By Reuben Pio Martinez
Authorities arrested seven activists and one citizen journalist during a peaceful protest within the campus grounds of University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu last June 5, 2020. Two are students from the aforementioned campus.
Leaked footage circulating in social media showed that, despite observing social distance in a Black Friday protest, officers in riot gear and a SWAT team in civilian clothes chased students across the campus.
Among those arrested were UP Cebu University Student Council (USC) vice chairperson Bern Cañed, former National Student Union of the Philippines (NUSP) vice president and Kabataan Party List’s Dyan Paula Gumanao, UP alumnus Al Ingking, BAYAN Central Visayas and Alyansa sa mga Mamumuo sa Sugbo-Kilusang Mayo Uno (AMA Sugbo-KMU) chairperson Jaime Paglinawan, Anakbayan UP Cebu chairperson Nar Athena Mae Porlas, Food Not Bombs Cebu’s Janry Ubal, and NUSP associate vice president (AVP) Joahanna Veloso. Gumanao is also a reporter for AlterMidya’s Cebu branch, ANINAW Productions.
An unnamed bystander, who recorded the incident, was also one of the detained, despite not participating in the protest itself.
The seven students were among the 30 in attendance to protest the controversial Anti-Terror Law, and are currently placed in the Cebu City Police Office.
To serve and protect?
Cebu City Police Office’s deputy director for administration Lt. Col. Melbert Esguerra explained that authorities were deployed due to the protestors allegedly violating general community quarantine (GCQ) guidelines prohibiting mass gatherings.
Specifically, this refers to Section 4, Paragraph 12 of the Omnibus Guidelines on the Implementation of Community Quarantine in the Philippines, as well as Executive Order No. 079 from Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella. Esguerra claimed that protesters supposedly did not follow orders to stop demonstrating after they were given a 10-minute warning to disassemble.
Central Visayas’ police director Brig. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferro said that the detainees would be facing charges for also violating Batas Pambansa 880 (Public Assembly Act of 1985), a law signed during the time of former Pres. Ferdinand Marcos that requires permits to organize protests, and Republic Act 11332 Section 9(e), which advises people to report any possible COVID-19.
“They are basically endangering the people of Cebu because we are in a pandemic situation. Why would they protest? 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 it,” Ferro said, who added that the police are not against the protesters’ right to demonstrate.
Police were sighted as early as 8 am outside the campus premises, and quickly dispersed a few short minutes past 10 am. This came about after the protestors were allegedly not able to show any permit for their demonstration, nor their quarantine passes.
UP Cebu alumni Denelle Suarez provided an eyewitness account to the situation, explaining that UP Cebu security allegedly did not allow students to seek refuge in the campus while being pursued by police.
She claimed that the officers were emphasizing that the protestors were in violation of the Anti-Terror Law, despite not even being signed by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte.
Tug-Ani’s Associate Editor of Internal Affairs Abigail May Soria said that about 17 students were trapped in the campus during the situation. According to her, they aided the trapped students and faculty members by giving them different clothes to change in order to escape. Soria added that it is likely possible that the police were aware of their peaceful protest beforehand, as it was announced all throughout the campus the day prior.
Their forced entry into the campus is indicated as a violation of the Soto-Enrile Accord. Also known as the “UP-DND Accord,” this is a measure active since 1989, that explicitly bars state forces, including affiliates of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) from accessing the premises. This is to ensure that students and faculty would not be apprehended for expressing their political beliefs.
In an initial statement, UP Cebu Chancellor Lisa Corro expressed disappointment in how the police caused further damage than order. “In any case, we are deeply disappointed that none of the police officers tried to coordinate with UP Cebu in regard to handling the situation which we hope could have led to a more sound and sensible resolution,” Corro said in her statement. Additionally, Corro mentioned that there would be an investigation within the UP System on the matter, and noted that, in contrast to what was reported before, UP Cebu security assisted the students in evading arrest.
Also known as Senate Bill 1083, the Anti-Terror Law is designed to reinforce the Human Security Act of 2007. Upon its approval in its final reading with votes of 173-31-29, many have criticized its vague criteria on how one would even be classified as a “terrorist.” This led to many voice concerns regarding its possibility in criminalizing legitimate criticism aimed at the national government.
Among the possible violations include meeting with colleagues to “possibly” be involved in insurgent activities, contributing to non-government relief operations, participating in protests that could be classified as bringing danger to the public, and for posting materials that criticize the government. Penalties include a jail sentence of 12 years to life imprisonment, or a 24-day warrantless detainment. Individuals under investigation could be wire-tapped and surveyed even after an arrest, for 60 days and a possible extension of 30 days.
Critics of the bill also highlighted the possible abuse of authority that the law could bring, especially in light of crimes linking several elements of AFP and PNP to corruption. Such instances were observed in the recent National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) findings that planted evidence was uncovered in the murders of 17-year-old student Kian de los Santos and ex-military officer Winston Ragos.
The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) was among the many to criticize the Anti-Terror Law, highlighting how its unconstitutional regulations hinder the Filipino people’s freedom. “This provision is, however, prone to broad application much like this and previous administrations have used the existing offenses of inciting to sedition and rebellion to quell free speech and intimidate critics,” the statement wrote.
In a unity statement, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) USC, together with other campus organizations, decried the bill’s passing. “These counter-insurgency and anti-terrorist acts of the government have resorted to countless Human Rights Violations, red-tagging, illegal arrests, and other state abuses committed by the military,” the statement wrote. The Facebook post also highlighted other instances of corruption in the government, including the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s (NTF-ELCAC) continued red-tagging activities. [P]
Photo taken from The Freeman.