ILOILO CITY, Philippines — Scholars of the Passi City government are being required to attend a caravan in support of the Bongbong Marcos-Sara Duterte tandem on Saturday, December 11, according to screenshots leaked to the internet Thursday evening, December 9.
These screenshots were from the Passi City Scholars Facebook group, posted by a certain “Cio Lgu Passi”, which appears to be an older account of the City Information Office.
The post, in the Kinaray-a language spoken in some parts of Panay island, required college and senior high school-level scholars to wear red shirts and position themselves in several areas where the caravans would pass by.
Payroll numbers containing their stipends as well as clearances for their renewal would be released to them after the program, said the post that also warned them against sharing the announcement.
It told scholars to send representatives if their schedules were in conflict with the event.
Scholars were also told to simply respect the Passi City Mayor Stephen Palmares and Vice Mayor Jesry Palmares, and not to make comments on social media, saying that “they are the ones who decide whether or not to continue the scholarship program”.
“You already know how the Mayor and the Vice Mayor worked hard for our progress. Scholars, they need your support and not your bad comments. In our part at the CIO, we cannot control your individual attitudes. But for us, you should think about the words you let out,” the account said in its post.
Passi City Mayor Stephen Palmares, who is also Lakas-CMD’s chairperson in Iloilo province, clarified to Rappler that the attendance to the said caravan was purely voluntary.
“We would like to clarify that here in Passi City, that attending the [December 11 caravan] is voluntary for the scholars, and we have also invited all organizations in the city, informing them as to those who support Bongbong Marcos and Sara [Duterte], to come tomorrow at the welcome arch and wear red,” said Palmares.
Palmares also denied that non-attendance to the said event will affect scholars’ standing with the scholarship program.
He added that the screenshots were not true, despite Rappler’s verification that the “Cio Lgu Passi” account has been used by the city government for quite some time now.
“Their scholarships will be released on January or February to the scholars. There is no point to that argument. Our scholarship program has been there since before I became mayor. I have asked investigation of the circulating [screenshots], and since it is in social media, anybody can create an account. They can get information from our official Facebook pages,” he said.
The mayor also took to his personal Facebook account to release a statement, reiterating that the caravan was voluntary.
“I would like to clarify that city scholars are NOT COMPELLED/ REQUIRED TO ATTEND the Caravan or to wear red t-shirts. Instead, we are only encouraging the scholars (who are also supporters of BBM-Sara) to join the caravan. In fact, not only the scholars are encouraged but also other sectors in our community. Furthermore, any political parties who would like to hold a caravan in our city are welcome for I personally believe that no matter what our political affiliations are, we are all equal,” the mayor said in his post.
Two of the scholars, Dessa* and Jane* confirmed to Rappler that the screenshots were indeed true, and expressed their disappointment with the said requirement.
The two also confirmed that they were told to provide valid reasons as to why they would not attend before their clearances and their payroll numbers would be released.
Both of them said the same thing: while the post did not explicitly state the words “mandatory” or “required”, the tenor of the post made them feel compelled to obey or risk their education.
Dessa* expressed her shock, saying that they felt oppressed because their freedom to support and choose the country’s next leaders was being taken.
“I was shocked to read it because it was an act of oppression. It’s like our freedom to choose is being taken. Because as far as I know, that [the activity] should be voluntary but then they had that announcement. There is no such word as required nor voluntary in the post. But if you read it at first it sounds like [it’s] mandatory,” said Dessa.
Jane* said she was disappointed with the city’s leadership, emphasizing that they did not owe a debt of gratitude to the Palmareses.
“We are disappointed in our leaders here in Passi City and we are insulted as scholars. They had to include language that would make it seem like we owe the mayor, and like he’s the one [who was personally funding] the scholarship program, that we have to support all programs by the mayor and vice mayor,” said Jane*.
Jane* also refuted Mayor Palmares’ Facebook post, placing doubt on the timely release of their clearances and payroll numbers as the time of the program.
“If it was not mandatory sir on the first place, why did the [group] admin in [the] city scholars [Facebook group] make that post last night? Why should they issue a clearance just on the day and time of the caravan? Why would they set the date of releasing the payroll numbers on the day of the caravan?” she added.
The December 11 caravan of the BBM-Sara Uniteam would start at Mandurriao district in Iloilo City and will pass through the neighboring towns of Leganes, Zarraga, and Pototan, before ending in Passi City.
Palmares confirmed in several media interviews on Friday that neither Marcos Jr. nor Duterte would appear during the caravan, but instead would be proxied by his national campaign manager, MMDA Chairperson Benhur Abalos. — Rappler.com
Joseph B.A. Marzan is a Visayas-based journalist from Iloilo City and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.