Student Faces Criminal Charges for Disrupting Philippine President's Speech on Independence Day

Statement on Em Mijares' shirt reads

Statement on Em Mijares’ shirt reads “Sometimes it is necessary to shout so that those playing deaf can hear.” Photo from @xianneangel.

Philippine President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III was delivering his Independence Day speech when somebody from the crowd shouted: “Oust the pork barrel king! There’s no change in the Philippines!”

The person who disrupted the president's speech was student leader Emmanuel Pio Mijares. The president was speechless for a brief moment, as the Chronicle of Carlos recounts:

It was not the usual platitudes at the podium by the President, who seemed to be caught off guard during his Independence Day speech in Naga City by a brief chanting some 40 feet away. The words “Patalsikin ang pork barrel king! Walang pagbabago sa Pilipinas” rang through the mass of civil bodies and involuntarily filled in the two-second gap. In that brief moment, 19-year-old Ateneo de Naga student Emmanuel Pio Mijares seemed to deliver a dagger that disrupted Aquino’s thoughts and disturbed his imagined peace.

The student leader was promptly dragged by elements of the Presidential Security Group and police off the premises and arrested. The security forces then allegedly forced him to swallow the banner he unfurled during the lightning protest and put him in jail for 24 hours. Mijares was freed only after posting bail to the tune of P8,000 (around $US200).

Criminal charges were also slapped on Mijares for allegedly causing “tumultuous disturbance” and the “assault upon an agent of a person in authority.” His protest action has been described as a case of “heckling” against the president in most mainstream media reports.

The young activist did not feel any remorse for his lightning protest and instead saw it as his own contribution to a growing mass movement calling for genuine reforms. Massive anti-pork barrel protests set off that very day with 10,000 taking to the streets of the national capital Manila and thousands more in other major urban areas across the country. Many Filipinos have decried the persistence of the pork barrel system, or the use discretionary lump sum funds for the pet projects of government officials, in spite of the Aquino administration’s anti-corruption rhetoric.

Social media has been abuzz with commentary in the wake of Mijares’ disruption of the President’s speech. Most detractors decry Mijares for his “lack of etiquette” and thus deserved the punishment as a consequence of his actions. These are the lines of John C. Jacinto in a comment over Angela Stuart Santiago’s blog:

the heckler should suffer the consequences of his action. alarm and scandal are crimes defined and penalized under the revised penal code. this is a police matter pure and simple. he could have delivered his message to the president by writing him a letter. but to heckle the highest official of the land is sobra na. good manners and right conduct must be observed at all times.

Cocoy of the Pro-Pinoy Project described the disruption of the President’s speech as a form of disrespect:

The long standing problem — one that many in the public share is a single blindness to uncivilly. Online, and offline, yes, you may disagree with Noynoy Aquino the man, but where does that disagreement end, and respect for the office begin?

But others, like The Marocharim Experiment, defended Mijares’ action as a form of political expression:

What Pio Mijares did is still a political act, a political expression, and it speaks volumes about the kind of political action you can expect from those who share his beliefs. Yet the treatment of him speaks something about the kind of politics that this administration subscribes to. The latter is far more damning than the former.

Prof. Sarah Raymundo of the University of the Philippines meanwhile praised Mijares for his activism.

In disrupting the president’s speech, Emmanuel embodied the people’s desire for change. The banner he held shows that the act was an organized plan fuelled by collective daring. Like many of us who took to the streets on the same day, he was righteously agitated, his slogans were radical. But only he had owned the chance to show the president how uncompromisingly empowered we are as a mass movement.

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