On 11 April 2023, Manila police arrested two student leaders, Gabriel Magtibay and Joanne Pagkaliwangan, during a protest in front of the United States Embassy in Manila.
Magitabay is a student at the University of the Philippines and the chairperson of the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP), and Pagkaliwangan is a student from the Far Eastern University. The two students were participating in a student protest against the 2023 Balikatan Exercises, joint military exercises between the US Army and Armed Forces of the Philippines that take place annually. The 2023 exercises, which took place from April 11-28, were the biggest since they began in 1991.
According to the Manila police, Magitabay and Pagkaliwangan were arrested for vandalism because they threw paint on the logo of the US Embassy, for failing to show permits for the protest, and for resisting arrest. The League of Filipino Students, UP College of Mass Communication, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) each condemned the arrests and called for the students’ release. The ICHRP called the arrests illegal, and the League of Filipino Students called the charges against the students “trumped-up.”
Magtibay and Pagkaliwangan were released the day following their arrests, after the City Prosecutor determined that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that Magitabay and Pagkaliwangan had been the ones to throw the paint.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of students exercising their 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 a responsibility to refrain from interfering in the peaceful exercise of the right to free expression and association. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, freedom of expression, and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)