Malacañang on Monday dismissed the harassment and threats from supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte against students from UP Visayas who criticized the administration, saying it was a “very natural reaction.”
A UPV organization dubbed as the “Skimmers” were attacked online after their cheer routine, which criticized the government’s stance in the West Philippine Sea and renewed calls for mandatory military training, made rounds on social media.
Some pages even went as far as publicizing some of the members’ personal information and linking them to the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“Of course, it’s very natural to react. Maybe for some, it was not a joke,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a press briefing.
“That’s very natural reaction for supporters of the President,” he added.
In the university’s annual cheering competition, the group also called out the Duterte administration for attacks on press freedom and the military’s red-tagging of students and schools
The group’s performance also pointed out the Commission on Higher Education’s memorandum that removed Filipino, Panitikan and the Philippine Constitution as core subjects in college and the Rice Tariffication Law.
The attacks against the Skimmers amplified after blogger Mocha Uson—now Overseas Workers Welfare Administration deputy administrator—shared a clip of the Skimmers’ performance on her blog with the caption: “Let’s kill the President daw? Yan na ba talaga ang tinuturo nila sa University of the Philippines ngayon?”
In response to the online attacks, the hashtags #HandsOffSkimmers and #HandsOffUPV became trending topics on social media.
In a statement Sunday night, the UP Visayas condemned the attacks against their students.
The university also explained that the annual cheering competition is a “unique tradition” where students perform routines that can include satirical commentaries on various issues.
“In UP Visayas, we encourage our students to think critically and allow them to exercise their freedom of expression,” the statement read.
The university administrators also assured students that they will be protected inside the campus.
“We also assure them of protection while they are inside the campuses. We remind them to exercise prudence in their actions, thus, we denounce all forms of threats and harassment held against them,” the statement added.
The Skimmers’ 15-minute routine defeated 10 other UPV organizations in the cheering competition.