Student groups stage cultural protest for human rights

By Inna Christine Cabel

As justice remains elusive for victims of different human rights violations in the country, University of the Philippines – Diliman (UP) student groups filled Palma Hall Feb. 17 with songs and poetry of protests.

“Rage Against Repression,” a cultural protest calling for the end of state fascism, was held to relaunch human rights youth network Tanggulan.

“Ito ay isang paraan ng pagpapakita na mulat ang kabataan sa kawalan ng hustisya na laganap sa mga pananamantala ng mga may kapangyarihan,” said Sachi Samaniego, member of the Union of Journalists of the Philippines – UP (UJP-UP).

UJP-UP, along with Himig Maskom and Alay Sining dedicated revolutionary songs such as “Rosas ng Digma” and self-written spoken word pieces to the victims of the Ampatuan and Kidapawan massacres.

On Nov. 23, 2009, 58 individuals including 32 media workers accompanying Esmael Mangudadatu on his way to file his certificate of candidacy for governor during election season were slain in an ambush in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

Out of 197 accused, 112 have been arraigned. Andal Ampatuan Sr., one of the main suspects, died in July 2015.

The victims were tortured, killed and disposed in mass graves by men allegedly from the Ampatuan clan, a political rival of Mangudadatu’s and one of whose sons was incumbent Maguindanao governor at the time.

On the other hand, the 2016 Kidapawan massacre involved the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) violent dispersal of about 3,000 protesters who blocked several roads in Cotabato April 1 calling for the immediate release of calamity aid from the local government.

The incident left two farmers dead and 40 protesters injured.

The province was placed under a state of calamity on Jan 19. According to North Cotabato’s Crop Damage Report Summary, around 36,915 farmers were affected by the drought.

North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista along with various local government officials and officers of the police and military were criminally charged for the dispersal.

Meanwhile, students also condemned the recent declaration of an all-out war by the government against communist rebels, citing it as a manifestation of state fascism.

According to UP Diliman University Student Council Councilor Ben Te, the need for the continuation of the peace process is essential to achieve just peace.

“Hinding-hindi po natin masasabi na mapayapa ang ating bansa, dahil sa iba’t ibang paraan nagdidigma ang ating estado, pinapatay ang kanyang mga mamamayan,” Te said.

“Gine-gyera niya ang mismong mamayang Pilipino na nabuhay, nahihirapan, para sa ating lipunan,” he added.

The armed struggle of the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), established in 1968, is Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency.

Founded by Jose Maria Sison, the CPP aims to create a new democratic state headed by the working class, and is free from imperialism. The NPA is its armed unit while the National Democratic Front (NDF) represents the CPP to the Philippine government.

The first formal peace talks under the Duterte administration and the NDF started Aug. 22, 2016 in Oslo, Norway. On Aug. 25, Duterte also declared ceasefire with the CPP-NPA.

According to Kapayapaan, the meetings resulted to an agreement strengthening the joint monitoring mechanism for human rights and humanitarian law, the approval of several provisions on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) and an exchange of drafts on political and constitutional reforms.

Duterte scrapped the peace talks Feb. 4, accusing the CPP-NPA of violating the ceasefire and finally terminating the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and ending the peace process on Feb. 7.

“It is an all-out war because they are already considered by the president as terrorist[s],” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a press briefing Feb. 9.

Both parties were supposed to meet on Feb. 22 to 27 to discuss the government’s proposal for a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

The CPP in a statement last Feb. 19 urged for the resumption of peace talks, reiterating their support for the agreement.

Peace advocates such as National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) chair Liza Maza and Sen. Loren Legarda, also urged the president to resume the peace process.

A peace talks forum also organized by Tanggulan will be held on Feb. 22. The events are part of the build-up campaign for the National Day of Walkout for Free Education, Human Rights and Just Peace to be held on Feb 23. #

Lady Maroons stay perfect against Lady Tigresses

Photo taken by Keith Jasper Magcaling during UP vs. UE Women’s Volleyball game, Feb. 11, 2017.

By Luisa Morales

The University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Maroons remained unbeaten as they edged out the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Tigresses in four sets, 25-22, 25-22, 29-31, 25-18, today in the UAAP season 79 Women’s Volleyball Tournament at the Filoil Flying V Arena.

After claiming the first two sets, the Lady Maroons looked poised to maintain their spotless record with yet another sweep, but a couple of miscues gave the opening to the España-based squad to take charge and clinch a set off the Lady Maroons.

The Lady Maroons, however were able to recover in the fourth set to close out the feisty Tigresses. Diana Carlos and Isa Molde led UP with 16 and 14 points, respectively.

Meanwhile, EJ Laure spearheaded the charge for the Tigresses, finishing with 18 points.

The teams were neck and neck in the first set with neither side getting an advantage over the other. However, a late run by the Diliman volleybelles and errors from their opponents saw the Lady Maroons take the set, 25-22.

It was the same story in the second set, a tight competition resulting in back and forth points for both teams. There were numerous deadlocks that lasted until both squads were tied at 22.

However, three straight points from the UP squad, including a service ace from senior Kathy Bersola at set point, gave them the 2-0 lead.

The Lady Tigresses did not back down as they began the third set strong, but the Lady Maroons fought their way back. Fans were going wild as both teams rallied back and forth in a thrilling set.

The Lady Maroons failed to convert four match points, and an attack error from Tots Carlos at 29-30, extended the match to a fourth set.

Determined to close the game, the Lady Maroons stepped on the gas in the fourth set. The UP squad pulled away from the Tigresses in the middle of the set, 16-10.

Despite hits from UST’s skipper, Cherry Rondina, cutting the lead to four, 22-18, UP was able to win the last three points, with a service ace from Isa Molde ending the match.

At 4-0, UP is now the only undefeated team in the UAAP. #

National Space Agency proponent: PH space program will benefit the country

By Jeuel Barroso

Space development is essential to the Philippines for its progress and the growth of its societal sectors, said National SPACE Development Program Leader Dr. Rogel Sese in a forum at the University of the Philippines Diliman National Institute of Physics Feb. 13.

