Students allege harassment, procedural violations in Iligan City protest arrests

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Students allege harassment, procedural violations in Iligan City protest arrests
On Independence Day, student-activists from Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology gathered at the Rotonda, Barangay Pala to protest the anti-terrorism bill.
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MANILA, Philippines — None of the 13 student protesters arrested in Iligan City on Independence Day were read their Miranda rights as they were apprehended by police, who later interrogated and intimidated them throughout their eight hours in detention, witnesses and supporters said. 

One of the students, who requested anonymity for their safety, said the arrests came after police allowed protesters to continue with their program after producing copies of city ordinances and the government-issued protocols of the modified community quarantine. Students asserted that they had the right to protest.

RELATED: Guevarra says protests banned due to COVID-19 risk; rights lawyers argue otherwise

Police rounded them up after the protest and brought to Iligan City Police Station 5.

Some were dragged away by police, according to witness accounts. 

"They said 'yes'. So I thought it was fine and that we could continue with holding a protest there, but shockingly, after our protest, they [still] arrested us, some of us were manhandled," the student told Philstar.com in an online exchange in a mix of English and Filipino.

"It was us who had to tell them that we had the right to remain silent and that we would wait for our lawyer first... but they later told us that we need to cooperate first in order for them to release us," the student added, saying that they were pressed for personal information while they were in detention.

RELATED: 'By the book': A look at quarantine incidents and police operational procedures

On Independence Day, student activists from Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology gathered at the Rotonda Park in Barangay Pala-o to protest the looming enactment of the anti-terrorism bill and the lack of mass testing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues. 

"One of us being interviewed said that the police new his jersey number and the names of his parents and siblings," the student also said, information that suggests police did a background check on the student.

The student also said that while in detention, the protesters were asked if any of them were students of the University of the Philippines or members of the New People's Army. 

The 13 have since been released from police custody. 

'Maximum tolerance'

Ahead of Independence Day, the Philippine National Police said it would strictly enforce the prohibition on any form of mass gathering, though they said protesters would only be dispersed and asked to go home. 

Asked whether or not the dispersal of protests could lead to the arrests of rallyists, Police Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, PNP spokesperson, told Philstar.com in an earlier text message: "Yes, we will exercise maximum tolerance and plead for them to disperse and go home so as not put themselves, their families and the public in great health risk."

Rule 25 of the Revised PNP Operational Procedures touches on rallies and demonstrations and says that police are instructed to observe maximum tolerance in all dispersal operations as far as rallies and demonstrations are concerned.

Section 25.4(d) of the rule goes on to say: “No arrest of any leader, organizer, or participant shall be made unless he violates during the assembly a law, statute, or ordinance,” while 25.9 says: "Respect for human rights and equal treatment and protection for everybody shall be strictly observed; and PNP personnel shall observe maximum tolerance."

Holding mass gatherings are prohibited during the general community quarantine, though human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said earlier that conducting protests on the streets should be legal as long as participants will practice social distancing measures.

Rights lawyers have argued that nothing in the guidelines released by the inter-agency task force on COVID-19 response mentions a specific ban on rallies. The task force, however, has also ordered home quarantine except for workers in essential industries and for residents going out to get essential items like food and medicine.

"Two uniformed men approached us first asking for permits and that's when we handed them [a copy of] a city ordinance and the MGCQ and I told them, 'just give us five minutes, sir, we will follow the quarantine protocols, we have our mask and we will practice social distancing'," the student said. 

Miranda rights

Iligan Youth Advocates spokesperson Gil Nambatac, who was present at the scene but was not arrested, told Philstar.com that the students were "deliberately misled by the police officers" after "they were told that they can carry on with their program for a few minutes."

"The students were very shocked...they tried to trap these students in the rotunda [which has] steel gates all around. It was a very convenient place to trap students and ambush them and forcefully drag them to the police station," he said, noting the heightened presence of personnel in full riot gear at the police station. 

"It seemed staged, as if they were ready for it...We don't know what that was for, but we read it as a form of intimidation," he added. 

"Until now, the students are very traumatized. They didn't imagine this would happen to them just because they aired their grievances."

According to the PNP's Revised Operational Procedures police officers in the process of effecting warrantless arrests are supposed to "inform the arrested person of the circumstances of his arrest and recite the Miranda Warning and Anti-Torture Warning to him."

The Miranda Warning includes informing the person being arrested what crime they are being arrested for along with their rights in that scenario, including:

  • The right to remain silent
  • The right to have a competent and independent counsel preferably of [their] own choice
  • If the person cannot afford the services of a counsel, the government will provide one for them

The police officer is also supposed to ask the person if they understand those rights. The national police in its procedures has translations of the Miranda Warning in Filipino, Ilocano, Kapampangan, Bicolano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Cebuano, Tausug, Maranaw, and Chavacano.

Instead, the students were detained for hours, where they were harassed, intimidated, and red-tagged, according to Nambatac.

Before their release, the students were made to sign a receipt saying "we were released [in] good physical and mental state...we were neither being forced, coerced, intimidated, nor given a reward in our statement, [and] we were treated humanely and not maltreated or abused in any form and collectively agree not to file any case [...] against police officers involved in the operation." 

'Social distancing' as basis

"They arrested us without letting us know the grounds for arrest. I kept on asking them why we were being arrested, and they said it was because we were having a protest and we didn't have a permit to hold one," the student said. 

"We don't need a permit to hold a protest there since it was one of the freedom parks in our city. We presented them a city ordinance about the freedom parks, and also the MGCQ guidelines that [said] mass gatherings [were] already allowed but with 50% limit in the venue's capacity," he added. 

In its official statement, Iligan City police said that the students were simply invited to the station to answer a few questions, supposedly due to their violations of social distancing protocols, the chief of the station, Police Maj. Allan Abalde said.

“In the midst of the rally, (the) health protocol of social distancing was not observed, prompting the personnel of (the) Iligan City Police Station 5 and the City Intelligence Unit of the Iligan City Police Office to intervene in the activity at around 11 a.m. and invited the participants to ICPS 5 for the subsequent issuance of citation tickets,” Abalde said.

Asked about these claims, the student said: "That statement is false. We have our proof that we practiced social distancing."

Nambatac also called the statement a "baseless accusation without any footing," saying the students had documented proof that the protest was conducted while observing social distancing.

"Even the police could not generate evidence to support their claims," he said. 

"What has happened to us is an affirmation of the crushing of our democracy. A face to face freedom that we have long fought for. And let's not be blind to the fact that our own government is slowly killing us," the student said. 

For his part, Nambatac called the incident a "quick view of what will happen if the anti-terror bill is passed."



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