UP community: ‘Fight for free educ not over’

Photo by Migui Sunga

Text by Jane Bautista

The fight for free and accessible education for all continues as the University of the Philippines (UP) community gathered at the Engineering Theater to criticize the loopholes and flaws of the Free Higher Education Law, Thursday.

The event was also held to commemorate the fifth death anniversary of former UP Manila student Kristel Tejada who committed suicide after being forced to file a leave of absence due to her incapacity to pay for tuition. Tejada’s parents, Christopher and Blesilda, were also present during the gathering.

Despite the passage of Republic Act No. 10931 or the Universal Access for Quality Tertiary Education Act last Aug. 2017, only 86 of the 114 State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) waived tuition for the academic year but continued to collect other school fees (OSF), said Raoul Manuel, Deputy Secretary-General of the National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP).

Moreover, Manuel slammed the delay of the implementation of free education by highlighting the technicality of the process. “August 2017 napirmahan ni Duterte ang batas. 60 days after signing the law, kung may IRR man o Implementing Rules and Regulations, mayroon man wala, dapat gumulong na at implemented na agad yung pagbibigay ng libreng edukasyon,” Manuel said.

Manuel further explained that these consequences resulted from a ‘commercialized’ Philippine education system where the interest to ensure profits from SUCs remains the top priority.

A parent’s perspective

Christopher Tejada, father of Kristel Tejada, also shared his insights on the Free Higher Education Law and recalled how former UP President Alfredo Pascual lifted the “No late payment policy” after the passing of her daughter.

“Nagalak din ako dahil nga nagkaroon na ng bill for free education so ang sabi ko paano na? Paano na yung mangyayari? Macoconsider ba natin as a victory talaga sa youth sector? Kumawala na ba tayo sa hawla na hindi na natin iintindihin yung tuition and ang po-problemahin na lang natin is yung perseverance ng bawat estudyante na makatapos?” Tejada said.

Meanwhile, Kristel’s mother Blesilda Tejada said she was delighted when she heard of the passage of the law. “Natuwa [ako] pero kasabay noon, siyempre, parang nanghihinayang na sana, buhay si Kristel. Sana kasama siya dun sa batch na naranasan na libre nga ang edukasyon,” she said.

Tejada also said that whenever their acquaintances in the government discover that they are the parents of Kristel, the officials and lawmakers tell them that they pushed to pass the law because of her.

Understanding the challenges

UP Student Regent Shari Oliquino discussed the neoliberal attacks against the education system in the Philippines, as well as the developments and challenges of the fight for free education.

One of the flaws that Oliquino pointed out is the exclusiveness of the said law. According to her, the opportunity is not granted to everyone because students who are delayed, overstaying, and are in their second (Master’s and Doctor of Philosophy) degrees are not qualified for the said law.

“Ibig sabihin, hindi pa rin tinitingnan ng kasalukuyang rehimen, ng ating estado na ito ay karapatan na dapat natatamasa ng lahat,” she said.

Moreover, Oliquino also questioned the provision of the said law where a voluntary opt-out option from the program should be ensured by the SUCs. She mentioned during her talk that the College of Business Administration forced students to opt out of the program last semester, saying that they (students) are “already rich and can afford to pay.”

After the gathering, the attendees proceeded to Quezon Hall where a candle lighting protest  was held to remember the death of Kristel Tejada and call everyone to join the fight for free and accessible education.

 

Lawyers condemn Tokhang Relaunched, call for stronger justice system

Photo by Maegan Gaspar

Text by John Patrick Manio

Manananggol Laban sa Extrajudicial Killings (MANLABAN sa EJK) called for the end extrajudicial killings and human rights violations under Tokhang Relaunched in the Rise, Resist, Unite Against Tokhang and Tyranny forum, Wednesday.

“19 months into Duterte’s term, there is still no let up in the bloody drug war. Even under the revived Tokhang, allegedly conducted with better safeguards and during ‘office hours’, 65 were killed between January 29 and February 14, 2018 – a rate of at least four people per day”, said MANLABAN Convenor Neri Colmenares.

The organization also asked the public and authorities to seek for concrete solutions to the continuing issues of crime and corruption.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has since taken an estimated number of 12,000 people, including UP student Karl Arnaiz and youth Kian delos Santos and Reynaldo de Guzman.

The memorandum on Oct. 11, 2017 ordered the PNP to seize operations on the anti-drug war. It was then to be handled by PDEA, due to the uncontrollable degree of human rights violations. However, it was revoked on Jan. 23, 2018 under the revamped Tokhang Relaunched.

Due to its issues in overriding the law, Oplan Tokhang faced scrutiny in the past, and has continued to receive such criticism, even with its updated version, being Tokhang Relaunched.

