersal team marched forward, the protesters started to retreat into UP for shelter.
What they did not expect were fully armed Swat personnel entering UP grounds chasing protesters, allegedly violating the UP-DND Accord, signed in 1989, which disallows the entry of state forces into UP grounds without permission. / AYB/MMC, WBS, JKV