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PNP denies using excessive force, violating U.P. agreement in Cebu dispersal

Central Visayas police denied accusations that it used excessive force when it dispersed anti-terror bill protesters and that it violated an agreement that banned the military and police from entering the University of the Philippines.

Police in anti-riot gear were seen on video manhandling protesters who were maintaining social distancing and assembling in front of the University of the Philippines gate on Gorordo Avenue here at around 10 am on Friday, June 5. (READ: Cops arrest 8 at anti-terrorism bill protest in Cebu City)

However, the police, who were in riot gear and carrying long firearms, claimed that it was the unarmed protesters who “assaulted” them.

“Some of the policemen were shoved,” Brigadier General Albert Ferro, Central Visayas police chief, said in a press conference on Friday. “They were pushed.”

Ferro said this was the reason the cops apprehended the protesters. 

"The first time they were asked, our ground commander talked to them. They were asked to disperse. They didn't want to disperse," Ferro said. He said that the ground commanders had already "warned" the protesters to dispserse. "What should we do with them? Just allow them to rally?" he added.

More than one video showed police running after protesters who sought refuge inside  the UP campus. Men who were in civilian clothes were also seen apprehending protesters as well.

Under the Soto-Enrile accord of 1989, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are barred from entering any of the UP campuses without prior permission from the administration or unless they are in hot pursuit of a crime suspect.

Brigadier General Albert Ferro, Central Visayas' police director, denied cops violated the accord, saying the police were in hot pursuit of the activists.

A hot pursuit also allows warrantless arrests for violation of "continuing crimes."

"These violations were committed outside the grounds of the UP Cebu and in the presence of persons in authority," the Central Visayas police said in a separate press statement. "It is our duty to ensure the law has not been trespassed."

The police said running into the UP Cebu campus when cops began apprehending suspects was "cowardly."

"However, when some of the protesters ran inside the campus they may have contaminated the campus grounds and the students and personnel of the campus. Who knows if some of them are simply asymptomatic of the coronavirus?" read the police statement.

Prior to the dispersal, students were following physical distancing measures.

Ferro said the police did not have a problem with the detained individuals' right to express, but he insisted gatherings increase the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

"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," he said in justifying the police presence on campus.

"We are not against the expression of the mass protest if it's only in [a] normal situation. Now, it's not normal," he added.

Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, who is also a lawyer, condemned the arrests in a statement and said it was a violation of the UP-DND (Soto-Enrile) Accord of 1989.

"They [police] should be sued for the wrongful arrest for the violation of the 1989 UP-DND Accord prohibiting police from entering UP Campuses without express permission from UP Administration, among others," Pangilinan said in Filipino. 

Commission on Elections Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, a UP College of Law alumna, echoed this opinion in a tweet.

She said:"Even during the Marcos dictatorship the police never entered and arrested students in UP Diliman or any of its campuses . What is the matter with the Chief of Police of Cebu City and Mayor Labella?"

"They should have called the dean of UP Cebu before they could enter the UP campus" she added

UP Cebu Chancellor Liza Corro said she would investigate if the police violated the long-standing accord.

"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," Corro said in a statement. (READ: U.P. Cebu to probe whether cops violated U.P.-DND accord in arrest of protesters)

King Perez, spokesperson for the 8 individuals detained, said they expected to post bail by Monday, June 8, but are hoping to find a legal remedy to have them released sooner.

Those arrested were:

1. Johanna Veloso, 22, associate vice president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines;
2. Bern Cañedo, 21, UP Cebu Student Council vice president; 
3. Dyan Cumabao, Kabataan Partylist Cebu and correspondet for Altermidya;
4. Nar Porlas, Anakbayan UP Cebu; 
5. Jaime Paglinawan, 60, Bayan Central Visayas;
6. Janry Ubal,29, Food Not Bombs Cebu;
7. Al Ingking, 26, UP Alumnus;
8. Clement Corominas, 19, bystander.

According to Perez, they will be moved to a detention at the Waterfront Police Station on Saturday, June 6.

Fund-raising activities are ongoing to assist the detained activists and the bystanders. –

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.