“Project Tokhang and Tokhang Relaunched are unconstitutional. The entire circular (CMC 16 – 2016) shortcuts the justice process and assigns the PNP as judge, jury, and executioner” , said FLAG Lawyer and Dean of DLSU College of Law Atty. Jose Manuel Diokno.

The forum highlighted the little difference between the original Oplan Tokhang and Tokhang Relaunched. Some noted how this move to streamline Oplan Tokhang was implemented, simply to appease critics, instead of actually causing serious change.

Colmenares went on to say, “In fact, Tokhang Relaunched is as dangerous, if not more dangerous than the original because it was redressed to make it seem better than the former when it’s not. Also, it desensitizes us to the seemingly lesser number of EJK victims.”

Diokno mused how the whole war on drugs is defeatist to the populace to start with.

“The war on drugs is not only anti-poor. It is also anti-law, anti-rule of law, and pro-authoritarianism”, said Atty. Diokno.

Call for action and concrete solutions

The uproar and determined nature stated by individuals, groups, and institutions against EJK help moderate the killings, We haven’t stopped the killings but we have moderated the killings.” said the Executive Vice President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Atty. Domingo “Egon” Cayosa.

He added, “The fact that there are less EJKs under Tokhang 2 is not mission accomplished for us.”

The forum’s speakers were able to state reasons and solutions, in response to the adamant drug problem and the rampant abuse of human rights and its lack of justice.

“We, too, in FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group) don’t want crime and corruption, but we must ask why crime and corruption are rampant in the country”, assesses Atty. Diokno. “It is because of our weak justice system and the only solution is to strengthen this justice system.”

Atty. Colmenares then gave the verdict, saying, “The solution of President Duterte should not be to eliminate the addicts, and even the druglords for that matter, but to solve also the economic problems of our society.”

Pol parties clash on issue-based activism

Photo by Keith Magcaling

Text by Agatha Gregorio

Political parties argued on issue-based activism, as Nagkakaisang Iskolar para sa Pamantasan at Sambayanan (KAISA UP)  and Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) both acknowledged it to be a means towards a grand end, while UP Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (UP ALYANSA) asserted the need for specificity in mobilization in a forum, Thursday.

Acknowledging the ideological differences among political parties, UP Political Society Vice President for Education, Research and Training Vienne Delmonte said that the forum’s purpose was also to “discover intersections” on the kind of activism they believed should be espoused.

She addressed the upcoming student council elections on April 27, saying, “We think that what the debates during election season lack are discussions on the core ideological beliefs of the parties, and that is what this forum wanted to address. We believe that the insights from this forum will be very helpful to the students in forming a critical vote.”

The political parties’ went on to discuss individual views on the definition of activism, ‘clicktivism’, and parliamentary struggle as a form of struggle were steadily discussed. Further disparity in viewpoints arose on the legitimacy of ‘clicktivism’ in mobilization.

“If you say it is only grand end, without knowing the particularities of what you are fighting for, it will definitely make it hard for you to achieve your goals. When you say activism, you have to know the issue first.” UP ALYANSA Vice Chairperson for Education and Research Roi Pablo said, defending issue-based activism.

UP KAISA and STAND-UP representatives responded in disagreement, pointing out the problem in issue-specific mobilizing.

KAISA UP representative Jei Edora III said, “Iyan ‘yung manifestation mo ng pagkakaiba at nung systemic exploitation eh. You need to organize the struggle, in order to get it.  Akala natin in issues that affect only us, doon lang tayo kikilos, kaya tayo magiging issue-based.”

Online and off-ground

Pertaining to ‘clicktivism’, all parties recognized the merits in its practice.

However, Edora claimed it to be an illegitimate form of activism.

“Hindi namin nirerecognize ‘yung ‘clicktivism’ bilang form of activism. It’s really a way to organize and arouse. But do you really see turnouts? Or are the turnouts really progressive? Are they mobilized towards the end goal?” He said.

STAND UP chairperson Almira Abril responded with the similar sentiment of how activism must go beyond screens, encouraging on-ground mobilization.

“Pero hindi sapat, na lilimitahin natin ang ating sarili na sa isang click, kaya nating baguhin ‘yung ating buong lipunan. It takes ‘yung actual nating paglahok sa iba’t ibang mga mobilisasyon,”   she said.

All parties agreed on the equality of university-specific and national issues in prompting activism.

“The students are the next participants of this economy. They are the next victims. We need to fight for the sectoral struggle outside cohesively, in order for us to arouse here,” Edora III said.

Parliamentary struggle was acknowledged as a form of activism by the parties, but also recognized as a limited effort in forwarding concerns.  

“Mayroon naman talaga tayo naaachieve diyan sa parliamentary struggle. Pero the question is, hindi enough na masapatan tayo sa mga ‘piecemeal’ na mga games na binibigay ng isang estado na tool sa lalong pagpapahirap at lalong pagpapabulok ng sistema ng lipunan na mayroon tayo sa kasalukuyan,” said Abril.

