PNP: Cebu arrests not due to protests
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine National Police said eight protesters, including students of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Cebu City, were arrested on Friday because they defied the ban on mass gatherings.
“[The arrests] had nothing to do with their protest against the antiterrorism bill. It was part of our enforcement of community quarantine guidelines,” Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, PNP spokesperson, said in a radio interview on Sunday.
Three students, four members of progressive groups and a bystander were arrested on Friday morning in the UP-Cebu rally against the terrorism bill approved by the Senate in February and by the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
“By arresting people for speaking out, the police have amplified the ideas of the people whose actions they suppressed and have unwittingly become the best publicists for their cause,” Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said in a statement on Sunday.
Recto added: “It is … hard to find gallantry [or] valor in the acts of the few who arrested hungry drivers demanding work, dispersed students who obeyed health rules while peacefully exercising their right to assemble, jailed a fish vendor for weeks, harassed mothers who brought their kids to a park because their city’s guidelines told them it is now OK to do so, dispatched a team to hunt down a salesman who wrote something covered by free speech.”
According to Banac, the PNP respects the rights of free assembly and free expression, but the protesters ignored pleas from the police that they abide by the prohibition on mass gatherings under the community quarantine.
“We understand that they want to freely express themselves, but we have community quarantine guidelines to follow,” he said, adding that the guidelines showed the government’s concern for the people’s welfare by preventing the spread of the new coronavirus.
“They [the protesters] refused to listen to our policemen who were asking them to disperse. So our police personnel were prompted to act … We asked nicely but we were ignored. The PNP has no other recourse but to enforce the law and make arrests,” he said.
Banac maintained that the policemen who entered the UP campus in Cebu City to arrest the protesters did not violate the 1982 Soto-Enrile Accord, as this agreement is known in the UP community.
The agreement, in reference to an understanding in 1982 between student leader Sonia Soto and then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, was signed in 1989 by then Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos and then UP president Jose Abueva. It bars the military and police from entering any UP campus without the university’s consent and specifically states that these authorities “shall not interfere with peaceful protest actions by UP constituents within UP premises.”
But another provision in the agreement also states that “except in cases of hot pursuit and similar occasions of emergency, … no member of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines], or the PC-INP [Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police, the PNP’s predecessor], or Cafgu [Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit] shall enter the premises of any of the campuses or regional units [of the UP].”
Banac said “the entry of our policemen in the campus is part of hot pursuit operations. This means there was violation of the law and police personnel pursued the violators who ran inside the campus.” —REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE AND MARLON RAMOS
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