Reclaiming Ibalon: A Tale of Modern-Day Bicolano Warriors

By Krysten Mariann Boado

The Epic of Ibalon has been a familiar folktale in Bicolano households.

Its story revolves around three distinct warriors who brought peace to province and its people by ridding the land of its hideous monsters.

Baltog, the first warrior and the first to cultivate the rich fields of Ibalon (former name of Bicol), defeated the wild boar Tandayag when it came to destroy his crops.

The next hero, Handiong, brought with him a band of warriors to face the army of monsters ravaging Ibalon. These monsters were the one-eyed giants of Ponon, the giant flying fishes called Tiburon, and the massive and fierce Sarimaw, among others.

Handiong then formed an alliance with the serpent Oriol, his most dangerous foe, who taught him how to conquer Ibalon’s monsters after she admired him for his bravery. Civilization flourished under Handiong’s leadership and so did everlasting peace.

The epic’s final warrior was the wise Bantong who won against the half-man, half-beast Rabot who had the power to turn people into stone. Bantong struck the creature in his sleep with a single stab, and peace was brought to Ibalon once more.

Now, the monsters have returned to lay waste on the land that has now been known for its perfectly sculptured volcano and its clear, blue seas where people can swim among friendly butandings.

Now, the giant boar plaguing Baltog’s land has taken the form of bulldozers razing rice fields to the ground in order to make way for an airport’s reorientation.

The monsters Handiong and his men defeated have now lost their scaly flesh, their massive horns and their sawlike teeth, shrinking to fit, camo-clad human forms with two eyes, brutal fists and terrifying metal guns.

Meanwhile, the modern-day Rabot is a man in a palace by the river, a man who has always been proud of his family of landlords and landladies and has turned a deaf ear to blood-curdling screams escaping the mouths of swollen, beat-up bodies who live in fear and land deprivation.

Ibalon is at peace no more, yet its warriors–farmers with sun-kissed skin, withered hands, and calloused feet–continue the battle to keep their bountiful homeland theirs.

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Ramon Oliva, 61

Sixty-one-year-old Bicolano Ramon Oliva is but one of the nearly 3,500 modern-day warriors who marched to Metro Manila in the historic Manilakbayan to call for genuine land reform.

Journeying from Bicol in a span of three to four days, Oliva, the Chairperson of Damayang Parauma Camarines Sur (DAMPA), arrived in Manila and resided in the University of the Philippines in time for the first People’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

Despite tedious labor planting rice for more than 20 years, Oliva, who has not stopped farming at his old age, has remained landless much like the majority of farmers in the Bicol region.

“Ang titulo o dokumento sa lupa ay papel lang yan, mas may karapatan ang mga magsasaka dahil naunang sa kanila [magsasaka] ang lupa,”  Oliva said. “Pag naalis tayong magsasaka diyan, pinatay na tayo. Lahat ng uri nating magsasaka ay pinatay na.”

Incidents of land conversion are the primary exhibition of such struggle with land ownership.

Land conversion is a process where farmers’ lands undergo reclassification from agricultural areas to commercial or non-agricultural areas with permission from government agencies such as Bicol’s local government and the Department of Agriculture (DAR). Such reclassification yields to the displacement of farmers whose livelihood and homes are planted within the property that can now accommodate the interests of investors and big-time companies.

“Wag ireklasipika ang lupa, wag bigyan ng certification dahil ang makikinabang diyan yung mga dambuhalang kapitalista, hindi yung mga magsasakang maliliit,” Oliva said.

He also added that there are cases wherein some farmers were even unaware that the local government has already reclassified their land, abruptly causing them to lose their residence and their income all at once. Frequent demolitions have also ensued to which DAMPA had come to aid displaced farmers.

“Kung talaga gusto ng gobyerno ng kaunlaran, unahin muna na imoderna ang agrikultura tungo sa industrialisasyon,” Oliva said, voice raised yet tinged with hope. “Para magkaroon ng tulungan sa pag-unlad at umunlad din ang mga mararalitang magsasaka at manggagawa.”

Aside from the issue of land reclassification, the supposed reorientation and modernization of the Naga City Airport in Pili, Camarines Sur also remain a problem for farmers within the area.

The P3.58-billion redesign project involves the construction of a two-kilometer runway to accommodate larger airplanes.

Currently, the Naga City Airport’s runway only runs at 1.4 kilometers, causing bigger aircrafts to use the Legazpi City Airport, which causes inconvenience to travellers.

In 2014, the Bicol Regional Development Council recommended the airport’s reorientation as a priority project while the National Economic Regional Development Office declared strong support for it in 2015.

Such venture comes with a price, and it has to be paid by the 80 to 100 families whose lives and livelihood rely on the estimated 500-hectare rice fields that will be affected once the runway’s construction takes place

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Artemio Sanchez, 48

First-time Manilakbayani Artemio Sanchez’s family are one of those whose rice fields will be pressed and turned into a portion of the airport’s runway.

Despite being new to the march, Sanchez, 48, has adapted the look of a seasoned warrior, furious at the knowledge of the abuse of the poor by the powerful.

His hands firmly clutch the placard bearing the words “Sakahan, hindi paliparan” as if it were his land back home, which had been his family’s for as long as he could remember.

“Noong malaman ko yung isyu, uminit talaga yung ulo ko,” Sanchez said. “Bakit nila kukunin yung palayan namin samantalang ito ang pinagkukuhan ng kabuhayan namin?”

Sanchez has been working in his family’s land since he was a child, planting rice at a young age to help his parents.

Although he admits to not earning much, their land is his family’s primary source of income. It is what has been able to feed his six children and his wife, who is also a farmer.

