On June 5, 2020, police arrested eight student leaders and activists during a protest at the University of the Philippines (UP) over an anti-terrorism bill.
On June 3, the Philippines’ House of Representatives passed legislation known as House Bill No. 6875, that would effectively allow authorities to detain suspects without charge for up to twenty-four days, conduct warrantless arrests, and target those responsible for social media posts deemed critical of the government. Critics of the bill have raised concerns that the bill threatens to entrench a larger pattern by President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration targeting activists, dissidents, and civil society organizations through counterinsurgency operations and arrests.
On June 4, one day after the House of Representatives approved a final reading of the bill, civil society groups, including student, labor, and migrant rights groups, held nationwide protests. Many demonstrators held rallies at the UP Diliman campus in Quezon City, calling for the bill to be scrapped.
The following day, on June 5, thirty individuals from student and civil society groups held a nonviolent protest in Cebu City near the UP Cebu campus. Recorded videos show police chasing activists onto the campus, where they subsequently arrested them. One officer allegedly picked up and carried away a protestor who was later arrested. Police arrested eight protestors, including two UP student leaders, and held them in custody for more than 72 hours on charges of unlawful assembly, disobedience, and violating the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act. Following the arrest of the protestors, the group’s lawyer Rey Fernandez and UP Cebu chancellor Liza Corro questioned the legality of the arrests, citing the 1982 Soto-Enrile Accord which prevents the military and police from entering UP campuses without the consent of the administration. Corro expressed disappointment with the police for having failed to coordinate with UP Cebu to generate a more effective response to the protest. On June 8, Municipal Trial Court Judge Jenelyn Forrosuelo ordered the protestors released without assessing bail.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of students and activists in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting expressive activity, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions intended to restrict nonviolent expressive activity undermines academic freedom, and democratic society generally.