Court clears ‘Cebu 8’ four years after anti-terrorism bill protest

Court clears ‘Cebu 8’ four years after anti-terrorism bill protest
SunStar Local News

A COURT has dismissed the two remaining charges against eight activists, four years after their arrest for holding a protest against the Anti-Terrorism Bill at the University of the Philippines’s (UP) campus in Cebu City.

The Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Branch 9 of Cebu City dismissed charges are violation of Section 13(a) of Batas Pambansa 880 (Public Assembly Act), and simple resistance and disobedience to an agent of a person in authority.

MTCC Branch 9 Judge Amy Rose Soler-Rellin’s decision came after she granted the consolidated demurrer to the prosecution’s evidence, citing insufficient evidence to sustain the charges.

Jaime Paglinawan, Joahanna Veloso, Janry Diocson Ubal, Bernie Cañedo Jr., Al Osiris Ingking, Clement Corominas Jr., April Dyan Gumanao and Nar Athena Mae C. Porlas.

They were arrested on June 5, 2020, during a rally called “Black Friday Protest” along Gorordo Ave., in front of UP Cebu’s main gate, for alleged violation of Covid-19 quarantine protocols. They protested against the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which later became a law on July 3.

The accused were collectively known as “Cebu 8” as their fellow activists believed their arrests were not wrongfully done.

The defense successfully argued that the prosecution failed to establish that a permit was required for the protest and that the accused were the leaders or organizers of the event. They also contended that the order to disperse was not lawful and that the accused had not disobeyed it at the time of their arrest.

Decision

In her joint order, Rellin pointed out that the prosecution failed to demonstrate that the protesters needed a permit to conduct the rally, according to the ruling. Section 13(a) of the Public Assembly Act mandates that a permit is required from the relevant office for public assemblies held in public places.

She further said in her decision that no evidence was presented to determine whether the protest site was public land, making it unclear if a written permit was necessary. Furthermore, the prosecution did not establish that the accused were the leaders or organizers of the rally, which the Public Assembly Act specifies as necessary for the offense.

Patrolman Don Rusty Pelayo testified that the police arrested the protesters without identifying who to arrest, focusing primarily on individuals holding placards. Other police personnel admitted that they were instructed to arrest all participants, regardless of their role in organizing the event.

The police claimed to be enforcing quarantine protocols under Cebu City Executive Order 79, series of 2020, which prohibits mass gatherings. The executive order bans events such as movie screenings, concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment activities, as well as community assemblies and non-essential work gatherings.

However, Rellin noted that the protest did not fall under the same category as the activities listed in the executive order.

Rellin concluded that the protest was “an exercise of the people’s right to peaceably assemble,” and the insufficiency of evidence required the grant of the defense’s consolidated demurrers to prosecution’s evidence, leading to the dismissal of the cases against all accused.

Relief

Paglinawan, chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Central Visayas, expressed relief at the decision but described the experience of arrest and imprisonment as “traumatizing.”

He criticized the use of Batas Pambansa 880 to suppress mass mobilizations, stating that public assemblies in government-owned educational institutions do not require permits.

Paglinawan said conducting protests is a basic human right and not a crime. His group viewed the dismissal of charges as a victory against police abuses and the weaponization of laws to silence dissent. / CDF

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