“Ang lupa na sinasaka namin ay mas mahalaga dahil yung lupang iyon for the generations, mula sa mga ninuno hanggang sa mga apu-apuhan,” Sanchez said.

“Dapat di talaga mawala ang palayan dahil ang palayan na yun, pinapakinabangan ng lahat, pagkain ng buong Pilipinas,” he added.

Linked with the issues of land ownership and land conversion, farmers of the Bicol region are also trapped within the horrors of militarization.

Since land conversion gives way to demolitions in areas where farmers refuse to leave their lands and homes, the government exerts the brutal force of either the Philippine National Police (PNP) or the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to strike terror within resisting communities.

Besides facilitating demolitions, the AFP also upholds Oplan Bayanihan within the region.

Oplan Bayanihan, which was launched under the regime of former President Benigno Aquino III, is the Philippines’s counter-insurgency plan geared towards ending armed resistance in the country.

Despite its intention to end the persisting civil war between the government of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA), Oplan Bayanihan has caused the torture, harassment and forced disappearances of activists and innocent civilians tagged as members of the NPA.

Oplan Bayanihan has also been the pointed cause of Lumad killings, an issue that has remained the rallying cry of the Mindanaoan Manilakbayanis.

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Nick Briones, 53

53-year-old farmer Nick Briones, who has been shot twice after being wrongly identified by the AFP as a member of the NPA, said that militarization in Bicol must be put to an end.

Bearing the scars of a warrior who has fearlessly participated in mobilizations for agrarian reform in Bicol, Briones has been harassed several times and is currently facing a charge for illegal possession of firearms. He said that the charge filed against him was fraudulent, claiming the military allegedly planted the gun in his residence.

Nevertheless, the consistent threats and the ongoing case did not dishearten Briones from joining this year’s Manilakbayan, hoping that the new chief executive will be unlike his predecessor.

“Kaya kami sumama dito kasi ipapaabot namin kay Duterte na itong militarisasyon sa Bicol, ihinto,” Briones said, his tone half-somber and half-optimistic. “Tapos alisin ang detachment sa kanayunan. Nahihirapan yung mga magsasaka doon.”

Briones said some farmers in Bicol, who are simply walking through their daily routines, are being meticulously investigated and interrogated by the AFP. At worst, undercover militia follow their every move, waiting for the moment when they could be tagged as members of the insurgency.

Meanwhile, those who join mobilizations to call for agrarian reform, land ownership and other basic social services are automatically tagged as members of the NPA.

“Pag sumama sa rally, sasabihin nila, NPA agad. Kagaya sa kin, pinagbabaril na ako, dalawang beses na akong naharass. Sa ngayon, kinasuhan din ako,” Briones said, recalling the time when he was shot by the military during a rally in Naga.

Such abuse occurs despite the provision in Article 3, Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution, which grants citizens of the Philippines the right to peaceably assemble.

Briones also recalled that there were times when farmers would go missing for days and locals would search for them, only to find their bruised bodies lying on a patch of the same ground they died fighting for, their blood already dry yet running along the hidden veins of the land capitalists and government officials have repeatedly tried to take away.

He also spoke of the fear shrouding the homes of peasants in the Bicol region with families living in unease especially with the idea that anytime, they could be caught in the middle of a conflict between the AFP and the NPA.

Despite such brutal forces taking their lives and livelihood, the farmers of Bicol continue to fight, breathing life to the historic epic of Ibalon as present-day Baltogs, Handiongs and Bantongs.

While this year’s People’s SONA was peaceful compared to previous ones marked with burning effigies, angry murals and the struggle of militant groups against police force, the age-old spark burning within the Bicolano farmers blazes brighter than before.

The spirits of the Bicolano farmers brim with hope that change is indeed coming to those at society’s bottom hem.

Even so, Oliva said the fight does not end with the election and the appointment of progressive leaders in power, for Ibalon’s true strength lies in the collective action of those who have been chained for so long and of those who are willing to take up arms and join them in their battle for freedom, democratic rights and genuine change.

While the farmers of Bicol remain landless much like those in Tarlac’s Hacienda Luisita and Pampanga’s Hacienda Porac, Oliva urges every peasant to stand with them in the fight for genuine agrarian reform which will provide farmers across the nation with land and livelihood, which are rightfully theirs in the first place.

“Kailangan ang kilos ng buong bayan,” Oliva said. “Panawagan ko sa aking mga kapwa magsasaka na tayo’y magkaisa para mabigkis ang ating lakas na ipagtanggol ang ating mga kabuhayan,”

Until the beasts are gone and until the monsters have been vanquished, the farmers of Bicol will continue to battle such ills as the heroes and warriors before them in hopes that someday, Ibalon’s lands will be returned to its people and that there will once again be everlasting peace. #

The Resistance Persists: First Duterte SONA strife-free, makes history

By Nicole-Anne C. Lagrimas

History saw no protesters with arms linked to resist the blow of wooden bats and the push of police shields.

The day of the new president’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) was, it seemed, a day for peace.

It saw no signs of struggle to withstand the filthy water being pumped by the water cannon, a familiar sight that has always aimed to break the lines of activists asking for accountability, their voices tinged with anger as they demand for land ownership, accessible education or an increase in wages.

It saw no grotesque effigy consumed by fire amidst protesters carrying flags and placards as they circle the monstrous figure slowly crumbling to ashes while their cries resonate stronger and louder.

Instead, it was marked by the harmonious relationship between the police and the rallyists and by the loud cheer coming from the estimated 30,000-strong crowd when President Rodrigo Duterte called for a unilateral ceasefire between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Cheering with the 4,000-strong contingent from Mindanao is Datu Jimboy Mandaget, 25, of the Higaonon tribe in Bukidnon.

Though he is a People’s SONA first-timer, Mandaget is no stranger to travelling long distances to uphold the rights of his people.