Sese, an astrophysicist, said the national space agency, which is currently still a program, will contribute “unquantifiable benefits” to the Philippines including more efficient agriculture and fishing methods, better communication services, better disaster reactions, and national and regional economic growth.

“Most people will look at this development of space mainly for contemporary impacts such as the launch of a satellite or a new launch facility, but what is more important are the enduring impacts of space,” Sese said in his ‘Crafting the Philippine Space Agency’ talk, citing the smartphone’s GPS as an example of space technology.

Aside from being Sese’s personal dream, the National SPACE Development Program was founded to “establish the necessary frameworks and foundations necessary for the future National Space Agency.”

Upon establishment, the Philippine Space Agency will be the country’s sole agency responsible for addressing all space-related matters and issues.

Established in 2013 as a business institution called Regulus SpaceTech, the project is now funded by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD).

According to the astrophysicist, the program can provide technology for the monitoring of crops and fisheries, as well as forests, seas, mountains and their pollution levels.

Communication applications of the program include global scale communications and satellite television.

In fact, the program’s Satellite Development Roadmap (SDR) is planned to provide free satellite data available for government agencies and the public.

Long-term research on Philippine climate as well as faster and more precise reactions to weather disasters can also be attained.

Incidentally, because of inadequate funding, President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration terminated Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) on Feb. 2. Project NOAH is a national disaster prevention and mitigation system crafted since 2012.

Moreover, the space agency will be the means to further develop the status of Philippine space development, which Sese claims is currently behind neighboring Asian countries.

“We are very dependent on foreign satellites… the Philippines only has one, which is the Diwata-1 microsatellite,” he said.

The astrophysicist further emphasized that the country lacks space scientists and engineers, has no ability to launch rockets to outer space, and is only signatory to one out of five international space treaties.

Meanwhile, Dr. Sese recognized the high cost of sustaining the space agency — a government-provided budget of at least P 24.4 billion as well as 800 trained space scientists and engineers for the next 10 years.

Nevertheless, the program seemed to have it easy through the legal process as two senate bills and four house bills were passed from September to December 2016 to legalize the agency.

The four were approved Jan. 31 by the House Committee on Government Reorganization and Science and Technology on its first reading.

“Frankly speaking we are told by people from the Congress and Senate that the rate that the space program is being pushed is very fast,” Sese said.

Likewise, a similar proposal to President Duterte on Jan. 9 was approved with an executive order currently awaiting signature.

“We need it for national development… having a space program is costly, but not having a space program is even costlier for the country,” Sese concluded. #

Concepcion inauguration highlights increased salary, benefits for employees

By Nacho Domingo

University of the Philippines (UP) President Alfredo Pascual officially concluded his six-year term, formally turning over the presidency to UP Law Dean Danilo Concepcion, Friday.

During the turnover ceremony at the UP Diliman Quezon Hall, Pascual handed the ceremonial mace to Concepcion as a symbolic gesture of passing authority to his successor.

“Inaalay ko po ang aking buong sarili nang walang pagdududa o pag-aalinlangan. […] Ito ay itinuturing kong isang sagradong pangako,” said Concepcion, likening himself to the Oblation Statue standing behind the stage.

During the search for the next UP President, Concepcion made clear his vision to instill compassion within the university, in addition to its traditional values of honor and excellence. He also emphasized the importance of giving increased incentives and benefits to various university stakeholders.

He also said he would consider the possibility of free tuition as well as the implementation of the Student Agenda in UP constituent units, said Student Regent Raoul Manuel upon Concepcion’s election.

In his inaugural speech, Concepcion revealed plans he developed for his term. These include continuing Pascual’s vision of internationalization, ending contractualization, the possibility of free tuition for students, as well as a higher salary for faculty and staff members.

“Sa aking pagtanggap sa katungkulan bilang presidente ng unibersidad, tinanggap ko rin po ng kusang loob ang lahat ng hamon sa kanya,” said Concepcion.

During the ceremony, Concepcion also introduced the university officials who will part of his cabinet.

Concepcion was selected as the new UP President after receiving the most votes in a round of secret ballot voting by 11 members of the UP Board of Regents on Nov. 15, 2016.

He was chosen over former UPD Chancellor Caesar Saloma, UPD Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Benito Pacheco, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary Rowena Christina Guevara, former Vice President for Academic Affairs Gisela Concepcion, and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) commissioner Prospero De Vera III.

Concepcion, whose term as UP President will span 2017 until 2023, also lauded Pascual and the victories attained by his administration.  

“Napakataas po ng pamantayan na iniwan ni President Pascual,” Concepcion said.

“Kung ito po ay ihahambing natin sa larong luksong tinik, mahirap pong lundagin ang mataas na tinik na kaniyang itinayo,” he added.

Pascual’s term: a vision of internationalization

Prior to the turnover ceremony, Pascual delivered a speech highlighting the achievements of his administration.

The former UP president pointed out the government’s budget increase for the UP system, which rose from P5.8 billion in 2011 to over P13 billion in 2015.

He also mentioned the increased incentives for employees.

Pascual then reported new income-generating projects he spearheaded for the university.

“These were measures to promote the commercialization of UP’s intellectual property,” he said, citing UP Town Center and the Science and Technology park in Los Baños as prime examples, among others.

He also discussed the Green UP Project, which provided a lower utility cost for the university through the installation of solar panels and the use of electric vehicles on campus.

Lastly, the 20th UP President also prided his administration on the establishment of new UP campuses in Cebu, Taguig, and Pampanga, as well as plans of constructing campuses in Tarlac, Davao del Norte, and Alabang to become hubs for medical sciences, agriculture, and technological innovation, respectively.

Pascual expressed that the vision of his term was geared towards ushering in a modern and internationalized UP.

“As the national university, UP is the face of Philippine higher education to the rest of the world,” he said.

“This should inspire us to constantly upgrade our technologies and capabilities to better serve the university and the nation.”

According to Pascual, internationalization requires an unchainable sense of self.

“UP, as the national university, must seek to define and promote a truly Filipino identity and serve the needs of the country, something that we can carry across the globe as we become a greater part of the world we live in,” the former UP President said.  

He then gave the succeeding president his best wishes for the upcoming term.

