Wenceslao: Arrest

Bong O. Wenceslao

TRUST the police to do what they are always expected to do, which is to use brute force to silence dissent. And so they arrested seven protesters and a bystander in a protest action held in front of the UP Cebu campus in Lahug against the recently passed anti-terrorism bill. The police even chased some of the protesters who sought refuge in some school buildings like they were chasing criminals. For me, it was like the early ‘80s all over again when we played cat and mouse with the police.

I don’t think, though, that current police officers will ever be as creative as the old ones, who dispensed with the usual truncheons and shields in favor of flowers for women protesters. But that was during the waning years of the increasingly unpopular Ferdinand Marcos, not during the waning years of the still popular Rodrigo Duterte. And the generation involved is different.

In the early 80s, we student protesters eventually earned degrees in rallies, arrests and detentions. We joined the informal settlers staving off eviction when the giant mall at the North Reclamation Area was built. In one of those protests held in front of the old White Gold Store, the police attacked and hauled many of the protesters to the police headquarters using dump trucks. Among those arrested was a schoolmate who would later become my girlfriend.

There was also that big rally at the Fuente Osmeña that was dispersed by the police using a fire truck and truncheon-wielding members of dispersal units. There I learned that the power of those water cannons weaken as the water tank empties. The police eventually hauled to the police headquarters the leaders of the rally, which only resulted in the shifting of the protest action to the said police headquarters.

But I will have to end the reminiscing. Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella issued a statement after the arrests to the effect that he was sorry that these happened, considering the city’s democratic tradition. What is ironic is that the subject of the protest action, the anti-terrorism measure, may not be what the protesters believe it is. That is, if you listen to its author in the Senate, the former top cop Panfilo Lacson.

I listened a bit to Lacson’s interview by Henry Omaga Diaz on cable TV yesterday and what caught my attention was his insistence that the Bill of Rights was in his mind when he crafted the measure. Meaning that he did not want to stifle legitimate dissent and was not going after activists. Legitimate criticism and advocacies are not the targets of the measure, he insisted. Lacson claimed critics chopped some provisions of the measure.

I may have to believe Lacson, considering his no-nonsense record in legislation. I met him fleetingly when he was the head of the now defunct Metropolitan District Command and I was held by the Military Intelligence Group. If he was ruthless, I didn’t see that in his demeanor. In the Senate he could also sound pacifist, unlike the other former top cop who is now a senator, too.