Last October, he was part of Manilakbayan, a delegation of Lumad, indigenous peoples from Mindanao that travelled to Metro Manila to protest Lumad killings after the deaths of Lumad leaders allegedly at the hands of members of paramilitary groups.

Despite the distance, the Lumad travellers were far from being discouraged, Mandaget said.

“Ang mga kasamahan ko ay hindi po nahirapan dahil sa layo, at sobrang pagod, dahil gusto nilang mabago na ang buhay at mabago na ang sistema,” he said.

The five-day journey from Mindanao, from July 17 to July 23, had the lakbayan delegates riding buses and barges, sometimes even marching. He recounted that there were moments when they did not cook food they brought with them for the sake of arriving in Metro Manila just in time for Duterte’s first SONA.

“Ano magiging kaunlaran na  makamit namin kung patuloy kaming papalayasin sa aming mga lugar, at paano namin makakamit ang kaunlaran kung patuloy nilang pinapatay ang aming mga lider?” Mandaget said, calling for the pullout of military troops in their areas and the end of destructive mining, which harms the environment held precious by indigenous peoples.

For the next few days, the Northern Mindanao contingent, including Mandaget, would visit the Department of Justice, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development to directly forward their concerns to the appropriate authorities.

Though the people may have cheered, they seem careful not to pin their hopes solely on Duterte, reiterating in speeches made throughout the day that “real change comes not from one person but from the masses.”

Meanwhile, former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares said that while they are for Duterte’s pro-people policies, they are “concerned” about the rising number of extrajudicial killings related to Duterte’s war on drugs  even before the president assumed office.

“While we support him in his pro-people policies, ang posisyon naman namin is we will engage him and struggle with him in his anti-people policies,” Colmenares said in an interview.

He said the recent spate of killings suggests that the police has a list of individuals linked to drug-related activities.

“Tukoy na tukoy nila ang druglords at pushers – tukoy nila ang mga tao, address, so bakit ngayon lang sine-serve ang warrant?” he said, adding that this leads people to think that members of the police are involved in the same activities they are now publicly supporting.

Alongside the war against drugs, Colmenares said, “Dapat may kampanya rin siya na i-eliminate yung mga pulis na kakuntsaba ng mga drug lord.”

In protest of extrajudicial killings, youth leaders lay on the roadside close to the Commission of Human Rights, bearing cardboard signs similar to the ones found near or on the bodies of those executed for alleged drug usage and peddling.

Urging Duterte and police chief Bato Dela Rosa to “end the killings,” Leo Rivera from UP Alyansa ng Mag-aaral Para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (UP ALYANSA) said in a press release: “Attaching cardboard labels to the dead bodies of suspected drug personalities as a way of rationalizing their murders is illegal and inhumane. Justice is determined by courts, not by cardboards on sidewalks.”

Still, the ongoing campaign against drugs figured prominently in Duterte’s first SONA, with the president urging government leaders and the Philippine National Police to sustain their actions against drugs and criminality.

“There will be no let-up in this campaign. Double your efforts. Triple them, if need be,” Duterte said. “We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish.”

Drugs, however, were not his only subject.

Among the several points of his one hour and 32-minute-speech – the longest first SONA in history- are, besides the highlight call for ceasefire: the improvement of the efficiency of government transactions, solutions to the perennial traffic congestion problem in Metro Manila, the creation of  the People’s Broadcasting Corporation, which would replace PTV-4, and the promise of a “clean government.”

Despite brimming with hope for long-awaited change through these promises, multi-sectoral groups continue to challenge Duterte to stand by his word to the people who have elected him as the country’s chief executive.

For now, there may have been no hideous effigies or outraged murals to express the people’s indignation, but those who have marched to forward their concerns to the country’s topmost official take in the rosiness of the new administration with a grain of salt—a pact to remain critical and vigilant lest the president veers away from his present perspective.

While Duterte’s plans in his first SONA remain words addressed to the public and applauded by his fellow public officials, the fight for the right to a government geared towards the interests of its people will persist and the masses will never cease to occupy the streets, clamoring for the day Philippine society experiences the arrival of genuine change. #

The Resistance Persists: First Duterte SONA strife-free, makes history

By Nicole-Anne C. Lagrimas

History saw no protesters with arms linked to resist the blow of wooden bats and the push of police shields.

The day of the new president’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) was, it seemed, a day for peace.

It saw no signs of struggle to withstand the filthy water being pumped by the water cannon, a familiar sight that has always aimed to break the lines of activists asking for accountability, their voices tinged with anger as they demand for land ownership, accessible education or an increase in wages.

It saw no grotesque effigy consumed by fire amidst protesters carrying flags and placards as they circle the monstrous figure slowly crumbling to ashes while their cries resonate stronger and louder.

Instead, it was marked by the harmonious relationship between the police and the rallyists and by the loud cheer coming from the estimated 30,000-strong crowd when President Rodrigo Duterte called for a unilateral ceasefire between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front.

Cheering with the 4,000-strong contingent from Mindanao is Datu Jimboy Mandaget, 25, of the Higaonon tribe in Bukidnon.

Though he is a People’s SONA first-timer, Mandaget is no stranger to travelling long distances to uphold the rights of his people.

Last October, he was part of Manilakbayan, a delegation of Lumad, indigenous peoples from Mindanao that travelled to Metro Manila to protest Lumad killings after the deaths of Lumad leaders allegedly at the hands of members of paramilitary groups.

Despite the distance, the Lumad travellers were far from being discouraged, Mandaget said.

“Ang mga kasamahan ko ay hindi po nahirapan dahil sa layo, at sobrang pagod, dahil gusto nilang mabago na ang buhay at mabago na ang sistema,” he said.