“Today, I will pass on with pride and humility the mantle of leadership to my successor, whose outstanding qualifications give me confidence that the future of UP is in good hands,” said the former President.

“I know he will join in the path to greatness, as I have, with passion to serve in his heart and mind,” Pascual added. #

Former UP Prexy denied graceful exit by student groups, lauded by colleagues

By Tessa Barre and Merryll Phae Red Carao

Former University of the Philippines (UP) President Alfredo E. Pascual’s send-off ceremony Feb. 9 became site to both praises from his colleagues and protests from student groups on his administration’s projects and policies.

In the Institute of Biology Auditorium, former and current UP chancellors, deans, faculty and staff representatives and a few students including student leaders attended the open invitation ceremony of thanksgiving for the president’s six years of service in the university.

“Tunay na hindi lahat ay naisaayos sa loob lamang ng anim na taon. May mga laban na nakakabinbin ngunit marami-rami din naman ang masasabing kongkretong materyalisasyon sa antas polisiya,” Staff Regent Alexis Mejia said.

Mejia, who represented the 8,700-strong UP staff, said Pascual’s term still brought about the most number of benefits received by workers as compared to previous administrations.

Among these benefits are the education support grant, health and wellness benefit, service recognition pay and the doling out of rice subsidies.

However, the call for the regularization of contractual employees in UP remains  a challenge for the next university president.

Meanwhile, former Philippine Collegian Features Editor Kevin Marc Gomez recounted Pascual’s stint as alumni regent, saying Pascual sided with critical perspectives as part of the Board of Regents, the highest decision-making body of the university.

“[Natatandaan ko pa] kung paano siya napalapit sa komunidad ng UP dahil sa pagsandig niya sa mga panawagan tulad ng pagtapyas ng budget ng UP at paggigiit ng demokratikong pamamahala sa pamantasan,” said Gomez.

Colleagues of Pascual further cited his achievements in giving incentives and educational and research opportunities to both faculty and staff in individual speeches that served both as thanksgiving and farewell.

Meanwhile, Dr. Agnes Rola, professor at UP Los Baños’ Institute for Governance and Rural Development commended him for leveling up the university to be socially relevant  through institutionalizing new programs.

“While we were defending the newly developed PhD in the development studies program you weren’t asking us about the but’s and the why’s but you asked when do you want to start the program,” Rola said, personally addressing the president.

“Not only that you offered to let us offer this program off-campus to reach non-traditional sectors around the area,” she added.

The Pascual administration also saw the return of 41 PhD students under the Balik PhD Program and the provision of up to P300,000  monetary grants to undergraduate and graduate students who wish to study abroad.

On the other hand, the administration also established more or less 400 linkages to international academic and research institutions which helped raise the number of journal articles published by UP faculty and researchers.

Contentions amidst congratulations

Pascual also delivered his last report highlighting his administration’s achievements, amidst applause from the university’s and the country’s higher education officials.

Included in this report was the ensured accessibility of UP education to ‘qualified’ students through the streamlining of the Socialized Tuition System (STS) and the availability of 100 percent student loans.

“With these, there is no reason why a student should not be able to enroll even if he or she doesn’t have the money,”  Pascual concluded.

The Socialized Tuition System (STS), first implemented in 2014, is the successor to the Socialized Tuition Fee Assistance Program, an alphabetized tuition scheme which categorizes students into brackets according to their socio-economic background and determines the amount they pay for the semester.

The STS was introduced in order to close gaps that the STFAP had, like the tedious application processes and inaccuracies in the results of the bracketing.

Pascual also said he hopes for the increase in government support for these projects especially now that talks of free tuition fees for state colleges and universities are afloat in Congress.

These statements did not sit well with Student Regent Raoul Manuel, who rose among the audience to remind the president of the right to free education.

“Sorry po, dear president hindi po kami kumbinsido sa sinabi niyo na achievement ang Socialized Tuition System,” said Manuel, “Andyan pa tayo sa pagsasabi na ang STS ay mas mabuti pa sa libreng edukasyon. Tandaan po natin sa term po ninyo namatay si Kristel Tejada,” Manuel said.

Tejada is a former UP Manila student who committed suicide after not being able to enroll due to unpaid tuition loans in 2012 under the STFAP bracketing system.

“I’ve heard you. I don’t want to talk about Kristel Tejada. Let her rest in peace,” Pascual said.

The president further clarified that the STS was not his brainchild and that, in fact, he is also for free tuition fees in universities.

“I didn’t claim that [STS is] the ultimate solution. I was talking about free tuition, and I hope that there is this tuition fund to support the free tuition policy of the government,” Pascual said.

“I didn’t introduce STS in the university. What I did was to streamline the process so that our students can avail of it in a faster way,” he added.

The statement did not appease Manuel, however, and five members of the University Student Council (USC) who stood up to join the student regent in a lightning rally calling for the junking of the STS and eUP project, failures they claim that the president has not yet been held accountable for.

The eUP Project is a P750-million system-wide information integration project seeking to “integrate and harmonize the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure and system across all constituents universities (CUs) of the UP System.”

However, failures in the project’s implementation in different CUs and lack of transparency of the project’s spending prompted doubts and mobilizations from several student groups across UP units.

‘Ang laban ng Iskolar ng Bayan ay laban ng lahat’

The USC members and the student regent were escorted out of the auditorium by security personnel among boos from the audience.

“Noong pinalabas kami, sabi civility daw—minority lang naman daw kasi ‘yong mga estudyante,” College of Mass Communication (CMC) representative Hazel Lobres said.

Manuel said the programme was manipulated so that Pascual’s term-end report went first; this garnered an angered reaction from the student council members which was what had them escorted outside.

“Saan ka nakakita ng programa kung saan ang kanyang mga constituents na dapat n’yang pagsilbihan ay nandito sa labas at ayaw n’yang kausapin?” said Manuel.

Meanwhile, different progressive student groups had gathered at the Institute of Biology’s doors to protest against honoring Pascual, calling for his accountability for various “anti-student” policies his administration implemented.

