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UP Cebu decries lack of coordination in arrest, dispersal of terror bill protesters

CEBU CITY—The administration of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu expressed dismay over the failure of police to coordinate the dispersal and arrest of students peacefully protesting on campus on Friday (June 5).

In a statement, UP Cebu Chancellor Liza Corro said any form of coordination with university officials could have led to a more sound and sensible resolution of what to do with the protesters.

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“The UP Cebu administration is deeply disturbed by the incident this morning of police dispersing and arresting peaceful protesters within the vicinity of the campus,” she said.

“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,” she added.

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At least three students and four members of progressive groups were arrested by police while holding a rally against the anti-terrorism bill on the grounds of UP Cebu on Friday morning.

Lt. Col. Melbert Esguerra, deputy director for administration of the Cebu City police, said the protesters violated the government’s ban on mass gatherings meant to prevent coronavirus transmission.

“We gave them 10 minutes to disperse but they did not heed our call. Hence, we decided to arrest them,” he said in an interview.

Only those considered by police as leaders and organizers of the rally were arrested. The rest were set free.

Those arrested are facing charges of violating the ban on mass gatherings at the Cebu City prosecutor’s office.

The seven arrested protesters were among some 30 people who held what they said was a Black Friday protest to denounce the anti-terror bill that was passed on final reading by the House of Representatives after President Rodrigo Duterte certified it as urgent.

Corro said while she respects and supports students’ basic rights to protest and air grievances on campus, she was also aware of restrictions against mass gatherings.

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“As we gather more facts on the ground about the incident, we are coordinating with UP System officials on the legal and other important aspects of the matter,” she said.

She cited a 1989 UP-Department of National Defense peace accord, known as Sotto-Enrile pact signed by then student leader Sonia Sotto and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile which prohibits state forces from entering UP campuses without permission from school authorities.

She was also emphatic that UP Cebu guards had no role in dispersing or preventing students from entering the campus on Friday, contrary to what unverified stories say.

“On the contrary, our guards blocked the police from entering the campus and even chased them out when they jumped into our walls trying to chase the student protesters,” said Corro.

“Our guards also assisted the students by bringing them into safety inside a campus building,” she said.

Corro said UP Cebu will continue to ensure the safety of students and faculty members and provide assistance to those who suffered rights abuses during the dispersal.

UP Cebu student Joahanna Veloso, who spoke on behalf of two other students who were arrested, said what the police did simply showed that the government wanted to silence critics.

“But we are not afraid of them. At least people know now who the real sowers of terror are,” said Veloso of the National Union of Students of the Philippines.

“We simply voiced out our sentiments. And yet the members of the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) came, carrying their long firearms. You be the judge who the terrorists are,” she added.

Aside from Veloso, also arrested were UP Cebu students Bern Cañedo, also of Youth Act Now Against Tyranny Cebu, and Nar Porlas of Anakbayan UP Cebu; Jaime Paglinawan, of the Alyansa sa mga Mamumuo sa Sugbo-Kilusang Mayo Uno and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Central Visayas; Al Ingking, a UP alumnus; Dyan Gumanao, of Kabataan party-list and Janry Ubal,  of the group Food Not Bombs Cebu.

The seven protesters were dragged into police cars and taken to the Cebu City police headquarters for booking and detention.

On Thursday (June 4), hundreds of human rights and political activists held a protest march on UP Diliman in Quezon City to oppose the anti-terrorism bill. No one was arrested.

Edited by TSB
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TAGS: arrests, Campus, dispersal, distancing, Legislation, Police, Protests, Quarantine, rally, Terrorism, UP System
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