The five-day journey from Mindanao, from July 17 to July 23, had the lakbayan delegates riding buses and barges, sometimes even marching. He recounted that there were moments when they did not cook food they brought with them for the sake of arriving in Metro Manila just in time for Duterte’s first SONA.

“Ano magiging kaunlaran na  makamit namin kung patuloy kaming papalayasin sa aming mga lugar, at paano namin makakamit ang kaunlaran kung patuloy nilang pinapatay ang aming mga lider?” Mandaget said, calling for the pullout of military troops in their areas and the end of destructive mining, which harms the environment held precious by indigenous peoples.

For the next few days, the Northern Mindanao contingent, including Mandaget, would visit the Department of Justice, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development to directly forward their concerns to the appropriate authorities.

Though the people may have cheered, they seem careful not to pin their hopes solely on Duterte, reiterating in speeches made throughout the day that “real change comes not from one person but from the masses.”

Meanwhile, former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares said that while they are for Duterte’s pro-people policies, they are “concerned” about the rising number of extrajudicial killings related to Duterte’s war on drugs  even before the president assumed office.

“While we support him in his pro-people policies, ang posisyon naman namin is we will engage him and struggle with him in his anti-people policies,” Colmenares said in an interview.

He said the recent spate of killings suggests that the police has a list of individuals linked to drug-related activities.

“Tukoy na tukoy nila ang druglords at pushers – tukoy nila ang mga tao, address, so bakit ngayon lang sine-serve ang warrant?” he said, adding that this leads people to think that members of the police are involved in the same activities they are now publicly supporting.

Alongside the war against drugs, Colmenares said, “Dapat may kampanya rin siya na i-eliminate yung mga pulis na kakuntsaba ng mga drug lord.”

In protest of extrajudicial killings, youth leaders lay on the roadside close to the Commission of Human Rights, bearing cardboard signs similar to the ones found near or on the bodies of those executed for alleged drug usage and peddling.

Urging Duterte and police chief Bato Dela Rosa to “end the killings,” Leo Rivera from UP Alyansa ng Mag-aaral Para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (UP ALYANSA) said in a press release: “Attaching cardboard labels to the dead bodies of suspected drug personalities as a way of rationalizing their murders is illegal and inhumane. Justice is determined by courts, not by cardboards on sidewalks.”

Still, the ongoing campaign against drugs figured prominently in Duterte’s first SONA, with the president urging government leaders and the Philippine National Police to sustain their actions against drugs and criminality.

“There will be no let-up in this campaign. Double your efforts. Triple them, if need be,” Duterte said. “We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish.”

Drugs, however, were not his only subject.

Among the several points of his one hour and 32-minute-speech – the longest first SONA in history- are, besides the highlight call for ceasefire: the improvement of the efficiency of government transactions, solutions to the perennial traffic congestion problem in Metro Manila, the creation of  the People’s Broadcasting Corporation, which would replace PTV-4, and the promise of a “clean government.”

Despite brimming with hope for long-awaited change through these promises, multi-sectoral groups continue to challenge Duterte to stand by his word to the people who have elected him as the country’s chief executive.

For now, there may have been no hideous effigies or outraged murals to express the people’s indignation, but those who have marched to forward their concerns to the country’s topmost official take in the rosiness of the new administration with a grain of salt—a pact to remain critical and vigilant lest the president veers away from his present perspective.

While Duterte’s plans in his first SONA remain words addressed to the public and applauded by his fellow public officials, the fight for the right to a government geared towards the interests of its people will persist and the masses will never cease to occupy the streets, clamoring for the day Philippine society experiences the arrival of genuine change. #

Manuel proclaimed 34th UP Student Regent

by Krysten Mariann Boado

University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman nominee Raoul Danniel Manuel was declared UP’s 34th Student Regent (SR) after all UP units arrived at a consensus at the 42nd General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC).

Manuel was selected by all eight UP units based on his experience as National Chairperson of Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP (KASAMA sa UP) National Executive Council along with his extensive contribution to the student movement across all UP contingents.

“Our vision is an Office of the Student Regent (OSR) that is not confined in meeting rooms, but an Office that fights with the student body so as to promote and protect the welfare of the marginalized sectors in the university and the country,” Manuel said as he presented his general plans of action to the GASC.

The new SR’s platform centers on four main points—proper information and communication among the studentry, student collaboration, a review of railroaded university policies and the forwarding of students’ interest to the new UP president.

Upon election, Manuel also mentioned his plan to maximize local council alliances as well as the training of OSR volunteer corps to better serve UP students.

He added that the OSR would also continue to be active in campaigning against the “neoliberal offensives” affecting UP through exposing and opposing structures and plans that will worsen the neoliberal agenda.

“Someone must be the voice, the voice of all who are oppressed in the university,” Manuel said. “There are more things that unite the student body, and it is the OSR’s job to unite them.”

Fifty student councils from different UP contingents took part in the SR selection held July 17 at the College of Forestry and Natural Resources, UP Los Baños.

The Student Regent is the only student member of the Board of Regents, the highest policy-making body of the UP System. #

42nd GASC covers SR Pangalangan’s term-end report, approves UP units’ proposed resolutions

By Frances Josephine Espeso

Outgoing Student Regent (SR) of the University of the Philippines (UP) Miguel Enrico Pangalangan emphasized the power of the student movement in championing students’ democratic rights during the 42nd General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC).

“The strength of student representation does not lie in the institution of the Office of the Student Regent (OSR) but in the student movement,” Pangalangan told the assembly of 50 out of 53 student councils during his end-of-term report at UP Los Baños College of Forestry and Natural Resources auditorium held July 16 to 17.

Pangalangan discussed genuine student representation in major issues such as the system-wide P2.2B budget cut, the dorm crisis in several UP campuses, campus militarization in UP, the commercialization of UP education, as well as the repressive organization recognition process and the Code of Student Conduct.

