MANILA—Students who participated in a cheering competition and performed a routine critical of the government were exercising freedom of speech, said University of the Philippines Visayas chancellor Ricardo Babaran.
The participants, who went by the collective name Skimmers, attracted criticism from pro-administration supporters, who said they were out of line.
Babaran defended the students' performance.
"My administration reiterates its commitment to promote and defend our academic freedom and freedom of speech," he said in a statement released Wednesday.
"While we may not all agree with one another in our ideas and modes of expression, I am personally committed to defend the rights to self-expression of all UPV constituents."
Babaran urged UP Visayas students and faculty to exercise discretion after the students were targeted by online harassers.
"I have reminded them to be very circumspect in issuing statements in any platform, which could have personal repercussions," he said.
Babaran also said the university was committed to ensure the safety and welfare of its constituents, especially the students.
"However, our capacity for physical protection is limited within our campuses only and cannot extend beyond its boundaries, especially in the online world," he said.
"Because we have armed our students with critical minds to speak, we trust them to fight their battles especially in social media wherever they are located in the social and political spectrum."
The 18-minute cheering video, which has racked up more than a million views across all social media platforms, highlighted President Rodrigo Duterte's close ties with China, the West Philippine Sea row, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE) bill, and media oppression in the country, among others.
The President's spokesman had said it was only "natural" for Duterte's supporters to hit back against the UP Visayas students.
"That's a very natural reaction to supporters of the President. It's a free country, they can react, too," Salvador Panelo said.