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MANILA, Philippines – Editors of The Democrat, the student publication of the University of Nueva Caceres (UNC) in Naga City in Camarines Sur, received over the weekend summons from barangays for a meeting with unidentified Philippine Army officers scheduled on Sunday, September 24.
In a telephone interview with Rappler late on Saturday, September 23, Aila Joy Esperida, the editor-in-chief of The Democrat and resident of Calabanga town, Camarines Sur, said that after discussing the summons and its context, she and her parents have decided not to appear.
John Harvey Cabal, her fellow editor and resident of Bula town in the same province, relayed the same decision, Esperida said.
“My parents, of course, were a bit hysterical because they know how there is a pattern in red-tagging, and the letter doesn’t even state who exactly wanted this meeting,” Esperida said.
Why it matters
The summons have raised the hackles of the UNC student community, as it follows the dramatic press conference where two young environmentalists bared how they were abducted and then coerced by Army officers to sign “surrender documents.”
Cristina Palabay of the human rights group Karapatan said that across the country, “visits” to family homes and letters demanding a meeting – where officers would advice the “surrender” of legal activists – have almost always preceded physical attacks.
The UNC University Student Government asked the Army to avoid acts of intimidation against students.
“We support the attempt to suppress internal insurgency in the country but we should like to appeal for an action that does not intimidate and abridge the rights of the citizenry,” the student body said in a statement.
What went before
The Democrat on September 21, exposed what it described as harassment by Philippine Army soldiers during a rally at Plaza Rizal, Naga marking the anniversary of Martial Law, which the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos declared to remain in power beyond constitutional limits.
Soldiers approached the publication staff and “took pictures without consent while lecturing about how activists can become members of the New People’s Army.”
The publication reported that a sergeant “encouraged them to be part of the 9th Infantry (SPEAR) Division Philippine Army and later on discussed how activism can affect the future of the youth.”
The letters from their respective barangays followed, Esperida said.
The Democrat is a member of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. The students are now getting in touch with human rights lawyers, Esperida added.
The publication’s editors have also informed university officials and have set meetings to coordinate the next steps. Esperida has also reached out to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, whose directorate said they were already studying steps to aid the student journalists.
This is breaking news. We will update as soon as the barangays, the Army and university officials give statements on the issue. – Rappler.com