Additionally, the SR outlined the OSR’s coordination with the UP community on matters such as the increased Shopping Center rate in UP Diliman and the transfer of the UP Tacloban Santa Elena campus to make place for commercial use.

Pangalangan also mentioned the OSR’s involvement in national issues such as the Manilakbayan, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Kidapawan Massacre, among others.

Near the end of his report, Pangalangan brought up the shift in administrations by both the country and the university and challenged the students to continue to fight for multisectoral rights through the student movement.

“What use is your perfect attendance if you are absent in times of action? Why raise your hand for recitation if you do not raise a clenched fist in times of protest? What use is the Iskolar ng Bayan if we do not persevere to serve the people?” Pangalangan said, concluding his final report as SR.

Meanwhile, newly-selected SR Raoul Danniel Manuel approved seven resolutions to be forwarded during his term.

Among the resolutions Manuel and the GASC adopted include an investigation on outgoing UP President Alfredo Pascual’s e-UP Project, which was said to have cost P752 million.

The body also approved proposed resolutions to demand the next UP President to support the Student Agenda, to intensify the campaign against neoliberal attacks on education, to support of the ongoing peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, to include member councils of the GASC as part of the campus movement for change, to call for participation of the GASC in the upcoming People’s State of the Nation Address and to end campus militarization and abolish the ROTC program in all UP units. #

IBON: PH should not be dependent on China or US in upholding sovereignty

By Frances Josephine Espeso

In time with the Philippines’ victory over China for West Philippine Sea sovereign rights, IBON Executive Director Jose Enrique Africa said it is important to uphold Philippine sovereignty without depending on China or the US.

“Bully ang China, pero bully rin ang US,” Africa said Thursday during IBON Foundation’s 2016 Midyear Birdtalk held in the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman College of Education.

During the talk, Africa said the conflict is really between China and the US.
He said discussions between former President Benigno Aquino III and US President Barack Obama on the territorial dispute added to the aggravation of the situation between the two Asian countries.

Mula ba talaga sa simula eh gusto nang makipag-giyera ng China or na-provoke lang siya kay Obama at Aquino?” Africa said.

Africa also suggested that the new administration use its own diplomatic resources together with the Philippines’ public support and its relations with other countries.

He also emphasized the need to stand with other developing countries in opposing exploitation, domination and neocolonialism.

Besides discussing the possible next moves of the new administration on the West Philippine Sea issue, IBON also tackled the prospects of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and the legacy of his predecessor, Aquino.

On the first part of the two-day forum, IBON Executive Editor Rosario Bella Guzman presented relevant statistics on poverty, economic growth, unemployment rates, and net worth of top business moguls during Aquino’s presidency.

Emphasizing the discrepancy between the last administration’s reported economic achievements and the continuing low living standards of many Filipinos, Guzman pointed to neoliberalism, elitist economics and governance as favoring the business sector over the working class.

“You’re institutionalizing state support for corporate profit,” Guzman said, remarking on the Aquino regime.

Included in the legacy Guzman pointed out were corruption and cronyism, criminal negligence, US subservience, attack on the Left and human rights violations.

On the other hand, Africa noted the rising number of extrajudicial killings and vigilantism at the beginning of the term of President Duterte.

As of 12:00 noon of July 14, two weeks after Duterte’s inauguration on June 30, 195 killings have been documented by Inquirer.net.

Aside from pointing out the effects of Duterte’s war on crime, Africa also expressed optimism on the new president’s pronouncements on social services such as free education, health care, irrigation and the release of the coco levy fund, among others.

He also stated that so far, Duterte’s actions have already been different from all previous presidents, especially with his decisions to conduct peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and to open Cabinet positions to members from the Left.

According to Africa, this, along with the support for a greater mass movement, is a factor that outlives any administration.

The IBON Foundation is a non-profit organization aimed towards research, education, and information-development, providing analyses and assessments of social, economic, and political issues within and beyond the Philippines. #

UP students continue call to ‘Junk STS’

By Nicole-Anne Lagrimas

As the deciding body for tuition discount appeals deliberated Thursday on the cases of students dissatisfied with their initial bracket results, University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman students repeated their call for the junking of the system that made the appeals necessary in the first place.

The group of students – members and non-members of mass organizations alike – gathered in front of Vinzons Hall for a program, protesting the continued implementation of the Socialized Tuition System (STS), which they called an “ineffective and profiteering scheme,” by the UP administration.

The Deliberations Committee on Scholarships and Financial Assistance (DCSFA), composed of administration, faculty and student representatives, is tasked to decide on the discount appeals of around 500 UP students.

University Student Council (USC) Councilor and Basic Student Services Committee Head Donn Bernal said that the deliberations weighed the merit of the narratives the students submitted.

Bernal, who participated in the deliberation along with other USC officers, said, “Babasahin yung kwento (ng mga students), then ide-deliberate kung sustain ba ang bracket niya, o tataas o bababa.

If the body does not reach a consensus, arguments would be raised until the matter is settled, or  the tuition fee of the student for another year decided. Deliberations last several sessions–another one will be held in July 26, according to Bernal.

Kate Raca, Education and Research Committee head of the Student Advancement for Democratic Rights in UP, said the goal was for all misbracketed students’ appeals to be granted, adding that a full discount – free tuition – would be the most optimal resolution.

The group then proceeded to Mendiola to join fellow students from other universities and colleges in a larger mobilization, dubbed “Pambansang Walkout ng Kabataan” protesting the continued rise of tuition and other school fees in the country.

The latest spike in fees was approved in June this year when the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) approved an increase in tuition and other school fees in 304 private higher education institutions (HEIs) across the country.

