By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA — For three days, policemen harassed the editors and staff of The Pillar, student publication of University of Eastern Philippines in Catarman, Northern Samar.
According to the statement released by The Pillar, four men visited the publication’s office around 9 p.m. on Aug. 21 and interrogated the editor in chief about the candle lighting ceremony the publication organized for the victims of extrajudicial killings in Negros.
One of the men introduced himself as a patroller from the Regional Mobile Group of the Philippine National Police. The men also demanded to see the approval of the event by the Office of Student Affairs and asked why the publication sponsored such activities.
Two days earlier, the publication also reported incidents of the police surveying their office.
On August 19, two girls caught trying to take photos of The Pillar office said they had been sent by a policeman. The same day, the UEP security office informed the editor that an intelligence officer of the Catarman police called up, warning that the candle lighting event could be “infiltrated” and present a “threat” to the campus.
The same day and, again, on August 20, armed police personnel were seen inside the university campus, just across The Pillar office, ostensibly to guard against purported “threats” and “chaos.”
Coincidently, the harassment of The Pillar happened on the same day that campus journalists nationwide held their ‘National Walk-Out Day’ against the presence of state security forces inside campuses.
In a statement, The Pillar said, “It is alarming that the publication is being seen as a threat just for exercising the right to organize and the right to freedom of expression.”
Both the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the incident.
“What happened to The Pillar was “an irresponsible exercise of power to harass the practice of independent and free journalism of the campus press,” the CEGP said in a statement
The NUJP directorate threw its support to the campus press. “Let us be clear about one thing: the CEGP has long been an affiliate of the NUJP, which recognizes the campus press as a vibrant segment of the Philippine journalism community that deserves all the rights and courtesies accorded all our colleagues.”
The group called on the UEP administration “to stand up and defend not just The Pillar and its staff but its student community, and insist that government, including all state security forces, recognize and respect the independence and autonomy of all institutions of learning.”
The NUJP reminded state security forces forces that “ their mandate is to preserve and protect democracy, along with all the rights and freedoms that go with it, not stifle.”