 

“Kung mayroon dapat pasalamatan sa araw na ito, hindi ‘yang pahirap na pangulo na yan kung hindi ang iskolar ng bayan na patuloy na lumalaban para sa ating mga karapatan,” said USC Councilor Arvin Alba.

 

The protesters were barred from entering the building by security guards stationed at both entrances.

 

Even students who were not part of the mob but were on their way to their classes were denied  access to the building. Students inside the venue were also not allowed to leave the premises.

 

The tension quickly escalated with the face-off between the students and security officers resulting to a physical altercation after the student groups asserted that as stakeholders with grievances, they should be allowed to enter the building.

 

“Ang balak talaga ay makapag-register nung mga panawagan namin [dahil] for the past six years nagbibingi-bingihan ang Pascual administration,” said Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) Chair Josiah Hiponia. “Humahantong pa sa violent dispersals para lang maipaabot sa kanya iyong mga hinaing natin.”

 

Despite the chaos that ensued during the mob on Pascual’s last day, Hiponia remains hopeful about the next president’s term, although he admitted that Concepcion and Pascual see eye to eye in some issues like the implementation of the eUP Project.

 

“Noong ako po ay lumibot at nagtanong sa ating mga kasama sa unibersidad, wala naman po akong napakinggan na kumokontra doon sa purposes noong eUP,” Concepcion said in a UP forum held last Oct. 13.

 

Despite the various protests that UP students held against the eUP Project, Concepcion said that the eUP system is needed for the modernization of the university.

 

“Alam kasi natin na ‘yong background n’ya—na may pagka-anti-student s’ya sa pagiging dean sa College of Law, kung saan maraming grievances ang mga law students,” Hiponia said, “Pero siyempre, ‘yong mga bagong simulain very optimistic tayo tungkol diyan.”

 

He said that nevertheless, student groups will continue to forward their campaigns, hoping for Concepcion to hear them out, especially on the issues of free education and the end to contractualization.

 

In a statement released by Manuel on Facebook as per the UP President’s selection, Concepcion showed the “most positive commitments” among the UP President candidates regarding the Student Agenda, especially the fight for free education and the junking of other school fees.

At the end of the protest, the student-protesters admitted not holding grudges against the guards.

 

USC Chairperson Bryle Leaño addressed them, saying the students and workers are on the same side and that they should not be the ones at each other’s necks.

 

The real enemy, for Leaño and for the students that gathered to protest was Pascual and his “anti-student and anti-people” policies.

 

“Ang laban ng iskolar ng bayan ay laban din ng mga gwardiya, laban din ng mga kawani, at laban din ng lahat ng sektor ng Unibersidad ng Pilipinas,” he said. “Ipaliwanag natin na hindi mali ang paglaban. May mali kaya tayo lumalaban.”

 

Both parties shook hands with each other and exchanged apologies before the students left.

 

#

Compromise and consensus

The University of the Philippines’ (UP) militancy has proved its legacy of victories for decades, but in the debate on a document formally declaring our rights as students, questions and doubts remain.

In these times of uncertainty, however, it is important to assess if we, students, are asking the ideal questions and fighting the right struggle.

The Students’ Magna Carta has divided the UP community to choose between two polar premises—that the Magna Carta will weaken UP’s long-running student movement and that the document will safeguard the rights of its students.

The much-debated codified students’ rights was first drafted by student council chairpersons, sectoral representatives, and randomly selected UP students in the summer term of A.Y. 2014 to 2015. The representatives who crafted the document came from the different organizations and political parties, proving that it is not an endeavor only of a sole political party.

After the process of drafting, informing the students, and conducting a referendum that resulted to a 94 percent support from the student body, the University Student Council of has finally made their stand last January 24, 2016 to support the Magna Carta.

On November 4, the current USC made a decision to suspend a stand-making on the Magna Carta. The University Student Council garnered widespread attention on their treatment of the Magna Carta, and drew criticisms from the student body.

Recognizing the growing public concern on the issue, the USC released a statement regarding the decision, stating that among the most contentious provisions of the document was in Section IV of Article 4, where the “students shall have the right to be consulted on any proposed increase or creation of school fees” by the Board of Regents (BOR).  As of January 13,  the USC voted to support the Magna Carta in a 19-10-1 vote.

Following the basic premise of RA 9500 that gives power to the BOR to increase school fees, and that the Magna Carta cannot in any way, supersede the law, students must realize that it is not the document that they should be questioning in the first place but the very law and system that the document falls under.

Another point of contention raised is that the document allows the administration to “facilitate the operations of campus publications.” This phrase is in fact derived from Article V, Section 1 which exactly states that: “Students shall have the right to establish and run structures of self-governance, mechanisms for advocacy, and systems of decision-making. To this end, the University shall support and facilitate the creation and operation of student councils and student publications.”

The contention is clearly taken out of context as it implies that the document condones the administration’s control over the operations of publications– the exact opposite of what it truly suggests. Section 6 further supports student publications when it stated that: “All publications produced by students shall be self-regulated. School authorities shall not unduly sanction members of campus press and media.”

If students want their rights to be recognized by the UP administration, they must work around a multifaceted approach with the passage of the Magna Carta being but one aspect of it.

Rather than debating on whether UP students ought to have a formal declaration of rights, we should address the fact that while the document should be seen in good faith, it will never be enough, and this is where collective action comes to play.

Since the document is being created under a framework that is presently governed by repressive policies, it must be subjective to further amendments in the future, amendments that shall be representative of all students and for students.

While the system is obviously flawed, students must work around it, not as a form of compromise but as a way to gain better footing against those in power through both legal and collective action.

UP has been known for its long-running mass movement, and it should not limit itself to such. The UP community must remember that the means to defend students’ rights have no hierarchy and that there are other avenues to forward students’ rights. The success of Kabataan Partylist in representing the youth to the Congress and the continuous forwarding of sectoral groups’ demands by the Makabayan bloc are some concrete examples that a different approach in attaining change does not preclude the mass movement.

We have achieved victories in part because we know the rights we are entitled to and because we are determined to fight for them. History has also witnessed that no code, or law for that matter, is ever superior to our own voices. After all, the document can only be maximized by the junking of existing repressive policies through the student movement.