Diliman joins thousands in national walkout vs. Duterte admin

Photo by Maegan Gaspar

Text by Nacho Domingo, Nica Rhiana Hanopol and Edelito Mercene Jr

Vacant classrooms abound in the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman as hundreds of students took part in an emblematic gesture to lock down the gates of Palma Hall.

On February 23, the Diliman community denounced President Duterte’s anti-people policies such as Oplan Tokhang, charter change, and martial law in Mindanao, among others.

“Yung mga Iskolar ng Bayan, malinaw sa kanya, may grounds, kung bakit kinakailangan niyang lumaban, at never ‘yun naging mali para sa kanya,” said UP Student Regent Shari Oliquino.

The National Day of Action for Freedom and Democracy last Friday also aimed to condemn Duterte’s jeepney phaseout program, the Tax Reform and Acceleration (TRAIN) Law, jeepney phaseout, and efforts to revoke news outlets such as Rappler and InterAksyon.

Over a thousand students, jeepney drivers, vendors and members of mass groups took part in the nationwide protest.

“Nawawalan kami ng buhay at hanapbuhay dahil sa jeepney phaseout ni Duterte. Nagpapasalamat kami sa mga iskolar ng bayan na tumitindig kasama namin,” said one of the drivers invited to speak at the event.

Despite threats from President Rodrigo Duterte to kick students out of the university, UP Diliman chancellor Michael Tan expressed his support for them, saying there is a “sharp discrepancy” between what is taught about morality and democracy and what students see in practice.

He then urged faculty members to excuse students from their classes if they choose to join the protests.

Anakbayan UP Diliman member Nickolo Domingo also slammed President Duterte’s previous threat to dismiss students who walk out of their classes to protest.

“Sabi ni Duterte na kung mag-walkout tayo ulit, tatanggalin niya tayo sa paaralan,” Domingo said. “Pero nakikita naman natin na kahit anumang sabihin niya, basta ipinapatuloy niya ang mga anti-mamamayan niyang polisiya, hindi titigil ang laban para sa pambansang demokrasya.”

On the wrong end of modernization

The crackdown on jeepneys was one of the issues tackled in the nationwide anti-Duterte policy protest.

Jeepneys aged at least 15 years old were set to be removed by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) as part of the government’s transport modernization program.

This prompted many jeepney drivers in UP Diliman to stop operations on Feb. 9, in fear of getting charged with an unreasonable amount of P5,000, five times the amount of their take home pay, if deemed having a defective and smoke-belching jeepney unit.

“Hindi tayo tutol sa pagmodernize ng jeepneys, ang tinututulan natin ang porma ng pagmodernize ng jeepney ngayon kung saan tinatanggalan sila ng hanapbuhay at binebentahan sila ng jeepneys worth 1.5 million to 1.8 million,” said UP College of Social Work and Community Development Student Council chairperson Mayo Mendoza.

“Hindi lang naman jeep ang matatanggal sa ating mga drivers; pagkain na rin sa kanilang mga mesa, pati source na rin ng education ng kanilang mga anak ay maapektuhan ‘pag tinanggalan mo sila ng kanilang hanapbuhay,” Mendoza added.

In response to DOTr’s modernization program, the UP Asian Institute of Tourism organized a forum on Feb. 22 for UP jeepney drivers to voice out their complaints on the ‘Tanggal Bulok, Tanggal Usok’ campaign.

“Ang sabi ni Duterte, dapat daw tanggalin ang mga bulok, sino ang bulok? Si Duterte at ang kanyang mga polisiya, kaya dapat siya ang dapat nating i-phase out,” said Oliquino.

History repeats itself

On February 1971, the UP student council led the Diliman Commune in condemnation of the three-centavo oil price hike during the Marcos administration.

Two decades after, students rallied together with transport workers against the tax reform law of the Duterte administration, which is expected to impose higher fuel prices in the coming months.

An effigy entitled “DuterTerorista” was also set ablaze last Friday as a symbol of their collective dissent. This mirrored the burning of a similar effigy that took place during the September 11, 2017 commemoration of Martial Law.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same. You have to be the change you wish to see,” said martial law veteran Boni Ilagan in the local protest action at UP CMC, citing the importance of the youth’s role in large scale mobilizations.

CMC students also taped their mouths in their outcry over attacks against press freedom, such as the recent barring of Rappler reporter Pia Ranada from Malacanang Palace.

Meanwhile, Enrique Navera of League of Filipino Students UPD emphasized that this broad mobilization aims to isolate Duterte as the mastermind of atrocities that have culminated in the last year.

“Tapos na ‘yung panahon ng pagiging defensive, ang hinihingi sa ’tin ng panahon ngayon ay lumaban na talaga against Duterte,” he said.

