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Arrests, masked police heighten tension in Cebu City

Ryan Macasero
Arrests, masked police heighten tension in Cebu City
(UPDATED) Mayor Tomas Osmeña says, 15 to 20 'masked SWAT with no nameplates arrived in full force' and took cellphones and payroll money, and put them in an envelope labeled 'vote buying'

CEBU CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – Tensions in Cebu remain high only a day before the midterm elections.

Two Sanguniang Kabataan councilors were arrested early morning Sunday, May 12.

According to reelectionist Mayor Tomas Osmeña, the two councilors and two other unidentified persons were arrested while playing basketball in Cogon Ramos in Cebu City.

“Fifteen to 20 masked SWAT with no nameplates arrived in full force, took their cellphones and the prize and payroll money, and put [them] in an envelope labeled ‘vote buying,’” he said.

The mayor arrived at the Cebu City Police Office headquarters at Camp Sotero Cabahug with two lawyers who were initially not allowed inside but were let in 10 minutes later.  Osmeña was not allowed inside.

According to a Facebook post by Osmeña, the councilors and two others arrested most likely would not be able to get out until Tuesday.

Cebu City’s SK President Jessica Resch told reporters outside the police headquarters that the money was cash prize for an inter-sitio basketball tournament and a subsidy for their jerseys.

“In behalf of SK, we are here to show support for our members,” Reshch said. “ We’re doing our best para makagawas pud sila (so they could get out). We’re here to pray for them and their safety.”

Resch said she believed the evidence was planted and that the raid might have been politically motivated.

The Cebu City Police Office blasted loud music from large speakers facing participants at the prayer rally.

“We lost our respect for the police from what they showed us,” Resch said in Cebuano. “All we wanted was to pray for our colleagues inside.”

Cebu City Police Director Royina Garma said that the music was for “entertainment.”  

“Why? Is this a church?” she told local media.   

Media were also unable to interview the detained councilors.  Garma had issued a memo on April 26, preventing journalists from interviewing persons under police custody without prior clearance from the city director. 

Masked police outside Osmeña’s home

On Saturday afternoon, May 11, masked police officers were also posted outside the house of Osmeña.

Miguel Osmeña, son of the mayor, told Rappler in a text message officers were outside his house for at least an hour before media and other residents showed up. 

Cebu City Police Chief Director Royina Garma did not respond to Rappler’s text messages asking about the incidents.

For 3 days in April, Osmeña also documented and posted on social media about a police checkpoint set up right outside his house in Barangay Guadalupe in Cebu City.

While the mayor claimed police intimidation, the police denied there were any irregularities in setting up the checkpoint.

This is only the latest in a string of conflicts between the city government and the local police.

Osmeña, who in the past worked closely with the police chiefs of the city and the region, told Rappler in October 2018, that the rise in killings in Cebu happened with the arrival of Sinas and new Cebu City Police Office Director Garma. – Rappler.com

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Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers social welfare for Rappler. He started at Rappler as social media producer in 2013, and later took on various roles for the company: editor for the #BalikBayan section, correspondent in Cebu, and general assignments reporter in the Visayas region. He graduated from California State University, East Bay, with a degree in international studies and a minor in political science. Outside of work, Ryan performs spoken word poetry and loves attending local music gigs. Follow him on Twitter @ryanmacasero or drop him leads for stories at ryan.macasero@rappler.com