Establishing a document codifying UP students’ rights is but a single step. What more progressive action we can do is to see the bigger picture and fight for a nation where free education for every student is upheld. The bigger battle for a quality and accessible education across the country still holds.

However, it is time we give support where support is due. Questions and doubts have been answered, and should continuously be, as long the lines of communication of all parties involved are open. Students must go beyond party politics and focus on continuously watching for those who are in power.

The Student’s Magna Carta is neither the supreme solution nor a signal to devalue collective action. The struggle for attaining our rights must grow stronger now, more than ever. #

Youth groups slam attacks against education sectors

Photo taken during the First Day Fight mobilization, Jan. 17, 2017. 

By Jeuel Barroso and Ara Nacario

Amidst the loud convergence of college organizations from various universities, 17-year-old Caella Serrano stood on the platform beneath the Mendiola Peace Arch with words that far outgrew her small frame and young age.

Decrying the ‘false promise’ of free education proliferating in the Batasan Hills National High School, the League of Filipino Students member aired the struggles of the youth sector on the National Day of Action for Free Education, Friday.

Aside from condemning President Rodrigo Duterte’s proclamation on free education, Serrano also brought up the issue of the K-12 curriculum, which she fears is in danger of being buried under several other social issues.

“Ang pag-iimplementa ng tinatawag na K-12 ay isang aspeto ng pagpapahirap sa mga estudyante at magulang,” Serrano said.

The K-12 curriculum was implemented in 2013 in all public schools under the Department of Education (DepEd) and in over 2,000 schools nationwide. It added three more years–one to kindergarten, two to senior high school (grades 11 and 12)–to the previous 10-year education system under the Basic Education Curriculum of 2002.

Despite the 33,608 classrooms DepEd has started constructing as of 2014 as well as their plan to establish 5,899 Senior High Schools nationwide, Serrano said her school still cannot accommodate all the high school students who will move-up from grade 10 to grade 11.

“Sinasabi nilang libre yung edukasyon pero bakit may babayaran parin kaming 22,000 ‘pag tungtong namin ng senior high? Bakit hanggang ngayon wala pa din kaming maayos na pasilidad sa aming mga eskwelahan?” she added.   

Moreover, she said her school is “pushing” them to enroll in private colleges for their tertiary education,  such as Centro Escolar University and Systems Technology Institute (STI).    

“Mas maraming prino-promote sa amin na mga pribadong paaralan kung saan hindi namin kayang tugunan ‘yung matrikula, hindi talaga siya angkop sa pamumuhay namin,” Serrano said.

The young activist said she wants to study in state universities such as the University of the Philippines (UP) as she dreams of being a teacher in future.  

“Kami namang mga high school [students], may mga pangarap din pero ‘yung pangarap namin ay nagiging pangarap na lang dahil sa kabulukan ng edukasyon,” Serrano said.

Same old scheme

Prior to the protest in Mendiola, around 150 students from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman gathered at the Palma Hall lobby for a twofold purpose—condemning the persisting Socialized Tuition System (STS) and forwarding the right to free education.

Although the UP community is no stranger to these rallies, student organizations soldier on with their plight until quality education is accessible to all.

On Dec. 16, 2016, Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chairperson Patricia Licuanan confirmed that students from state universities and colleges (SUCs) would enjoy free tuition after an additional budget of P8.3 billion was added to the commission’s budget.

A week later Licuanan’s statement, President Rodrigo Duterte said the Higher Education Support Fund will prioritize financially disadvantaged but academically able students. Duterte had asked the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and Department of Budget and Management to issue guidelines for said fund.  

This was done in spite of the president’s goal to invest in human capital development, including the education system, as stated in his 10-point socio-economic agenda.

The students also slammed Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chair Patricia Licuanan’s statement on free education. In a television interview with Winnie Monsod which aired Jan. 16, Licuanan said if CHEd had its way, it will subsidize those coming from the “poorest segments” first.

UP Diliman University Student Council Councilor Ben Te said that the notion of prioritizing the academically excellent is problematic, adding that this has no other effect other than profit from the poor.

“Ang totoo, walang ibang ginawa ang socialized tuition kundi magkamal ng kita. Mula sa mga tuition fees, tinatago nila ang kita sa mga bangko para gamitin sa karagdagang projects nila,” Te said.

UP has been practicing a socialized tuition scheme since the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) was established in 1989. STFAP placed students into brackets based on their economic status; these brackets indicated the price students pay during registration.

The STFAP was criticized for its tedious processing time, which usually lasted up to 10 months. Its successor, the Socialized Tuition System (STS), reduced the STFAP’s 14-page application form to two.

The STS also implemented income cut-offs for bracketing, increase in monthly stipend, streamlining of bracket assignment and appeal process, although some student leaders observed otherwise.

Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) Chairperson Josiah Hiponia said the faulty system only pushed students to tell lies about their real economic status, hoping to be assigned to lower brackets.

“Hinaharap pa rin natin ang kontradiksyon dahil hindi tayo hinahayaan ng ating estado sa mukha ng administrasyong Duterte na makamtan ang dekalibreng edukasyon,” he said.

“Kaya napakaraming mga kabataan ang hindi tumuntong sa ating pamantasan dahil napakamahal, napakahirap ng proseso, kailangan mong patunayan na napakahirap mo.”

Expensive fees, cheap facilities

Youth leaders also slammed CHEd for being the primary institution charging expensive fees from students.

In a 2014 interview with Bulatlat, the Office of Student Regent (OSR) said that since the STFAP was implemented in 1989, UP tuition rates have “skyrocketed” from P40 per unit to P1,500 as the default rate per unit–leading to “a steady increase in the number of appeals for late payment and loan applications.”

Members of the university’s largest stakeholder, however, are not satisfied with the apparent lack of results from the heightened fees, which are coupled with even more charges that come in the form of energy fees and laboratory fees, among others.

UP College of Engineering Representative to the USC Alfrey Oria noted that despite costly dues such as laboratory fees, UP’s facilities remain in dire need for rehabilitation and restocking.

“Nagva-vary yung lab fees depende sa program, sa iba more than P8,000 to P10,000. Pero nagpapatuloy yung mga kakulangan sa kagamitan tapos iba pa yung mga miscellaneous fees,” Oria said.