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the EDSA Revolt, but UP students have only one answer to the past lurking behind them – never again.

Press freedom advocates slam media repression under Duterte admin

Photo by Reiven Pascasio

Text by Jane Bautista

Amid attacks against the press, media practitioners and students gathered at a forum in the College of Mass Communication, UP Diliman to decry state repression on freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

Organized by the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), “Pressed Freedom” is the first in a series of fora to be launched at different universities and colleges that aims to discuss the current state of media democracy under the Duterte administration.

The Philippine media saw itself under the spotlight when the first month of the year began.

On Jan. 15, the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered to revoke the registration of Rappler due to its alleged violation on Foreign Equity Restriction. Three days after, 30 radio stations in Mindanao were threatened to be shut down by the National Telecommunications Commission due to technical violations.

“Media does not exist in a vacuum. Neither do attacks in the media,” said Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) convenor Inday Espina Varona.

Varona recapped the specific events when the government tried to challenge the free press and emphasized that just like former President Marcos, Duterte’s assault on media has to do with consolidation of powers and his vision of dictatorship.

Meanwhile, Voltaire Tupaz, spokesperson of Rappler’s Citizen Journalism Arm, called for young journalists to unite to defend the freedom of the press.

“Maging part kayo, ‘wag maging absent sa makasaysayang labang ito dahil dito kayo matututo ng marami beyond the four walls of your classroom,” Tupaz said.

Campus publication crisis

During the forum, the issue on the crisis of Philippine Collegian, the official campus publication of UP Diliman, was brought up by Bulatlat writer Ronalyn Olea.

Jose Mari Callueng, National President of CEGP, explained that the publication is at the brink of being defunded because its current budget was just a carry over from the funds in the previous years.

Since the implementation of the Free Tuition Policy program, the administration considered the Philippine Collegian and University Student Council fees as part of the ‘other school fees.’ Callueng further said that there are offers to subsidize the funds.  

However, Sonny Boy Afable, editor-in-chief of the Philippine Collegian, said that the publication is against this proposal.

According to Afable, the student fees must still be collected from the students.

“Kaya tinawag na student publications, student council, dahil nagmumula ang fiscal autonomy mula sa mga estudyante. We fear na kapag sinubsidize pa ng government, mas magiging tight sila sa budget,” he said.

When asked if there had been dialogues between them and the UP administration, Afable said that they have been requesting for it as early as August last year.

Olea lauded the stand of the Philippine Collegian and said that these student publications and student councils are products of students movements, hence they embody the complete expression of freedom inside the university.

After the forum, students led by UP College of Mass Communication Student Council (CMCSC) Chairperson Mikko Ringia proceeded to a protest calling for unity in defending press freedom.

This was not the first time that CMC students staged a rally to condemn media suppressions. Last Jan. 18, a candle-lighting protest was held in front of Plaridel Hall to denounce the threats and attacks against press freedom.

Youth slam Duterte admin on 48th anniversary of First Quarter Storm

Photo by Migui Sunga
Text by Kristel Limpot

48 years after the historic First Quarter Storm that saw the youth rise against the repressive policies of Ferdinand Marcos’ regime, protesters gathered on Friday to condemn the similar series of attacks against the people now launched by the Duterte administration.

“Ang mga issue noon ay gano’n parin hanggang ngayon,” said writer-director and former  student activist Boni Ilagan in a protest held at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

Ilagan also called the administration’s spate of extrajudicial killings, anti-people policies, and attempts to silence critical voices reminiscent of the Martial Law era.

In a 29-page decision released last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ordered the revocation of news organization Rappler’s license to operate, accusing them of violating the Constitution by allegedly allowing foreign control over its corporate affairs.

Rappler, however, has been firm in saying they are wholly Filipino-owned and that their foreign investors have no say on the company’s operations.

Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI), an artists and media alliance dedicated to upholding freedom of expression, denounced this decision, tagging it as “politically-motivated” and a clear attack on press freedom.

“We cannot look at SEC’s decision outside of the political events. This is an attack, since the President and his supporters have long been lambasting and harrassing Rappler for being critical of the administration,” said blogger and newspaper columnist Tonyo Cruz.

Besides Rappler, other media organizations are also experiencing looming threats on their right to report freely.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself has frequently threatened media entities and has called journalists “bastos” for writing pieces critical of his administration.

He has previously decried the Philippine Daily Inquirer after it has published the infamous Pieta-like front page photo of a war on drugs victim, as well as a series of articles on the administration’s bloody crackdown on narcotics.

Months later, the Inquirer was sold to businessman Ramon Ang, a close friend of the President.

Earlier this week, online news site VERA Files also went down after they released a story regarding the Duterte family’s failure to disclose their investments.

Tinig ng Plaridel itself has not been spared from threats made by Facebook trolls after publishing articles and photos on protests against Duterte.

