Seven arrested during anti-terrorism bill protest in Cebu City

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Cebu City (CNN Philippines, June 5) — The University of the Philippines-Cebu administration said it is "deeply disturbed" by the dispersal and arrest of "peaceful protesters" during a rally in front of its campus in Cebu City on Friday.

Police arrested seven out of the estimated 50 individuals who participated in the protest action against the controversial anti-terrorism bill. The rest managed to escape the arresting officers, some of whom were said to be in civilian clothes.

Taken into custody was Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Central Visayas Secretary General Jaime Paglinawan who said in a radio interview that they practiced social distancing protocols during the rally.

The seven protesters, mostly students and members of militant groups, were brought to the Cebu City Police Office in Camp Sotero Cabahug.

Lt. Col. Melbert Esguerra, deputy city director for operations of the Cebu City Police, said authorities gave the protesters a 10-minute warning to end the activity but, he said, they still continued with the rally. 

The police claimed the group violated quarantine protocols, citing that Cebu City is under general community quarantine where gatherings are only limited to 10 people.

"The UP Cebu administration is deeply disturbed by the incident this morning of police dispersing and arresting peaceful protesters within the vicinity of the campus," Corro said. She denied allegations that school guards helped the police in the dispersal, saying they were actually blocking the policemen and helped bring students to safety.

#ReleaseCebu7 trended on Twitter as videos of the police running after protesters circulated online. Some of those arrested handcuffed while being ledled away by policemen in waiting to patrol vehicles.

In a statement, UP Cebu Chancellor Liza Corro said they were "deeply disappointed" that the police did not coordinate with school authorities in handling the situation. She said while quarantine measures prohibit mass gatherings, there could have been "a more sound and sensible resolution."

Corro said that the presence and actions of anti-riot police "heightened rather than allayed the risks to the safety of the people involved."

Some netizens compared the protest to the birthday blowout of Metro Manila police chief Major General Debold Sinas, who was charged for violating quarantine protocols along with his subordinates. They are now calling on authorities to free the protesters.

Reacting to a similar protest at the UP Diliman campus held Thursday, the Philippine National Police urged the public to avoid joining mass protests amid the coronavirus disease crisis.

"The mass action has compromised public health and welfare as well as the rallyists’ own safety. We support alternative means to exercise freedom of expression like what some labor groups did last May," the PNP said, referring to the online Labor Day protests.

The controversial anti-terrorism bill has been passed by Congress and only needs President Rodrigo Duterte's signature for enactment.

One of its contentious provisions is allowing the detention of suspected terrorists for up to 24 days even without a warrant of arrest. Critics of the measure said it relaxes safeguards on human rights.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said they are ready to challenge the constitutionality of the measure before the Supreme Court, arguing that it poses threats against progressive groups, who previously experienced "red-tagging" from state forces.

Cebu-based stringer Dale Israel contributed to this report.