He also added that even students taking their on-the-job training (OJT) outside the campus need to pay miscellaneous fees.

However, according to Oria, consultation with the students and dialogues with the College of Engineering administration continue in order to address student concerns.

“Syempre patuloy yung pag-oorganisa at pagkilos ng mga estudyante para ma-pressure ang administrasyon. Pero alam natin hindi ito agad-agad maibibigay kaya dapat hindi mapagod lalo yung mga lider-estudyante na manguna sa laban ng mga Iskolar ng Bayan,” Oria said.

While quality education remains inaccessible to those in the margins of society, the likes of Serrano, Te and Oria will continue to air their concerns and take the battle to the streets.

Age will be no hindrance and economic status shall bear no weight when the youth band together to take action like the nation’s future they are expected to be.

As long as finishing college or entering school remains a fairytale for most, the youth shall persevere, and the streets shall witness the struggle to obtain the means by which such future can be attained—through free quality education for all. #

UP LSG to lobby UP admin for Students’ Magna Carta

By Nacho Domingo

After garnering the support of the University Student Council (USC), the UP Law Student Government (LSG) cited lobbying with the UP administration as the next step in the campaign for the Magna Carta’s passage at the first Magna Carta Convention held Thursday in the UP College of Law.

The Magna Carta is a self-executing document crafted by the students in the summer term of USC 2014-2015.

It lists the rights UP students are entitled to, which are not found in any other existing university document.  

“The grassroots campaign to pass the Magna Carta begins with a dialogue with the deans. This precedes a presentation to the faculty and local information campaigns,” UP LSG Internal Vice President Audrey Ng said. “This is important because the University Council is comprised of faculty members.”

On Jan. 11, 2016, the USC and LSG consulted with the University Council Committee of Student Organization Activities and Welfare (UCCSOAW) about the Magna Carta.

The UCCSOAW forwarded comments on the document, which the Magna Carta Committee defended through a defense paper submitted to the Office of the Chancellor.

Ng believes the consultation is key to presenting the document before the University Council and eventually the Board of Regents.

“The UCCSOAW will be the committee that will be endorsing the document for discussion in the University Council, so that’s why we needed to have the document presented before them and to garner their support,“ said Ng, who is a member of Diliman Rights Watch.

The Diliman Rights Watch, supported by the LSG and the League of College Councils, is an alliance of advocates of the document, currently consisting of five student councils, 26 organizations and 33 members.

According to Ng, the alliance is set to conduct educational discussions, college primers and lobbying workshops aimed at raising student awareness for the document.

In doing this, they aim to both increase the size of the alliance while at the same time engaging in discourse with the administration.

“If you choose to join the alliance, we will teach you about the document in general and train you on how to lobby with the administration,” Ng said.

While their battle is far from being won, the alliance believes that successfully negotiating with the administration will prove to be a pertinent step in attaining victory.

‘Magna Carta for the students, by the students’

During the convention, LSG President Paolo Macariola also shed light on the history of the document, explaining how the document was first conceptualized locally in 2012.

“The law students were keen on drafting a Magna Carta, because we experience violations of our rights as students every day,” Macariola said.

Macariola elaborated on how law students are required to pay a non-refundable reservation fee of P5,000 for a slot in the college prior to their enrollment. He also said their classes at times extended hours longer than their scheduled times, and that professors sometimes prohibit their students from dropping a class.

However, due to the lack of a governing body that will effectively implement a Magna Carta inside the College of Law, the document was not passed.

Former head of the Magna Carta Ad Hoc Committee and former USC Councilor Pola Lamarca said the Magna Carta, drafted for and by students, enumerates student rights that are legally enforceable.

These include the right against discrimination in educational institutions, the right to select their own field of study, and the right to adequate welfare services and academic facilities.

“The Student Code only tells you what you can’t do. That’s why we drafted the Magna Carta, to let the students know what you can do,” said Lamarca.

Lamarca said during the drafting of the document back in 2015, the goals were to represent each college, open discourse, and listing rights reflective of the student agenda. This consisted of six plenary sessions, and the assistance of a legal and style team before the draft was approved by the Magna Carta committee in June of the same year.

The Magna Carta committee then conducted a referendum through ballot votes during the enrollment period, Jan. 12-14 2016. Over 7,000 students participated out of an estimated 18, 625 enrolled students at the time. Ninety-four percent of the votes were in favor of the passage of the document.

“The 6% that voted no shows us that the document is not perfect. However, based on the votes, we know it is something that the students can get behind,” said Lamarca.

Among the students who voted no was USC Councilor Shari Oliquino, who said, “Ang kalaban po natin ay hindi mga propesor na late magpasa ng grado, kung hindi ang mismong sistema ng edukasyon ngayon.”

Oliquino, Rise For Education Alliance convenor, cited student movement as the best alternative to the document which does not directly address the battle for free education inside the university.

For 2017, the Diliman Rights Watch will continue its campaign to continuously raise awareness and create more advocates for the passage of the documents.

“No matter what, as long as you keep the campaign alive, pass it on, and keep it relevant, then there is hope for the Magna Carta to be approved,” said Lamarca.

Student groups slam Duterte admin’s ‘false promise’ of free education

By Jeuel Barroso

Calling for free education across the country, student groups from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman began the second semester of the academic year with protests against the government’s “threat” of implementing an income-based tuition system nationwide.

The Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) along with other student organizations condemned President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement to prioritize the “poor but academically excellent” in the P8.3 billion budget given to the education sector supposed to provide free tuition in SUCs.

“Very reminiscent ito sa Socialized Tuition System (STS) na meron tayo sa bansa… mula 2010 to 2014 ay nakapagkamal ng P1.9 billion ang ating admin gamit lamang ang STS,” UPD University Student Council (USC) Councilor Shari Oliquino said.

STS is a bracketing system that allows the university to designate tuition discounts based on the assessment of a student’s paying capacity.  

Since its implementation, enrollment problems such as misbracketing and inability to pay tuition fees have beset UP students.

According to Oliquino, plenty of students are unable to enroll as they could not afford to pay their tuition due to the implementation of neoliberal policies in and out of the university.