Progressive student organizations also rallied against the newly-implemented Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, which leaves poor families at an even greater disadvantage as they are forced to endure the resulting price hike in basic commodities.

The law is said to benefit the Filipinos as it exempts from income tax those with an annual income of P250,000 or less.

However, according to IBON Foundation, as much as 15.2 million families will not be getting these tax exemptions, since most of them are minimum wage earners or are otherwise working in informal work with low incomes.

UP professor Danilo Arao urged the students to keep the vigorous spirit of youth activism present during the Marcos regime alive and to safeguard our nation’s democratic rights.

Magkaisa tayo sapagkat tayo ay armado ng pinakamatalas na antas na pagsusuri hinggil sa nangyayari sa ating lipunan,” said Arao.

Students, journalists to Duterte admin: We are not afraid

Photo by Red Carao

Text by Kim Muaña and Jeuel Barroso

Standing for press freedom, students and media practitioners rallied against the Duterte administration’s attacks on the media in a series of protests last week.

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), a nationwide alliance of tertiary-level student publications, led the protest at the Mendiola Peace Arch last Wednesday after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) suspended Rappler’s license to operate.

In a decision dated Jan. 11, the SEC said Rappler violated laws on restrictions of foreign funding to Philippine mass media as they “sold control to foreigners” and did a “deceptive scheme to circumvent the constitution.”

Aside from Rappler’s imminent shutdown, the National Telecommunications Commission is also planning to close around 30 radio stations in Davao for violating broadcasting laws and not having necessary permits.

Burning a photograph of President Rodrigo Duterte, the media students publicly condemned the administration’s activities that constrain news agencies from exercising press freedom.

“Nagkakaisa at hindi natatakot ang mga mamamahayag pang-campus, ang mga pahayagan, na bagamat maliit, ay may tinig pa rin,” CEGP national president Jose Mari Callueng said.

“Ito ang panahon para magkaisa… para lakasan pa ang ating tinig, para lakasan pa ang ating panawagan na ipagtanggol ang kalayaan sa pamamahayag,” Callueng added.  

The SEC decision covered both Rappler, Inc. and Rappler Holdings Corporation.

The agency claimed that Omidyar Network, an investment firm owned by the founder of  online auction firm eBay, has control over Rappler by being one of their investors.

They argued that Rappler violates laws on Foreign Equity Restrictions in Mass Media.

“If not for returns, for what purpose then is the investment? Control,” the decision said.

However, last Wednesday, Callueng said that SEC’s decision is an “attack” above anything else. While they accuse Rappler of being owned by a foreign company, the government is already leaning towards opening the country more to foreign businesses.

“Sobrang ironic kasi ang naging standard nila para ipasara ‘yung Rappler ay yung constitutionality on ownership samantalang ung sinusulong sa Kamara ngayon na federal constitution ay siyang nagsasaad ng full foreign ownerhsip ng mga media entities.”

Relaxing restrictions on foreign ownership of local business is one of considered changes in the federal constitution, proponents from House of Representatives said last year.

Meanwhile, UP student journalists then joined in protest with campus publications from Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) and other universities at Ateneo Gate 2 on Friday. It was organized by the Confederation of Student Publications, including The GUIDON, Matanglawin Ateneo and Heights Ateneo.

The GUIDON editor-in-chief Robbin Dagle said that campus publications won’t stop fighting for democracy, freedom and every Filipino as they claimed that the issue with Rappler is similar to what campus publications currently face.

“Hindi ho ito isolated case eh, ‘yung sa Rappler,” Callueng said, “Nakita natin sa ngayon na kung gaanong iniikutan maski ‘yung legal system natin para i-legitimize ‘yung pag shutdown, pagsupress sa media.

“Maging naman ‘yung sa ating mga pahayagang pang-campus at ibang independent press e ginagawa ito,” he added.

As 2017 drew to a close, Tinig ng Plaridel itself received threats from Facebook trolls after publishing stories regarding protests against Duterte..

“Ang aming kolehiyo daw ay nagsusulong ng isang midyang malaya at mapagpalaya…ngunit mismong administrasyon namen ay pilit na pinapatahimik ang kanyang mga estudyante,” UP Diliman film student Revy Marata said.

Students stand with Diliman community in fight against tax reform, jeepney phaseout

Photo by Keith Magcaling

Text by Beatriz Zamora

With a new semester in tow, UP Diliman students and multisectoral groups urged the UP community to fight against the anti-people policies of the Duterte administration in a series of protests held yesterday.

“Nakabilin sa ating mga kabataan ang paglaban sa pamamasista ng rehimeng Duterte. Kasama natin ang mga maralita, kasama natin ang iba’t ibang sektor,” Student Regent Shari Oliquino said.

Progressive youth groups expressed their support for the UP community— vendors, jeepney drivers, and personnel— in light of the recent implementation of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law.

