San Roque volunteers paint over 'ACAB' mural; preps for community learning continue

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
San Roque volunteers paint over 'ACAB' mural; preps for community learning continue
Quezon City police officers accost youth volunteers with the Save San Roque alliance for painting a mural that reads: "All cops are bastards."
Supplied / Save San Roque

MANILA, Philippines — After police attempted to arrest them and threatened to watch them daily, students and youth volunteers in the urban poor community of Sitio San Roque in Quezon City are back to prepare a learning space they were working on a day before.

This was confirmed to Philstar.com by the Save San Roque alliance in an online exchange Tuesday afternoon. 

"Liniskuwela will continue because that is an assertion of the residents' right to their spaces," the group said in Filipino. 

Just the day before, students volunteering for the community organization were threatened with arrest by police officers after they were spotted painting a mural. 

"All cops are bastards," it read.

Though the group was able to resist going back to the police station, they have since painted over the mural.

What happened?

In a statement, Save San Roque said that the mural was intended to be part of its Eskuwela Maralita project "that requires the beautification of demolished spaces to be used as makeshift classrooms for kids in the community who have been challenged by distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic." 

But, according to the group, another resident was killed in Sitio San Roque earlier that day. Residents and the group believe that the death is linked to the government's campaign against illegal narcotics, which only added to the agitation against the police, as expressed through the mural. 

Nanoy Rafael, a paralegal who serves as the education committee head of the alliance, said that the police did not have any warrant of arrest and only asked the group to come with them to the police station where they could discuss possible raps over the mural.

“They asked for my personal background and ordered our group to stop taking photos and videos. They even threatened that they will come back every day to eradicate the youth organizations in the community,” he said.

“We were only asserting the community’s right to these spaces for Eskuwela Maralita yet we were still met with harassment and red-tagging by state forces.”

In a text message to Philstar.com, Quezon City police denied the allegations, saying the children were only sent home. 

"Hindi po inaresto yung mga bata, pinabura lang po yung mural then pinauwi na po sila," they said. 

What do the police's rules say?

According to the PNP's Revised Operational Procedures, police officers who are 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

Arresting officers, according to the public document, are also required to ask suspects if they understand the rights recited to them. 

To ensure accessibility, the national police included in its rules translations of the Miranda Warning in Filipino, Ilocano, Kapampangan, Bicolano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Cebuano, Tausug, Maranaw and Chavacano.

Photo shows an erased mural in the urban poor community of Sitio San Roque.
Save San Roque/Release

A day later, the mural now reads: "Tahanan ang kailangan, hindi pasugalan."

(We need homes, not gambling.) 

"We had conversations and assessments between the students with the teachers there, and one of the things discussed was that we had already gotten across the message that the mural wanted to convey especially since it was interrupted by the police and therefore proving the point," the alliance said in Filipino. 

"So instead of drawing more heat from the police, we decided it was necessary to change the calls...Just a few corners away from the site of the community school being constructed, houses are being demolished to build the Solaire Casino."

Eskuwela Maralita 

The group's Eskuwela Maralita project, they said, is meant to be a temporary means of supporting learning in the community while face-to-face classes in schools are prohibited.

"In this community school, volunteer-teachers from the community and from outside will serve as para-teachers or learning support aides," SSR said.

It is meant as a bridge between formal public schooling and the community and "public school teachers will be the primary teachers of the community learners."

The project is meant to ease the challenges that community parents face with the module-based lessons.

"It is difficult for the parents, particularly for the mothers, to be 'teachers' to their children," SSR said in Filipino.  "This is an added burden for them because they also have financial issues that they need to address, as well as the household chores."

As in past calamities and crises, women bear the brunt of the disruption of not just the family’s livelihood but of their home life as well.

In an interview in 2016, Aimee Santos—now head of the gender program at the UN Population Fund in the Philippines—said that women in general are economically and politically marginalized. 

“They carry multiple burdens in our families and our communities,” she said then, adding that women “[experience] more of the burden, more of the anxieties, more of the problems.”

The project, SSR said, is also meant to address "complications" brought by the modular learning system in use because of the pandemic, saying the need to pick up and submit the modules can be costly or even dangerous for parents.

"They also have to contend with limited space at home for studying, poor internet connections and the extra cost of mobile data," SSR also said.

According to SSR, the project included a dialogue with the Quezon City local government's educational affairs unit in its early stages.  

In late 2020, the Office of the Vice President also opened community learning hubs that were staffed by tutors and that were meant to give learners access to gadgets and the internet for their modular classes.

'Red-tagging propaganda'

The same officers who castigated them were also distributing red-tagging propaganda in the area, SSR said. 

READ: Why Kadamay and the urban poor are easy targets for government and the rest of usKadamay unfairly blamed for Sitio San Roque protest, group and supporters say

"Police and military are there almost daily, conducting counter-insurgency operations and spreading red-tagging propaganda," the group said. "It's become normal for residents to be disturbed by the police, so besides this incident, we have also brought to the [Commission on Human Rights] some other previous instances of harassment by state forces in the community."

This is not the first time members of the community have been conflated with communist rebels.

April arrests

When San Roque residents took part in a spontaneous protest to call for government aid in April, no less than President Rodrigo Duterte blamed and mentioned urban poor group Kadamay by name, saying in Filipino in a prerecorded address: "You. Kadamay, there will be no... there will be no mercy anymore. You will stay there. Anyone who is arrested, that's it for you...I will not tolerate it even if politicians say you should be released."

In the same speech, he ordered police to "shoot dead" any leftists and quarantine violators. 

Former PNP chiefs Archie Gamboa and Camilo Cascolan had vowed disciplinary action against the "unauthorized" practice of red-tagging in the past, although nothing more has been heard about that.

RELATED: PNP 'art' tags activists as terrorists amid debate on anti-terrorism bill

Philstar.com sought comment from the Commission on Human Rights, though it has not responded as of this post. 

Photo shows alleged anti-communist material being distributed by cops in the urban poor community of Sitio San Roque.
Save San Roque, released


Disclosure: Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte is a shareholder of Philstar Global Corp., which operates digital news outlet Philstar.com. This article was produced following editorial guidelines.

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