For the second semester of academic year 2015-2016, 1,728 out of 15,256 students under STS was able to obtain loans they applied for in January, a lower number compared to the 1861 students of the first semester according to a report by the Philippine Collegian.

Meanwhile, College of Mass Communication Student Council Chairperson Almira Abril explained that neoliberalism in education is manifested in the continuous profiteering from students, thereby ensuring of the excessive profit of the universities.

“Halimbawa ng neoliberal na atake sa edukasyon ay ang pagpapatupad ng Socialized Tuition System na isang lantarang profiteering scheme,” Abril said, “and through history napatunayan natin na STS justifies the commercialization of education.”

Since the initial version of STS in 1989–the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP)–the cost of UP tuition has gone up to 300 percent from 2006.

Consequently, the student organizations protested against the current tuition rate of P1,500 per unit set by UP President Alfredo Pascual, the highest yet in the university’s history.

“Ang panawagan ay yung pagpapabasura sa pinakaunang manipestasyon ng neoliberal na polisiya, which are STS and other school fees,” Abril said,“At syempre ‘yung pagsusulong natin ng tunay na pagkamit natin ng libre, dekalidad at abot-kamay na edukasyon.”

Continuing their campaign for free education for all, the student groups will hold a system-wide protest on January 27 and a walkout protest on February 23.

IBON: Duterte’s economic plans geared towards neoliberalism

By Jeuel Barroso

Independent thinktank IBON Foundation discussed Friday how ‘self-proclaimed pro-poor’ President Rodrigo Duterte forwarded economic policies favoring large-scale business over the working class and the impoverished.

Analyzing the first six months of the administration, IBON Executive Editor Rosario Bella Guzman said Duterte’s economic team implemented strategies that boosted the development and opportunities of local and foreign corporations while decreasing the resources of the local production and labor force.

“It would be called a crisis if we can see that the poor majority are really sinking deeper and deeper into poverty and then on the other hand the rich… has grown richer,” Guzman said in the year-end forum at the University of the Philippines, Diliman College of Mass Communication.

Despite the 3 percent decrease of the daily National Capital Region minimum wage in 2016 to P481–barely half of the 1,119-peso average family living wage–the net worth of the 40 richest Filipinos grew by almost 14 percent while the profits of the Philippine Stock Exchange increased by 18 percent.

Among these richest Filipinos include SM Prime Holdings, Inc. Chairman Henry Sy and John Gokongwei of Robinsons Malls.

“[Elite economics] has widened the gap between the rich .001 percent of the global population as against the 99 percent poor majority, mostly in poor countries such as in the Philippines,” Guzman said.

Likewise, in a press release by the foundation, business-oriented sectors such as construction and real estate industries have been identified as the country’s fastest growing sectors in 2016 while production sectors such agriculture and mining declined to 38.5 percent, the smallest recorded shares in Philippine history.

Besides favoring local corporations, the forum also discussed the inclination of the Duterte administration to foreign trade.

The executive editor explained that beyond the tension in Duterte’s meetings with the United States and the European Union, Foreign Trade Agreements (FTAs) between them are still being negotiated. These FTAs with foreign countries will open similar trade rights from both parties, lessening trade barriers such as tariffs.

However, according to an online article by the foundation, the Philippines cannot yet compete internationally due to the country’s relative underdevelopment. Aside from this, IBON claimed massive foreign corporations also tend to dissolve the many small local business.

“These FTAs expose the country to unfair competition, really advance capitalistic countries, and they also prevent the use of state intervention so they strengthen foreign investor rights,” Guzman said.

She further explained that these policies are grounded in a poverty-perpetuating system called neoliberalism–a system where the market concentrates on seeking profit from different life aspects such as food, agriculture, social services and public utility.

It manifests when the state regulates the flow of public resources to private profits, giving corporations legal rights to “rake in the biggest possible amount of profit.

“The president surrounded himself with an economic team that is composed of apologists of neoliberalism, the very reason for the continued impoverishment of the population,” Guzman said.

“[Neoliberalism] has exacerbated monopoly pricing, neglect of social services, marginalization in the countryside, urban poverty and mass overseas migration…In the Philippines, the almost four decades of implementation of neoliberalism has weakened local agriculture and Filipino industry,” she added.

Concluding the foundation’s assessment, Guzman reiterated IBON’s call for the country’s pursuance of national industrialization as a solution to the Duterte Administration’s economic deficiency.

“Pro-poor economics is when the local agriculture, the Filipino industry develops in a way that it creates sufficient jobs, that raises income, that develops local technology,” she said.

Guzman added, “You have a President that mouthed national industrialization. So it’s up to us to really push for that.”

Oppositions aired on free education resolution at 43rd GASC

By Nacho Domingo and Frances Josephine Espeso

Dissent rose over two out of six resolutions adopted by the 43rd General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) of the University of the Philippines (UP) system held Jan. 6 to 7 at UP Visayas Tacloban College (VTC).

UP Diliman’s (UPD) Business Administration Council (BAC) and School of Economics Student Council (SESC) respectively abstained from voting and differed on the resolution on the fifth resolution promoting free education in UP and other state universities and colleges.

“My council cannot commit to this partnership with the other councils because we have yet to discuss it internally,” Rianne Geronimo, Business Administration representative to the UPD University Student Council (USC), said during the assembly.

In an interview after the assembly, Geronimo said the BAC discussed their own events and objectives during their semester planning, adding that the resolution on free education did not come up during their Council’s meeting.

Meanwhile, during the GASC, SESC emphasized their Council’s belief in an equitable education system.

“We believe in equity, that those who are able to pay should be made to pay,” said SESC representative Pat Morada. Besides this, the SESC offered no other explanation during the assembly.

The free education resolution, authored by UP Cebu and UP VTC clears students of the obligation to pay tuition and other school fees.

It was later adopted after 33 other UP constituent units voted in favor of the resolution.

These councils elected to support the resolution on the grounds of the belief that education is a right that should be free of any charge.

“Hindi ang interes ng mga estudyante ang nagiging priority ng administrasyon kung hindi ang interes ng mga political and economic elites na nagpapatakbo nito,” said UPD Architecture councilor Denver Fajanilan, who also represented the college’s student council during the GASC, in an interview after the assembly.

