Protesters disperse peacefully after 3 hours

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    THOUSANDS of protesters confined their demonstration at the University of the Philippines yesterday and dispersed peacefully before President Duterte delivered his fifth State of the Nation Address at the Batasan complex.

    Leftist leaders placed the number of protesters who gathered at UP at 10,000 but National Capital Region police chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas estimated the number from 1,700 to 1,800.

    Protesters started their program at around 9 a.m. in keeping with arrangements forged with police officials. They raised several issues, including COVID-19, human rights, press freedom and the anti-terrorism law.

    “Based on information from the ground, it’s peaceful. Basically, the assessment is peaceful though there are reports of some who were accosted,” said PNP deputy chief for operations and Joint Task Force COVID-19 Shield commander Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar.

    Five members of PISON were arrested while on their way to UP Diliman to join the protest action yesterday morning.

    “The five piston members were arrested about 7:30 a.m. along East Ave. Quezon City while going to UP Diliman to attend the SONA protest,” said PISTON secretary general Steve Ranjo, adding it is not clear what kind of violation they committed. He added the group has sent lawyers to help the five.

    Eleazar said the protesters did their best to observe health protocols like physical distancing and wearing face mask and chose not to proceed to Commonwealth Ave. as they warned on Sunday.

    Policemen were deployed at the area but they did not meddle or disrupt the program.

    “Our commitment to them was we will not disturb them because they got an approval from UP administration. Their commitment to us was they will disperse peacefully after the program,” said Sinas. “They dispersed peaceful, they didn’t proceed to Commonwealth based on our agreement and we are happy that at least we honored each other’s commitment.”

    Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said 10 protesters, including former Bayan Muna party list Rep. Neri Colminares and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, attended the demonstrations at UP.

    Reyes said 10,000 people joined the protests which he said “stretched” from Quezon Hall to CP Garcia Avenue.

    Reyes described the protests as “peaceful” but added it was marred by the arrest of members of the transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide or PISTON “for reasons still unclear.”

    “The arrests are illegal and utterly condemnable,” said Reyes.

    Sinas said 34 persons were arrested ahead of the protests at UP, including the PISTON members. He said five PISTON members were arrested near the QC Circle and brought to the QC police headquarters in Camp Karingal Police for riding traditional jeepneys that are still banned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Sinas said 24 were arrested in Marikina City and five were nabbed in Caloocan City for similar violations of health protocols. – With Noel Talacay