The STS had replaced the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) in 2013 after STFAP was deemed as “no longer responsive to the needs of UP students.”

STS, where an online questionnaire would be the sole deciding factor of students’ tuition discount, had been in the works since 2011 but was first implemented in the first semester of 2014.

The bracketing system has been criticized for its “ineffectivity,” resulting in hundreds to thousands of misbracketed students, who have since been calling for either the abolishment or the reform of the system. #

 

#StressTS: Price, privilege, and the promise of education

by Beatriz Zamora

Despite the promise of affordable education in a state university like the University of the Philippines, the value of its students’ schooling falls under the judgment of a few questions and a single letter.

Questions on the number of television sets or the type of toilet bowls comprise UP’s Socialized Tuition System (STS), a scheme determining tuition by classifying them under discount brackets based on an online survey indicating their economic status.

On the day of the release of the ST application results, Journalism shiftee Lucia Silva’s life fell at the mercy of a single letter: B.

Having been classified as such, she is required to pay P1,000 per unit, a luxury that cannot be afforded by her policeman father and teacher mother who are at present, sending five children to school.

Despite the uncertainty, Silva placed her faith in the results of her appeal for a lower bracket.

As of now wala pa akong ibang magawa kundi umasa sa appeal na sana mapababa yung bracket ko,” she said. “Naghahanap din ako ngayon ng mga posibleng scholarships actually.”

Silva is but one of the many students burdened by STS and the ironically inaccessible education in UP.

According to Basic Student Services (BSS) Committee Head Donn Bernal, around 500 students requested for a third batch of STS applications while 200 students, excluding those who texted the BSS Committee, expressed grievances towards the application results.

Since its implementation in 2014, the scheme has sparked debates among UP students on whether or not it should be scrapped or reformed. Last week’s results of the second round of the ST applications reignited social media outrage and fueled debates on the issue with the nationwide trending hashtags of  #StresSTS and #JunkSTS carrying students’ aversion towards the tuition system.

A common problem arising in the tuition system is misbracketing, a phenomenon evident in the case of Silva.

In the previous academic year, the journalism shiftee received 80 percent tuition discount from the university due to her classification as Bracket D, which is two brackets away from her current classification.

Hindi na-consider na sobrang magkaiba ang gross and net income ng pamilya,” she expressed. “Malaki ang epekto nito sa overall na dynamics ng mga gastusin sa bahay,”

Besides being budgeted for the education of the family’s five children, Silva added that a huge sum from her parents’ income are also allotted to paying their debts.

She also acknowledges that pursuing her studies far from her hometown also entitles her family to more expenses. Hailing from Iligan City, Northern Mindanao has put Silva in a place of utmost reliance on dormitories during nearly two years of stay in the university. With airfare amounting to P8, 000 at the most, she also limits her home visits to only once a year.

However, due to her bracket assignment, Silva was only waitlisted for a dormitory slot for the next academic year. Dormitory slots are determined through point-system based on the STS bracket and place of origin.

Ang taas ng points ko sana diba? Pero gumuho talaga yung mundo ko nung nalaman ko na waitlisted lang ako. I mean, for someone like me na ‘di nga umuuwi ng Mindanao, ang dorm ang buhay ko,” she said.

Even before this, however, Silva had already practiced a life of frugality and independence in UP. Aside from cutting back on home trips, meals of siomai rice worth 40 pesos are what she relied on to minimize expenses. She described that having company who also cut back on spending helps her situation.

For Silva, this way of living is nothing short of usual.

Pero syempre dapat hindi tayo nagiging oblivious sa mga ganitong pangyayari dahil karapatan natin (ang mga)’to na dapat tinatamasa na natin in the first place,” she said.

Besides Silva, incoming journalism senior Christian Venus is also burdened with the ST application results.

Venus encountered a change in bracket in the recent results despite giving out the same answers in his ST application last year where he was classified as Bracket B after an appeal.

This year, Venus was assigned to Bracket A, garnering no tuition discounts for the incoming academic year. The results of his appeal letter are still pending as of press time.

While acknowledging the fact that his current socioeconomic status could pay tuition with no discount, he believes that Bracket B would be more appropriate for him given his mother’s unemployment status. Venus has been consistently appealing for a lower bracket since STS’ implementation.

“I just thought parang hindi enough itong form for them to make an accurate decision kung anong bracket ko dapat,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Officer-in-Charge Neil Jamandre of the Office of Scholarships and Student Services (OSSS) explained that the OSSS are planning reforms on STS. Initiated by the Diliman Committee on Scholarships and Financial Assistance (DCSFA), he claimed these reforms are grounded on the previous University Student Council’s (USC) study on the tuition scheme.

Jamandre further explained that the OSSS is finalizing the proposal for ST Audit to be submitted to the University Committee on Student Affairs (UCSA). This newly formed committee consists of all student affairs directors of the university’s constituent universities, the student regent and all councils.

He said that the ST Audit is necessary due to past experiences in which household income and characterizes in ST applications were noticeably different.

“We therefore refer or may refer fraudulent cases na sa tingin naming kailangan tignan ng student disciplinary council,” Jamandre said.

For some, however, reforming STS does not guarantee students their inviolable right to education.

The College of Mass Communication Student Council (CMCSC), for instance, recognizes STS as a profiteering scheme implemented by the university and calls for the scrapping of the program.

CMCSC Students Rights and Welfare (STRAW) committee head Jesse Doctor said that to forward the concerns of their constituents such as Silva and Venus, the council initiated a dialogue with the college administration last June 12. They also coordinated with the University Student Council (USC) in calling for a third round of ST applications and released a statement echoing the USC’s call to junk STS.

