President of the Philippines Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III was interrupted multiple times by protesters in the audience during his World Leaders Forum discussion on Tuesday evening.
Aquino, speaking to a packed Low Rotunda about corruption during the regime of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who imposed martial law on the Philippines from 1972 to 1981, broached the subject of reducing corruption in his country.
"Anyone could be thrown in jail for expressing an opinion," he said.
He also remarked on his efforts to address intergenerational poverty, specifically with respect to Muslim separatists from "the underdeveloped south of our country."
During the Q&A session, three audience members interrupted Aquino throughout the Q&A session, expressing outrage at the culture of impunity that they claimed persists under Aquino.
One audience member interrupted the Q&A with a speech encouraging the audience to "wake up" and confront Aquino's authority.
She and a second protester were led out of the building by security. The two left chanting "No justice, no peace. No more killings in the Philippines!" repeatedly, and one protester unfolded a banner reading "No impunity in the Philippines." According to emails sent to registered attendees prior to the forum, posters and signs were strictly prohibited.
The Q&A proceeded smoothly for the following two questions until another protester began to speak out of turn.
"How could you do this to our people?" she asked before being led away by security.
Aquino then continued the Q&A session, answering most of the subsequent questions with statistical data handed to him by his aides.
The presentation ended with Columbia President Lee Bollinger apologizing for the interruptions, but he added, "We believe in the freedom of speech, just as you do."
All three protesters who were removed from Low refused to produce Columbia identification when asked by Public Safety, so it was unclear if they were University affiliates.
Protests continued on Low Plaza after the event. Anakbayan-USA, a member group of the Bayan-USA alliance of Filipino leftist activist organizations, was there to protest Aquino's administration. Group members chanted and held banners, including one that read "Oust Aquino, Pork Barrel King."
Anakbayan leader Yves Nibungco addressed the gathering crowd and said his organization was "here to expose that there is no peace and there is no progress in the Philippines."
Nibungco went on to criticize the Aquino government for silencing, through violence and torture, those who oppose it. Aquino's policies, he said, perpetuated poverty by sending Filipino labor overseas and allowing multinational mining and plundering corporations to use Philippine natural resources for profit.
Nibungco claimed that donations to Aquino's government in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan never made it to the Philippine people but remain in government officials' bank accounts to this day.
"This government is anti-people. It is anti-poor," he said.
When asked if group members were Columbia students, he said, "We are not students here. We have members who are students, but they are not the ones who spoke. One of our members was just arrested. ... This is a place for free intellectual discussion. This should not be a place to repress whoever is speaking."
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Correction: An earlier version of this story included a photo of the president of Tunisia instead of Phillipines President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III. Spectator regrets the error.