“Was this necessary?”
These were some of the questions that online Filipinos asked after witnessing police officers confiscating donations from a progressive alliance of children’s organizations to students on Monday.
The Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns on Monday reported that some members of the Quezon City Police District snatched their donations of face masks, alcohol and food packs to students attending face-to-face classes for the academic year 2022 to 2023.
The police also confiscated placards bearing phrases calling for a safe school opening amid the COVID-19 pandemic and for students to receive aid or “ayuda” in an economic crisis.
Salinlahi added that the police also intimidated and harassed its staff, and “attempted” to arrest them.
The incident happened near the Pres. Corazon Aquino Elementary School in Batasan Road in the city.
A video of this was uploaded by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines on social media.
Salinlahi said it “condemns to the highest degree” the police’s “hostile” actions, calling it “plainly despicable and illegal.”
“The parents present were receptive and grateful for the initiative. However, police officers from QCPD interrupted the distribution, assailing that the word ‘ipaglaban’ in the phrase ‘Ligtas na Balik Eskwela, Ipaglaban’ was prohibited,” the alliance said on Facebook, referring to their placards.
“When asked why, the police responded that Salinlahi did not have a permit and that the distribution was prohibited,” it added.
Salinlahi also decried the police’s conduct in front of children.
“The anxiety of the young children witnessing the policemen’s deplorable act is beyond imagination. The school should serve as a zone of peace at all times, not to mention that several men in uniform were inside the school premises manning the school gate,” it said.
The alliance believes the incident was a “chilling effect” of the controversial Anti-Terror Law, citing that humanitarian and aid distribution are misbranded as “anti-government action.”
“We call on other child rights-focused organizations to condemn the abominable action of the government against child right defenders and be vigilant amidst shrinking democratic spaces for cause-oriented initiatives,” Salinlahi said.
Department of Education spokesperson Michael Poa said that they are unaware of the incident.
He added that the agency will coordinate with the local government unit in relation to the matter.
Meanwhile, one of the videos of the confiscation instantly caught some Filipinos’ attention as they asked whether the action and the police’s behavior were necessary at that moment.
“When they were just giving out health necessities to kids and advocating for better implementation of regulations for the sake of students ?????????????? WAS THIS NECESSARY ????????????????????????????” a Twitter user said in response.
“Tw (trigger warning) // Vi0lence and h@rassment. I mean was that really necessary? They were just giving out face masks, alcohol, and food. Why are they acting like it’s a huge crime to help the people, isn’t it the police’s job to help and serve its citizens?” another online user wrote.
“So why are they condoning violence, especially in front of the children. They should be ashamed of what they did. Good thing this was recorded, so there will be no reason to deny this happening or any other excuses,” the user added.
“I thought policemen were supposed to protect people but instead, they used violence (and) harassed volunteers in front of the kids,” wrote another Filipino.
Television host Bianca Gonzalez also aired her thoughts about the incident.
“1. Bakit kailangang may dahas, may kriminal ba? 2. Bakit sa harap pa ng mga bata?” she tweeted in response to the video.
Her post garnered 16,500 likes and over 4,000 retweets so far.
August 22 marks the first day that most students in the country attended face-to-face classes after two years of distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Distance learning will still be practiced until October, but by November, the government expects all schools to fully implement face-to-face classes.
The country’s period of school closures, among the longest in the world, was partly affected by the slow vaccine rollouts and national and local elections earlier this year.
Officials have underscored how important in-person learning is for the economy to achieve long-term growth.
“We are committed to pursuing the country’s full reopening, including the return of face-to-face schooling to address the learning losses and increase domestic activities,” National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said earlier this month.