So di lang sya matatapos sa pag address ng concern bagkus ay yung tireless na magpapaliwanag kung ano nga ba ang STS at yung pagcall sa students na sumama sa laban o paglaban against all profiteering schemes sa loob at labas ng ating pamantasan,” Doctor said.

Meanwhile, Bernal said the USC initiative to collect student feedback was met with many students’ intentions to apply for leave of absence (LOA) and student loans. He also mentioned that the BSS holds yearlong discussions on the educational system of UP, including STS.

In the DCSFA meeting earlier, the USC presented their stand to give all students tuition discount with stipend in accordance with the status of education as a right.

Sinalubong kami ng pagsalungat mula sa mga miyembro ng komite ngunit nanatili kaming matatag kasabay ng mga kapwa iskolar na tumutol sa ST System sa bukana ng Bulwagang Vinzons,” Bernal said.

With two years of experience in OSSS, Jamandre said that dealing with grievances against STS—particularly, the call to scrap the program—is part of the job.

Isang bago with STS is the social media aspect of it so relatively speaking, hindi naman ako in particular obliged to respond to those hashtags,” he said, recalling another time in which STS sparked online outrage in 2014.

In terms of accommodating students’ different proposals on STS, Jamandre assured that the study on the system’s inefficiencies are still ongoing.

“Definitely ongoing pa rin yung study on how improve, reform–will it be a basis for scrapping   the program? Depende na ‘yun kung sinong may call for that,” he said.

Despite the debate to either scrap or reform the STS, the bigger and more urgent demand to provide education the Filipino masses deserve remains a prominent concern with the persistence of situations of students like Silva and Venus, who have become testaments to the growing problem of inaccessible education in the Philippines.

From the high price of tertiary level education to the lack of facilities in schools across the nation, the Constitutional guarantee of education as a right is yet to be put into practice.

In a university such as UP, a university fondly marked as an educational institution for the poor, present conditions ironically contradict with its nationalistic ideals, presenting education as a privilege served on a silver platter to those who can afford it.

Meanwhile, Bernal said the USC will do its best to cater to the needs of  students like Silva and Venus, especially when it comes to issues dealing with tuition and OSFs.

Pinakamalaki pa ring balakid ang kakulangan ng access ng mga pangungunahing pangangailangan sa edukasyon dahil sa komersalisadong oryentasyon nito,” he said.

Bagamat nandito ang BSS buong taon, kinakailangan pa rin ang lakas ng bawat estudyante upang maparating ang ating panawagan para sa mas makamasang edukasyon.” #

(with Andrea Jobelle Adan and Gabriel Sante)

USC to forward genuine change, democratic rights in incoming AY

by Frances Josephine Espeso and Beatriz Zamora

Various organizations, fraternities, and sororities of the University of the Philippines Diliman gathered in the College of Mass Communication Auditorium for an All Leaders’ Conference (ALC) held on June 22 by the University Student Council (USC).

In the ALC, the USC established points of unities and addressed concerns of the student body aside from presenting its vision, mission and goals (VMG) for this year.

“Historically speaking, organizations, fraternities, and sororities have been an integral part of the student movement,” said Alfrey Oria, USC councilor and head of the Committee on Organizations, Fraternities, and Sororities.

“As a University Student Council, we see that uniting these formations, while making them realize their true purpose through our campaigns, is definitely vital in the achievement of our vision, mission, and goals,” he added.

The overall theme of the current USC’s VMG is forwarding genuine change and people’s democratic rights through the unification of the UP Diliman studentry with sectors inside and outside the university.

USC Chairperson Bryle Leano explained that the council formulated this year’s VMG in light of multisectoral issues such as Lumad killings, tuition fee increase, and contractualization.

“We just don’t serve ourselves, the Iskolar ng Bayan, but we must also serve those who are not given the opportunity to enter the university,” Leano said.

Three USC committees–Basic Social Services, People’s Struggles and Gender–also gave updates on projects in line with the USC’s VMG.

These projects included GE demand surveys for the upcoming semester and Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression training for students, among others.

USC Councilor Shari Oliquino, head of the committee on Students’ Rights and Welfare (STRAW), also acknowledged the collective power of organizations, fraternities, and sororities in forwarding campaigns in fighting for students’ rights.

She cited the call against commercialization of education and junking the Socialized Tuition System and other school fees as campaigns advanced by this year’s STRAW.

Sa kasalukuyan, tatayo na bilang main convener ng Rise for Education Alliance ang USC 16-17,” Oliquino said.

The Rise for Education Alliance consists of university and high school student councils, organizations, publications, and individuals “calling for a quality education that is free and accessible to all.”

Oliquino also mentioned the forwarding of Diliman Demands by students and other sectors of the UP Diliman community and presenting them to the incoming national administration.

During the general consultation, the attending organizations, fraternities and sororities raised concerns regarding the safety of organization tambayans, mental health awareness in the university and the much-debated issue of former President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr’s burial in Libingan ng mga Bayani.

They also took the opportunity to request USC partnership and raise publicity for their wide-encompassing plans and projects.

No date has been set yet for following ALC’s.

Hiponia, Manuel named as Diliman SR nominees

By Frances Josephine Espeso

The University of the Philippines Diliman forwarded two nominees for the 34th Student Regent (SR) selection after deliberations last June 10.

Local student councils picked Josiah Gil Hiponia and Raoul Danniel Manuel, from College of Mass Communication (CMC) and College of Science (CS), respectively, for their well-laid out plans of actions and leadership experiences.

The student regent is the sole representative of the students to the Board of Regents (BOR), the highest governing body of the entire UP System.

Part of Hiponia’s plan of action is to intensify the campaigns for free and accessible education and liberation of political prisoners, as well as strengthening the campus press and publications to improve communication channels among the university stakeholders, especially the students.

