HomeNewsCourt clears ‘Cebu 8’ protesters of charges after 4 years

Court clears ‘Cebu 8’ protesters of charges after 4 years

The Municipal Trial Court in Cities Branch 9 of Cebu has dismissed the final two criminal charges against eight individuals arrested during the 2020 protest against the Anti-Terror Act at the gates of the University of the Philippines Cebu (UPC).

Presiding Judge Amy Rose A. Soler-Rellin issued a joint order on June 27, dismissing the charges of violating the Public Assembly Act of 1985 and simple resistance and disobedience to an agent of a person in authority due to insufficient evidence against the group known as the ‘Cebu 8.’

The arrests occurred on June 5, 2020, when protesters Jaime Paglinawan Sr., Joahanna Veloso, Janry Ubal, Bern Cañedo, Al Osiris Ingking, Nar Polas, April Dyan Gumanao, and bystander Clement Corominas Jr., were apprehended for allegedly violating pandemic quarantine protocols during the protest.

The protest action aimed to oppose the then Anti-Terror Bill (ATB). Days after the arrest, the Cebu 8 were released without bail.

The court found no violation of Sec. 13(a) of B.P. Blg. 880 (The Public Assembly Act of 1985). The prosecution failed to establish that a permit was required or that the accused were leaders/organizers of the protest.

For a public assembly to require a permit, it must be held in a public space. The protest was held in front of the University of the Philippines Cebu gates, not in the national highway of Gorordo Avenue of barangay Lahug.

Rellin ruled that the necessity of a permit was inconclusive, as there was no certification from the proper authority regarding the public or private status of the driveway in front of the UP Cebu gate.

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The joint order further stated that the prosecution failed to prove that the accused were the leaders or organizers of the protest. Several policemen, in the joint order, testified that they were not able to identify the leaders of the protest. For them, it was a catch and arrest.

“According to [Police Corporal Roberto Dupio Jr.], they were ordered to arrest all participants of the event, without any distinction, and regardless of whether or not they are leaders or organizers of the protest action,” the joint order read.

The Public Assembly Act of 1985 further stipulates that no person can be punished or held criminally liable for participating in or attending an otherwise peaceful assembly.

The court also ruled that there was no simple resistance and disobedience under Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code. The police were enforcing Cebu City E.O. 79, series of 2020, which prohibited mass gatherings.

In applying the legal principle of ejusdem generis, which means ‘of the same kind, class, or nature,’ general terms following specific cases apply only to items of the same kind as those specifically listed. The joint order stated that “the staging of a protest such as the one in the instant case, does not appear to be among those mass gatherings that were prohibited under the GCQ.”

The protest was not a gathering for social, work, or entertainment means as prohibited by mass gatherings in Sec. 14(A) of E.O. 79. It was an “exercise of the people’s right to peaceably assemble,” the joint order read.

Cebu 8 pushes back

Cebu 8 legal counsel Kristian Jacob Abad Lora expressed in a Facebook post that the government exploited the pandemic to suppress dissent, stating, “This should have no place in democracy.”

He also added that the concerns of the accused against the Anti-Terror Law are legitimate then and now.

“Three (3) years later, we have seen how the Anti-Terrorism Law and its allied laws (Anti-Terrorism Financing Law, etc.) have been weaponized by the Government to target developmental non-government organizations (NGOs) and human rights advocates,” Lora posted.

Bern Cañedo, one of the arrested protesters, described the dismissal of charges as a significant step toward asserting democratic rights and achieving justice.

He also contended that its dismissal of the B.P. Blg 880 charges is a testament to how the law has been weaponized and has been problematic and unconstitutional since its creation.

“We would like to state that the dismissal [of the charges] is further proof that protest is never, and should not be, a crime,” Cañedo told Bulatlat in Filipino.

Cañedo told Bulatlat that they will be pressing countercharges.

“This move is not just to give justice for the Cebu 8 members but also to teach the authorities a lesson: enough with weaponizing the law against the people they ought to serve, and to empower fellow Filipinos to continue exercising their right to speech, and assembly,” Cañedo said.

Cebu 8 is seeking another round of psychosocial support to process the development and their current disposition since the arrest. 

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