Court junks charges vs Cebu anti-terror law rally protesters

John Sitchon

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Court junks charges vs Cebu anti-terror law rally protesters

PROTEST. Members of militant and human rights groups gather in front of the Department of Justice office to mark the 4th year of signing the Anti-Terror Act (ATA), on July 3, 2024. The Groups call for the repeal of ATA as they condemn the Justice department for its continued filing of ATA charges against activists.


'This is about holding those responsible accountable, not just for the Cebu 8 but for all victims baselessly charged with red-tagging, terror labeling, and unjust arrest,' says Bern Cañedo, one of the so-called 'Cebu 8'

CEBU, Philippines – The Municipal Trial Court in Cities Branch 9 of Cebu City has ordered the dismissal of criminal cases against eight people who joined a 2020 rally at the University of the Philippines Cebu (UPC).

In a joint order signed by Judge Amy Rose Soler-Rellin on June 27, the protesters were acquitted of violating the Public Assembly Act of 1985 and for simple resistance and disobedience to an agent of a person in authority.

To recall, the eight were arrested during a protest in front of the main gate of UPC on June 5, 2020, for for alleged violation of pandemic quarantine protocols. The protesters were dubbed the “Cebu 8” by many activists who believed that they were wrongfully arrested.

One of those arrested was a bystander who merely asked a cop what was happening during the protest. The Cebu 8 were ordered released without bail a few days after their arrest.

Based on the joint order, the judge ruled that there was an insufficient evidence to prove that the eight committed any violations.

According to Rellin, the prosecution failed to prove that the protesters needed to have a permit to conduct the rally. Based on Section 13 (a) of the Public Assembly Act, the leader or organizer of the public assembly must secure a written permit where a permit is required from the office concerned.

“Public assemblies that require a permit are those held in a public place,” the joint order read.

No evidence was provided to ascertain whether or not the protest held in front of the university’s main gate was public land. Hence, the judge said, it could not be determined with certainty that a written permit was required.

The judge added that the prosecution failed to prove that the accused were the leaders or the organizers of the rally, which the Public Assembly Act expressly identifies as the perpetrators contemplated for the offense.

“[Patrolman Don Rusty Pelayo] testified that they arrested the protestors without first identifying who to arrest and who not to arrest, but their main focus were the ones bringing placards,” the joint order read.

In the same document, other police personnel admitted that they were ordered to arrest all participants of the rally regardless if they were leaders or organizers of the event. 

Police were also allegedly carrying out the implementation of the omnibus guidelines for quarantine protocols set in Cebu City Executive Order No. 79, Series of 2020, which bans mass gatherings.

The executive order states that mass gatherings such as, but not limited to, movie screenings, concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment activities, community assemblies, cockpit operations and non-essential work gatherings, are prohibited.

“Such phraseology necessitates the application of ejusdem generis, which means ‘of the same kind, class or nature,’ in that when general words following a listing of particular cases, such words are deemed to apply only to cases of the same kind as those expressly mentioned,” the judge wrote.

Rellin said that the protest is not of the same kind, class or nature as the ones listed in the executive order. She added that the protest was “an exercise of the people’s rights to peaceably assemble.”

“Perforce, the insufficiency of the evidence necessarily dictates the grant of the defense’s Consolidated Demurrers to Prosecution’s Evidence, and the dismissal of these cases against all accused is imperative,” the joint order read.

Step toward vindication

Kristian Jacob Casas-Abad Lora, the legal counsel of the Cebu 8, told Rappler on Thursday, July 4, that the dismissal of the cases was a victory and a step toward vindication for the accused.

“It’s clear that the arrests were baseless and our [understanding] on this is that the arrests were done just to silence, to create fear, to stifle dissent,” the lawyer said.

Lora added that the fears of the protestors towards the anti-terrorism law were valid as cases filed against nongovernmental organizations and activists continue to pile up via the usage of laws like the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012.

April Dyan Gumanao, then correspondent for ANINAW Productions during the arrest, expressed her gratitude following the dismissal of the cases. 

“This sends a strong message to the public that the police acted illegally by curtailing our right to protest, to public assembly, and to express our sentiments against anti-poor and anti-people government policies,” Gumanao told Rappler.

For Bern Cañedo, who was a vice chairperson of the University of the Philippines Cebu University Student Council at the time, likened the wait for dismissal of the charges to “a slow burn.” 

“[It felt] like justice may never come because of its prolonged delay, we reached a point where you wonder if this will ever end,” Cañedo said.

Looking ahead, Cañedo stressed the importance of not only consoling the victims but also pursuing accountability through counter-charges. 

“This is about holding those responsible accountable, not just for the Cebu 8 but for all victims baselessly charged with red-tagging, terror labeling, and unjust arrest,” Cañedo said in a mix of English and Cebuano. – with reports from Ian Peter Guanzon/

Ian Peter Guanzon is a Rappler intern from the University of the Philippines in Cebu.

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