“Uunahin nating palakasin yung Rise for Education Alliance sa buong UP System,” Hiponia said to strengthen the campaign against the Socialized Tuition System (STS) and other school fees.

Meanwhile, Manuel’s plans include the facilitation of maximum student participation under the new administrations in both the university and national levels and close scrutiny of university policies such as the Proposed General Education Framework in all UP constituent units and the Return Service Agreement (RSA) in UP Manila.

“The first thing I will do is unite the student councils in UP in challenging President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to heed the call of the Filipino youth for accessible education, social change, and just and lasting peace in the country,” Manuel said.

Hiponia was the CMC Representative to the USC for the academic year 2015-2016 while Manuel holds the distinction of having graduated as the first summa cum laude of UP Visayas campus in 2015.

“Josiah’s strength was mainly his being a people person, while Raoul’s was his attention to detail,” University Student Council (USC) Vice Chairperson Beata Carolino said.

Manuel said his stint in KASAMA sa UP has given him “the experience in coordinating and launching system-wide campaigns that sought to advance the democratic rights of the Filipino people.”

Despite their credentials, Hiponia said collective action is still the answer to the students’ struggles.

“Meron at merong edge yung bawat isa sa aming mga nominees, pero at the end of the day, hindi naman yung personal naming galing yung makakapagpatagumpay sa kampanya natin para sa ating karapatan sa edukasyon kundi yung sama-sama nating paglaban (We both have an edge over the other, but at the end of the day, collective effort and struggle and not our individual capabilities, would win the fight for the right to education),” Hiponia said.

Aside from the two, incumbent College of Arts and Letters Student Council chairperson Joey Anne Mariano had also been nominated.

The selection of the UP System’s next Student Regent consists of nominations, respective deliberations of the colleges, UP constituent units, and the system-wide General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC).

No date has been set yet for the GASC deliberation.

UP rules Battle of Katipunan to clinch men’s football title

by David Tristan Yumol

The members of the UP Men's Football Team hold a banner commemorating their fallen brother, Rogie Maglinas, after their win in the UAAP Season 78 Men's Football Tournament. Photo by David Tristan Yumol
The members of the UP Men’s Football Team hold a banner commemorating their fallen brother, Rogie Maglinas, after their win in the UAAP Season 78 Men’s Football Tournament. Photo by David Tristan Yumol

A resilient Kintaro Miyagi led the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons on to their UAAP Season 78 title conquest after disposing Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles at nightcap, 4-1, Thursday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

It was a double victory celebration for the Fighting Maroons after the women’s football team won their first title in the previous game.

This win against the Katipunan-based booters also ended their four-year title drought in the said tournament.

Miyagi provided the hot start for the Maroons as he scored the first goal from a miss by team captain Daniel Gadia in the 28th minute.

Gadia followed up with his own goal in the 34th minute by eluding several defenders from Ateneo to give the early lead for UP, 2-0.

The game rhythm somehow changed two minutes after Gadia’s goal as graduating Mikko Mabanag of Ateneo struck a goal from a free kick as the ball slips past UP goalkeeper Nathaniel Villanueva.

First half ended, 2-1, in favor of the Diliman-based booters.

In the second half, Miyagi added two goals from open assists in the 70th and 80th minute to cap a victorious night for the state university.

The suffocating defense of the Maroons was a main factor to deny the Blue Eagles a goal in the last 45 minutes of the game.

Miyagi confidently said that he really prepared for this game and pushed himself to play hard since it’s their last game already.

“I did all my best in training to be in top shape for this game. Good thing it paid off and the whole team played hard tonight,” he stated.

The players also dedicated their victory to their fallen teammate Rogie Maglinas, who succumbed before the season started because of a rare form of cancer.

“Until our final game and this championship, we dedicate this to our brother Rogie. I hope he’s happy up there,” says Gadia, who was crowned as this year’s Most Valuable Player.

Patxi Santos and Sebastian Patangan were also included in the Mythical Eleven of Season 78.

UP edges La Salle to bag first UAAP women’s football crown

by David Tristan Yumol

The UP Women's Football Team bagged its first ever UAAP title after beating La Salle, 2-1! ‪#‎GoalUP‬ ‪#‎UPFight‬ ‪#‎ForRogie‬ Photo by David Tristan Yumol
UP President Alfredo Pascual pose with the members of the UP Women’s Football Team after a successful championship campaign in the UAAP Season 78 Tournament, bagging the title after beating De La Salle University, 2-1. Photo by David Tristan Yumol

The University of the Philippines (UP) Lady Maroons won their first UAAP championship via an upset of top-seeded De La Salle University, 2-1, Thursday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Cristina delos Reyes provided the much-needed lift for the Diliman-based booters by scoring a penalty kick during the 50th minute.

However, a penalty was also awarded to La Salle’s Sara Castaneda in the 61st minute after UP’s Aira Agustin was called for a yellow card in their collision inside the box.

She comfortably scored the kick to tie the game at one apiece.

Six minutes after that goal from the Taft-based booters, Angeliza Sta. Clara scored a fantastic header from a corner kick to bring back the lead to the Lady Maroons, 2-1.

From there, UP did not let La Salle score as they sealed their first ever championship in the women’s football event of the 78 year-old league.

In a post-game interview, Sta. Clara admitted she did not expect to score her winning goal which was not a perfect hit though.

“I didn’t saw where the ball was going after I made that header. I felt surprised that luckily, the ball went inside the goal box,” she said.

Coach Anto Gonzales was proud of what his girls achieved after going through a challenging season.

“It was a tough game at the first half. Fortunately, we pulled away in the second half with those lucky breaks,” he mentioned.

Molly Manalansan was named Most Valuable Player at the awarding rites graced by UP President Alfredo Pascual and UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan.