Students hold mass walkout today

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This story was updated to include a report from CNN Philippines Correspondent AC Nicholls.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 23) — Students in Metro Manila and other parts of the country staged a walkout on Friday to protest a number of issues, such as charter change, federalism, tax reform law, and martial law in Mindanao.

Carrying banners and shouting anti-government slogans, they marched from their campuses to Mendiola near Malacañang Palace in the afternoon. Manila police estimated their number at 200, but the demonstrators said there were 1,500 of them.

They brought an effigy of President Rodrigo Duterte dressed as a king. It held a rod that had a Swastika, a symbol of Germany's Nazi party in the early 20th century.

The image also had a long cape that had a list of the policies the protesters believed are oppressive. It also wore a sash of the flags of the United States and China, with the label "Good dog."

In front of the effigy were men wearing goon-like masks resembling Defense Secretary Delfin Lorezana, Intelligence Chief Hermogenes Esperon, Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano, Armed Forces Chief Rey Guerrero, and Police Chief Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa.

Kabataan Party-list Representative Sarah Elago slammed what she called the looming dictatorship, and said the protesters would not hesitate to call for Duterte's resignation.

Students from the Ateneo de Manila University, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, University of the Philippines, and University of Santo Tomas joined the protest.

The League of Filipino Students listed similar gatherings in Baguio, Cebu, and Iloilo City.

University of the Philippines Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan encouraged students to participate in activities "as part of their education."

UP vendors and jeepney drivers also joined in, with drivers honking their horns in support of the protest.

Both sectors are affected by the tax reform law — which raised taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and fuel — and the public utility vehicle modernization plan.

Related: Crackdown on jeepneys leave UP students, personnel stranded

Youth group Anakbayan said President Rodrigo Duterte should address issues hounding his administration.

"We dare this delusional dictator to face the wrath of the people and address legitimate people's concern hurled at him," said Anakbayan Secretary General Einstein Recedes.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Malacañang had no plans to stop militant students from walking out of their classes, but reminded them of the risks in joining protests.

Roque on Thursday warned students, especially those from state universities, that they could get kicked out of school if they participated in demonstrations.

"Bahala po sila kung gusto nilang ma-kickout sila. Sayang po yan lalong lalo na yung sa nakikinabang sa libreng tuition," he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: It's up to them if they want to get kicked out. Don't waste the opportunity of free tuition.]

Roque pointed out that students in state universities benefitted from free tuition which was made possible with the help of hardworking overseas Filipino workers like slain Joanna Demafelis. The domestic helper's body was found in a freezer in Kuwait and brought back to the country this week.

"Karapatan po nila yan, konsensya po nila yan [It's their right, it's their conscience]," he said.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' News Night, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sal Panelo meanwhile said the government "encourages" protests as long as they are done within the bounds of the law.

"We have repeatedly said that the Duterte administration encourages street protests and that protest we're witnessing now that they're having is the most eloquent truth that this administration does not impede, impinge, violate freedom of the press and of speech," he said.

He said it was the protesters' right to speak their mind regardless of whether the government accepts it or not.

Panelo added, however, protesters shouldn't "convert the streets into anarchy" and spread "false news" about the administration.

"You can go to the streets, you can march you can raise your voices to the highest decibel, we won't mind that. But the moment you disturb the peace, the moment you violate the rights of others, then that would be against the law," he said.

Earlier this month, Duterte threatened to replace protesting students with "smart" Lumad students, a statement that was criticized by youth leaders and Lumad school ALCADEV.

Related: KABATAAN hits Duterte threat vs. student protesters, says more walkouts to come

Duterte has been criticized here and abroad for his bloody war on drugs, which has seen some 4,000 killings in police operations since 2016. Human rights watchdogs give a higher figure. They say it's about 13,000 deaths.

The President has also been criticized for his pivot towards China, strengthening relations with the Asian giant despite its continued militarization of disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.

CNN Philippines Correspondents AC Nicholls and Rex Remitio contributed to this report.