The TRAIN Law increases take-home pay of employees, cutting off tax reductions for those whose annual income amounts to P250,000. However, the prices of basic commodities are set to inflate, particularly petroleum and sugar-based products. In addition, not everyone with income lower than P250,000 will benefit from the TRAIN law because most of them are minimum wage earners.

While not getting increased take home pay, they [the poor] will have to endure price hikes as a direct or indirect effect of higher consumption taxes,” stated think tank IBON Foundation.

The protests also condemned the Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) closure order of Rappler. Inc, wherein the online news organization is accused of violating the Constitution which mandates local media to be owned by Filipinos.

UP College of Mass Communication Student Council (CMCSC) chairperson Mikko Ringia compared this with Marcos’ martial law era, wherein major news outfits were forced to shut down due to the dictatorship.

“Ang atake sa mga peryodista ay atake sa demokrasya, atake sa mga mamamayan,” Ringia said. He encouraged media practitioners to be one with the masses’ fight for democratic rights.

Union of Journalists of the Philippines – UP (UP) chairperson Mark Kevin Reginio emphasized this plea, saying that the recent turn of events are manifestations of the state’s refusal to side with its people.

Students carried over the protest to Village B and C, where they joined the local community in calling for the  junking of the tax reform law.

UP Diliman students slam ‘anti-poor’ TRAIN law

Photo by Jamme Robles

Text by Merryll Phae Red Carao

Kicking off the start of the semester, University of the Philippines-Diliman students held a protest against the Duterte administration’s Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law.

Progressive student groups led by Anakbayan UP Diliman denounced the newly passed TRAIN Law and called for its junking due to its effect of raising the price of basic commodities.

The TRAIN law exempts those who earn less than P250,000 annually from income tax, which spells a bigger take home pay for minimum wage earners. According to the Department of Finance, the law is expected to help 99% of Filipino families because of the exception to personal income tax.

This is coupled with an increase in excise tax, or taxes on products that use sugar, salt, oil, and coal. This paves the way for even the most basic commodities to inflate. The cost of transportation is also expected to increase given the oil price hikes that will follow the passing of the TRAIN law.

Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua said that higher excise taxes should not be feared because it will be ‘minimal and temporary’ only.

According to think tank IBON Foundation,, only 7.5 million FIlipinos are expected to benefit from the income tax exemption, with 15.2 million Filipinos expected to bear the burden of the increase in excise tax.

Moreover, not everyone who earn below Php 250, 000 will feel the impact of the income tax exemption, as many of those workers earn minimum wage and do not pay taxes.

“Most of the country’s total 22.7 million families do not pay income tax because they are just minimum wage earners or otherwise in informal work with low and erratic incomes,” said Sonny Africa, head of IBON Foundation.

“Even if TRAIN reduces income taxes paid by most of the reported 7.5 million personal income taxpayers, this still leaves as much as 15.2 million families without any income tax gains,” he added.

Presyuhan sa Diliman

The UP community is already experiencing the TRAIN Law in every meal; prices of sweetened drinks and student meals have gone up, especially among the ranks of the many kiosks or food stalls inside the university.

Sweetened drinks have gone up by as much as 5 pesos, and meals with processed food like hotdogs and instant noodles are expected to inflate by the same amount in the coming months.

Students denounced the Duterte administration for neglecting to consider the worsening poverty in the Philippines through the implementation of neoliberal policies that are more detrimental to the Filipino people’s situation.

Irene Hilario from the League of FIlipino Students-UP Diliman said that the TRAIN law is just one of the many anti-poor policies that the Duterte administration are subjecting his constituents to, and that from the start, Duterte was insincere about helping the Filipino people.

“Kung titignan natin, sino nga ba ang makikinabang sa mga neoliberal na polisiyang ito? Malinaw na ang mga dayuhang kumpanya lamang,” Hilario said.

He added that the ‘anti-poor’ projects and programs of the Duterte administration are in no way for the development of the country, but instead a profiteering scheme of foreign companies.

According to Anakbayan UP Diliman, the collected taxes from the increase in excise tax will not reach the Filipino people in the way that they should. The money will go into foreign debt servicing and into Duterte’s Build, Build, Build program, which is expected to see a rise in infrastructures such as malls and, but not of basic social services such as affordable medical facilities or housing.

However, this is just the first step of four of the Duterte administration’s tax reform program. Packages 2-4 are expected to be implemented in the next years.

Free education from TRAIN?

Students are also hard pressed to avail of the free tuition inside State Colleges and Universities (SUCs) such as UP because of the lack of budget. UP has started prompting their students to opt out of free matriculation to receive, for example, allowance or stipend from the school.

Last year, Duterte said that the budget for free education will come from the tax collected under the TRAIN law. This statement was decried by progressive groups, saying that the government pits the interest of students for free education against the interest of poor Filipinos to afford basic commodities.