“Ilang mga guro, manananggol, at doktor ang hindi makakapagtapos dahil hindi nila kayang bayaran ang matrikula? Ilang tao ang masasayang ang pangarap kung hindi nila kayang makapag-aral?” he added.

On the other hand, the sixth and last resolution to affirm a comprehensive declaration of student rights presented by UP Manila College of Arts and Sciences student council (CASSC) also faced objections from UPD School of Statistics student council (Stat SC), stating that “collective action” is not the only way to protect the democratic rights of students.

The resolution, which guards the students’ right to organize, freedom to mobilize, also includes students’ rights to free, accessible quality education.

“Maliban sa collective action, pwede rin ma-attain ang victory through proper discourse,” said Patrick Wincy Reyes, chairperson of the Stat SC.

UPV USC representative Joshua Sagdullas countered this by saying collective action becomes the main means of attaining victory precisely when discourse fails.

“I believe that collective action and proper discourse are not mutually exclusive. Pwede naman sila mangyari simultaneously,” he added.

Eventually, the resolution was adopted by the body at a consensus.

In contrast, the first four resolutions about national historical revisionism, contractualization, peace talks between the government and insurgents and freeing political prisoners were approved without objection from any council.

View the summary of the approved GASC resolutions here: http://bit.ly/2iicPCN

Portraying poverty and patriarchy: the triumph and downfall of VKJ

Text and art by Andrea Jobelle Adan

From the beginning, “Vince & Kath & James” (VKJ) has been hard-pressed to defend its place among the inventive, the progressive, the worthy. What was overtly fresh — if the opposite meant overused plot lines and profit-oriented delivery — with the other films, VKJ had to prove upon screening.

In this historic Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) lineup, VKJ had to shout why, in all its seeming rom-com simplicity, it belonged.

Director Theodore Boborol’s entry focused on the three teenagers in the title, their love triangle, and the love they receive or the lack thereof within their families.

It layers everything patiently, scene after carefully crafted scene. Often, after an emotionally-demanding segment, they would have the characters lighten the mood — a coping mechanism all too familiar to Filipinos.

And in its familiarity, VKJ triumphed. Though in a college setting, watchers need not be of that age to relate to the pangs of infatuation and the whirlwind of confusion that comes with it.

There was an awareness of romance and its subtleties, of the fine line between endearing and nauseating. Vince (Joshua Garcia) stares at Julia Barretto’s Kath a few seconds longer, his gaze silent yet meaningful. Overcome with delight, Kath jumps and cheers, looking nothing but silly after a crush texts.

No grand proclamations, no trumpets down the halls. It was real in its simplicity. The film’s other elements — the musical scoring, the acting, the set — exuded that as well.

But pure romance, no matter how tactful, would not have been enough for VKJ to stand tall with the others.

What will always remain a mystery to those who have not and would not watch is this: “Vince & Kath & James” is not your regular cheeky teen film.

Vince does more than breathe in between teasing and pursuing Kath. At times, he shouts, distressed over his powerlessness against his wealthier cousin, James. More often, Vince stutters, blinking and submissive, in a house which is clearly not his with a family he must take care to please.

The film sends it first in whispers, teasing the audience: will they address it? Will it be another film that merely acknowledged a social reality?

Amid the hearts and cupids, they weave into the film a scene where Vince and James are accused of plagiarism due to the latter’s laziness. Vince, whose educational record has not been tainted thus far, is told to take the fall.

The film takes it from whisper to speech.

Injustice, he says, but how could he refuse the demands of a cousin who would pass him designer shoes and phones as if it were nothing. How could he let down the family that sheltered him, fed him, when his own mother would not?

Vince was not welcome in his own home; how dare he then say no to the family that called him their own?

Here, the film finally shouts. Vince screams, “hanggang kailan ba ako magbabayad ng utang na loob?” echoing the agony of the lower class forced to submit to the powerful and wealthy.

The conflict is resolved the way it would have been resolved in reality: Vince is ready to fake taking part in the plagiarism but James finally admits it was all his own doing.

Vince had been spared; he did not fight it save for his cries of anger. Unsatisfying, yes, but realistic. No matter the emotional rollercoaster, the class divide does not disappear overnight, and definitely not through one college student’s realization alone. With this, the power to turn the tables is still held by the elite and both boys’ decisions reinforced this.

Discreetly though, the film offers consolation, even solution.

Throughout the overlapping arcs, another theme is present: love out loud. When Vince is made to confront how he has loved Kath silently, the film displays the pitfalls of a love conservative, painfully compromising and indirect. When Vince’s mother apologizes for allowing Vince to live with wealthier relatives because her husband despised him, the film shows there is place for a love that fights.

“Vince & Kath & James” would have made a simple yet worthy romantic movie in touch with reality. Yet it put all that to waste in its treatment of the main women in the film.

Vince’s mom is submissive to a husband who, for reasons not elaborated, despises Vince.

Kath’s mom is portrayed as out of her wits after her husband left their family for another woman abroad. One day, the dad shows up out of nowhere and, philandering obviously put aside, Kath’s mom is brimming with joy.

Kath, in all her mechanical engineer wonder, was made an object of Vince’s fantasies, inevitably falling prey to the male gaze. As she works in a talyer that should be anything but glamorous, the camera pans and zooms in on her thighs, on the curve of her waist, on the swell of her chest — all in painful slow motion.

Moreover, James’ attempted rape of Kath is excused because of his jealousy, a mere character flaw. The film does not address this, and no character is realistically offended. Immediately after, Kath addresses James’ jealousy and apologizes and in this, the film tells the audience which offense mattered more.

This aspect of the film cannot escape criticism by saying it is a reflection of the patriarchy currently in state. This sexism is not so much exposing but promoting a culture that is already harmful without the film’s tasteless treatment in tow. Exposing had been achieved by the theme on class divide, but despite its merits, this simply cannot be overlooked.

In this historic MMFF lineup, “Vince & Kath & James” shouted why it deserved to be there but choked on an aspect of its delivery and fell short.