Cebu school officials 'pressured' to bar media from Grace Poe event

CEBU CITY, Philippines – Presidential surveys front runner Senator Grace Poe was invited for a visit by a student political party at the University of San Carlos main campus here on Monday, August 24.

Just before she arrived, however, journalists who were already allowed inside the campus were asked to leave, while the senator's vehicle was also prohibited from entering the premises of the private Catholic university.

Rappler learned from sources privy to the event that this happened after school officials received phone calls and email messages from unidentified people, putting "pressure" on them.

We contacted the USC administration for a statement, but we have yet to receive a response. 

Poe was in Cebu City on the same day that President Benigno Aquino III and his anointed presidential bet, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, were also in town for a gathering of supporters. (READ: Binay, Poe, Roxas to visit vote-rich Cebu)

Cebu province is a known bailiwick of the Liberal Party.

Invited by students

Poe was invited by the political party Tingog Carolinian to meet the political parties in the university and grace the opening ceremony of this year’s intramurals. 

Days before that, several staff of the senator went to USC to prepare everything for Monday’s event. They said they were “cleared” to attend the event. 

Members of the media were earlier informed they could cover the event. In fact, some reporters and crew were allowed entry to the campus after saying they would cover "Senator Grace Poe's event." Rappler got inside the campus with a security guard leading us to the venue.

Some members of the media were already inside the gymnasium for about an hour when organizers suddenly told them they were barred inside the campus.

The media were dragged outside the gymnasium and were asked to stay outside the campus gates.

The last-minute decision was due to “the pressure on priests,” a source privy to the event said.

The source added some officials “have been getting emails and texts.”

When the senator arrived and was cheered by the crowd, some school officials overturned the decision. Poe was eventually allowed to deliver a speech.

In the first few seconds of her speech, Poe was quick to say it was "nothing political."

Asked why she had to say it, Poe answered: "S'yempre wag na rin mabahiran at para wag na rin magkaroon o mapasubo rin ang administration ng paaralan." (Of course so it won't be tainted [with politics] and so that the school administration won't be dragged in [any issue.])

This is the second time a school felt the heat for hosting a presumed presidential candidate who is not with the administration.

More than a month ago, Malacañang put pressure on the student council president and university official of the Cavite State University for inviting as speaker Vice President Jejomar Binay, another Roxas rival.

Not political

Nicole Anne Ponce, a former student council chairman and member of the party that invited Poe, said they invited the neophyte senator not for political reasons. As proof, Ponce said there were no campaign materials.

The original plan was for Poe to attend a meeting with other student political parties and to do an interview on a radio show. But the party decided to invite Poe to the opening ceremony, since "she's already [t]here."

“No politics just us, very low key event. Since she’s already here, why not visit and meet her? As you can see, there are no streamers or banners,” Ponce said. 

Cebu is a known bailiwick of the Liberal Party. In 2013, 10 out of the 12 administration candidates won in Cebu city and Cebu province.

Poe finished 2nd in Cebu city and 4th in the same province where her father terribly lost in the 2004 presidential elections. Cebu province has 1.79 million voters in 2013. Including chartered cities, Cebu has 2.5 million votes, the highest in the country. 

She said she is “confident” that the strong hold of LP in the vote-rich province would not affect her possible bid.

“Alam mo marami akong natutunan noong 2004 pero marami rin ako natutunan ng 2013. Cebu voters are really intelligent voters. Di sila basta basta pumipili base sa personalidiad o popularidad. Tinitignan nila kung tapat, may kakayahan, at kung alam ang mga issues,” Poe said.

(You know, I learned a lot in 2004, but I also learned a lot in 2013. Cebu voters are really intelligent voters. They don't just select a candidate based on personality or popularity. They see who among the candidates is honest, capable, and knowledgable about issues.) –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email