“It is ironic that I was arrested for exercising my right to free speech during Independence Day itself…While politicians who have been stealing from the nation’s coffers are still free to do as they please, I, who was merely exercising my right, was immediately charged and my rights curtailed.” – Pio Emmanuel Mijares, 19-year-old student
By ANNE EDNALYN DELA CRUZ
MANILA – While the country celebrated its 116th anniversary of Independence Day, a young man was assaulted and detained for “disrupting” President Aquino’s speech at Naga City.
Pio Emmanuel Mijares, a 19-year-old senior student from Ateneo de Naga University and a member of Kabataan Partylist and Youth Act Now!, was arrested on the spot by the police after he raised a banner while the president was delivering his speech.
In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Mijares recounted how he was assailed by state security forces during the event:
“Actually it was not the Presidential Security Group who arrested me, it was the augmentation force in the region. Before the commotion, we raised a banner, which read ‘Education for All.’ In response, policemen approached us. A policeman grabbed our banner while two others tried to arrest me,” Mijares shared in a mix of English and Filipino.
“When the policemen grabbing our banner and attempting to arrest me was already being violent, I shouted to draw attention to us,” Mijares said, clarifying that he was already being taken by the police when he shouted, contrary to earlier reports.
Mijares was arrested in violation of the Article 153 (Tumults and other disturbance of public orders) of the Revised Penal Code. Aside from this, he was later on charged by three police officers for direct assault, which, according to Mijares, came as a surprise, as he calmly submitted to the arresting officers.
“They could not charge me with direct assault. In fact, when I was arrested, I even walked in front of them and they did not have to drag me. While walking, I felt someone punch me at the back so I confronted the policeman loudly. They grabbed two banners from me. When a crowd was gathering to see what was happening, I shouted again. That was when they rounded the banners into a ball and gagged me with it,” Mijares said.
“Several policemen met us and a police officer ordered the policemen to handcuff me. I initially refused because I was already going with them. I did not resist arrest. They handcuffed my left hand but I told them it was not necessary to handcuff both my hands because I was going with them without resisting. Because one of my hands was free, I was still able to raise one banner. I was turned over to the arresting officer, who filed a complaint of direct assault against me, even if there was no commotion or resistance on my part,” Mijares said.
However, the police officers, according to Mijares, have denied through twitter that they manhandled him. “Because a lot of people have been asking through twitter why the policemen punched and gagged me so they have been issuing denials. They even twitted that they respect human rights,” Mijares said.
Meanwhile, Karapatan Bicol spokesman Vince Casilihan said in an interview that they are considering filing charges against the arresting officers for police brutality. In the meantime, they would file a motion to suspend proceedings on Mijares’s case before the Regional Trial Court (RTC).
“We would file a motion to suspend proceedings before the RTC to remand the case to the prosecutor’s office on the ground that they should not have conducted inquest proceedings because the maximum period of detention of 18 hours had lapsed without a case being filed,” Casilihan said.
“The rights of the accused should be respected at all times 24/7 even during holidays. We would file a case against the police for violating Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code for the delay in the delivery of a detained person before judicial authorities,” he added.
According to Casilihan, Mijares was detained without being informed of the charges filed against him.
Casilihan surmised that the visit of Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Alan Purisima to the Naga City Police Office after the incident has influenced the filing of the case.
He added that there shouldn’t be any charges filed against Mijares to begin with, as Mijares was only exercising his right to free speech.
“ We are circulating an online petition to demand that the government drops the charges against Mijares on the basis that he was only exercising his right to free speech,” Casilihan said.
Mijares said he does not regret what he did. He said it was the right time and place to do it. “Rare are the times when a person is face-to-face with the president.” “
Mijares said that his experience inspired him to work harder in pushing for his advocacy and engaging more students to do the same.
“Our lessons inside the classroom are meaningless if we could not practice what we learn outside, in real life. Yes, I am studying to be able to do my share in building a better future. But the government has not been doing its responsibility, its share in making a better future possible. We should act not only for our own good but for the good of all as well,” Mijares said.
“It is ironic that I was arrested for exercising my right to free speech during Independence Day itself. And the president himself allowed this to happen. While politicians who have been stealing from the nation’s coffers are still free to do as they please, I, who was merely exercising my right, was immediately charged and my rights curtailed,” Mijares said.
His experience, according to Mijares, reflects how the administration handles criticisms: with a close mind and violence. “This goes to show that the administration is not ready for dialogues and that education is not one of its priorities, as shown by budget cuts and the government’s inaction on tuition and other fee increases.”
“I hope that the government would be more open to the youth and that education would be its top priority. It would be good if the president would listen to the youth because from them he would learn that a lot of policies need to be changed and that it has a lot of shortcomings to make up for,” Mijares concluded.