Part of the money collected from excise tax will also go to Duterte’s Martial Law and Oplan Tokhang, which continue to claim lives in the streets and to deal human rights violations against the Filipino people, according to Kate Raca of Alay Sining.

‘Ganito ang itsura ng rehimeng US-Duterte. Gigipitin niya ang nga mamamayan para tumaba ang kanyang bulsa sa pagpatay,” she said.

According to the student groups, they are planning bigger protests against the TRAIN law, and the impending jeepney phaseout in the coming weeks to show the administration that with every fascist and neoliberal attack, their fight grows stronger.

‘Dapat malinaw sa atin na habang tumataas ang mga bilihin ay tumataas ang militansya ng mga kabataan laban sa pasistang rehimeng ito,’ said Raca.

 

CMCSC: Prioritize mental health awareness in Maskom

Photo grabbed from the UP CMC Student Council Facebook page

Text by Mayumi Paras

The UP College of Mass Communication Student Council (CMCSC) held a weeklong campaign to highlight mental health awareness through various workshops in the college, Nov. 7-9.

Students Rights and Welfare committee head and UP CMCSC film representative Rocky Morilla said that Mass Communication students are one of the most frequent visitors of the Office of Counseling and Guidance, based on testimonies of those from the OCG themselves.

“Maskom is reported to have one of the highest number of visits to the OCG, and yet we still have to deal with discrimination issues within the college,” Morilla said, citing incidents wherein certain professors banned students with mental health issues from enrolling in their classes.

Under the theme of “Do Mind Me”, UP CMCSC kicked off the weeklong eventwith a three hour workshop on mental health awareness Nov. 7.

This was then followed by another workshopon resilience and stress management, the next day. These workshops also  tackled both giving and receiving support in times of concern surrounding mental health.

Morilla also added that the demands that the college often imposes upon its students may contribute to the amount of stress University students already undergo; “Each department of the college is subjected to incredible amounts of responsibility that can really affect us negatively at times.”

“Mental health awareness within the college needs to be a priority,” she emphasized.

With a recent study showing that one in every three Filipinos suffer from mental health issues, more emphasis is placed upon students’ awareness of their own mental health and how they may be able to tend to it.

“There were times I felt like what I felt wasn’t worth discussing… and this event is trying to tell everyone that that is the last thing that anyone should feel,” Morilla said.

With the fight for free, accessible, and quality healthcare still underway, Morilla hopes initiatives like “Do Mind Me” are a step towards awareness and, by extension, progress: moving in the right direction, that everyone may avail of the support and guidance they need.

“#DoMindMe was a project that was held in Maskom so that the students could find a nearer avenue and could feel like mental health is an important issue within the college—it’s not a taboo topic,” she said.

 

Reconnect: Mental health in the age of apathy

Photo and text by Kristine Chua

To have your suffering invalidated is an almost unbearable form of violence.

For the six million Filipinos who suffer from mental health disorders, it was a sucker punch to hear Joey De Leon treat their reality as his favorite genre of entertainment–comedy.

“Filipinos are still backwards in viewing mental illness,” said Marc Eric Reyes PhD, a clinical psychologist, during a panel discussion centered on raising awareness on mental health organized by the UP Psychology Society to celebrate National Mental Health Week.

“Which is why what Maine Mendoza did, when she shut down Joey de Leon and defended mental health, was an immensely powerful thing. Millions of people saw that,” Julia Maan̄o, a journalism student in UP Diliman, said.

Maan̄o was diagnosed with depression when she was only 13 years old. She mentioned that her mental health state can be traced from their family’s predisposition; her mother’s death nine years ago also contributed to it.

“I’ve sent too many apology emails to my professors na ‘sorry ang dami kong absent, daming kong missed deadlines,’” Maan̄o shared, explaining how the pressure at the university overwhelmed her.

System error

Millions of Filipinos, however, suffer not only verbal invalidation but systemic as well.

Only about seven percent of all public and private hospitals in the Philippines have a psychiatric unit or ward. Up to now, mental health has not been included in any insurance packages offered by the government.

Filipinos may have to wait a couple more years for a health package that includes a little more sprinkle of support and care from the government.

Depiction in the media is another problem altogether.

“Media can make or break,” remarked Felicitas Soriano, MD, acting chief of Veterans Memorial Medical Center.

Inaccurate depictions of mental health on media can lead to further increasing the stigma that already exists. Media plays a major role in educating the public about the reality of mental health and how it affects the lives of those who suffer from it.

58-percent of the Philippine population are active social media users on a monthly basis, the 15th highest penetration rate in the world, the study said.

Television shows and movies such as 13 Reasons Why and Last Night received critique as they were said to contribute to the growing stigma that surrounds mental health. Hannah Baker, the main character in 13 Reasons Why, was bullied and assaulted when she was still alive. The show centered on how she left tapes for the people responsible for her suicide.

13 Reasons Why also glamorizes suicide, with decorated lockers, pep rallies, students taking selfies by Hannah’s locker, mysterious packages, audio taped travel hunts, and even flashback scenes that keep Hannah “alive” in the series,” Psychology Today reports in a review of the controversial series.

“Mental health shouldn’t be exploited or commercialized,” Reyes said. People suffering from mental health illnesses should be portrayed more than their diagnoses, Jarvin Tan, RPh, the Director for Research at Youth for Mental Health Coalition said.

Likewise, Maaño said that private individuals and even media could battle stigma.

“Negativity should stop with you,” Reyes stressed. He advised everyone in the room to avoid posting or sharing negative content that can possibly harm or offend others.

UP labor, transport groups question TRAIN bill implications

Photo by Cleverlyn Mayuga

Text by Kim Jem Muaña

Despite experts’ emphasis on its importance, the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman labor sector contended some provisions on the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) bill proposed by the Department of Finance (DOF).

TRAIN bill aims to reform the 20-year-old tax system. Under the DOF proposal, 99% of personal income taxpayers will be paying lower tax.

DOF Assistant Secretary Ma. Teresa Habitan talked about the tax reform bill as a priority of the Duterte administration in the Kapekonomiya forum held in the UP School of Economics last Thursday.

“The framework of the TRAIN really is an aspiration to give back money to the people, [specifically] those who are considered middle income groups,” she said.

Organized by UP School of Economics Student Council and UP Economics Towards Consciousness, Kapekonomiya was held to “inform students about the proposed TRAIN bill, give different perspectives on this proposed tax reform and give an opportunity for our audience to  come up with their own stand/opinion on the bill given,” according to Fiona Layson, convenor of Kapekonomiya.

However, the labor sector questioned the goals and implications of the said bill.

National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA) Executive Director Kristina David said, “Noon pa, may problema na iyan kasi kinakargo ng mamamayang mahihirap ang mga taxes ng malalaking kompanya, diba, naipapasa lang naman iyan sa atin eh.”

National Executive Vice President of All UP Workers’ Union (AUPWU) Connie Marquina also stated that increase in tax collection would not necessarily mean well until wages [for government employees] have not increased to strike the balance.

Oil Excise Tax

Additionally,TRAIN also aims to increase excise tax on petroleum products and luxury cars.

According to the DOF proposal, oil prices will gradually increase by six pesos for three years. It will target the wealthiest citizens since the highest 10% taxpayers consume 51% of oil consumption.

“Kapag tumaas ang langis, lahat tataas. Ultimong asin tataas, kasi lahat yan gumagamit ng oil, pagtransport,” Marquina said.

David further stressed that oil excise tax increase would attack the livelihood of fishermen and farmers due to the high price of crude oil which fuels transportation costs essential to their source of income.

“Yung product nila to the market, higit sa doble ang transportation cost nila,” she added.

Mass transportation

DOF adapted to their proposal the Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program where jeepney units will be phased out and be replaced with electrically-powered jeepney engines or e-jeep.

Ikot jeepney driver Edwin Dela Cruz, 37, said that this program under the TRAIN bill will also be another burden to jeepney drivers.

“Kung kunwari, [five years rent to own] itong hawak ko, tapos wala pa sa kalahati yung naibabayad ko rito, bibigyan na naman nila ako ng panibagong utang. May utang na ako sa taong pinagkuhaan nito, tapos may utang pa ako sa gobyerno,” Dela Cruz said.

“Bago ka makapag-e-jeep dito, … hindi ko alam kung paano tatakbo ang e-jeep. Hindi pa nakarating sa kabilang kanto, wala na yung baterya [dahil sa traffic]…,” Marquina added.

According to the DOF website, PUV modernization, Pantawid Pasada and other programs were added by the department to mitigate the effects of the increase in oil excise tax.

Habitan said that jeepney passengers are exposed to danger with the old structure of the jeepneys.

“Kailangan natin ng PUV modernization. Kaya lang, maraming jeepney driver, mga operator, nagra-rally. Nagiistrike, diba? Ayaw nila ng pagbabago. And one wonders why they do not want to change,” Habitan said.

However, as direct stakeholders, jeepney drivers perceive the issue differently.

“Di naman pagbabago kasi gusto nila eh. Hindi naman pagbabago eh. Gusto nila yung electric agad. Mahirap naman kasi yung sinasabi nilang electric,” said Dela Cruz, who has been driving the Ikot route around the campus for almost 20 years now.

David agreed with the need for a tax reform but questioned its implementation. Whether it is progressive or not, she said, should be a big determining factor.

“Kailangan muna nilang siguruhin na ang basic necessity ay naibigay ng gobyerno bago sila magtaas.” Marquina said.