The University of the Philippines’ (UP) militancy has proved its legacy of victories for decades, but in the debate on a document formally declaring our rights as students, questions and doubts remain.
In these times of uncertainty, however, it is important to assess if we, students, are asking the ideal questions and fighting the right struggle.
The Students’ Magna Carta has divided the UP community to choose between two polar premises—that the Magna Carta will weaken UP’s long-running student movement and that the document will safeguard the rights of its students.
The much-debated codified students’ rights was first drafted by student council chairpersons, sectoral representatives, and randomly selected UP students in the summer term of A.Y. 2014 to 2015. The representatives who crafted the document came from the different organizations and political parties, proving that it is not an endeavor only of a sole political party.
After the process of drafting, informing the students, and conducting a referendum that resulted to a 94 percent support from the student body, the University Student Council of has finally made their stand last January 24, 2016 to support the Magna Carta.
On November 4, the current USC made a decision to suspend a stand-making on the Magna Carta. The University Student Council garnered widespread attention on their treatment of the Magna Carta, and drew criticisms from the student body.
Recognizing the growing public concern on the issue, the USC released a statement regarding the decision, stating that among the most contentious provisions of the document was in Section IV of Article 4, where the “students shall have the right to be consulted on any proposed increase or creation of school fees” by the Board of Regents (BOR). As of January 13, the USC voted to support the Magna Carta in a 19-10-1 vote.
Following the basic premise of RA 9500 that gives power to the BOR to increase school fees, and that the Magna Carta cannot in any way, supersede the law, students must realize that it is not the document that they should be questioning in the first place but the very law and system that the document falls under.
Another point of contention raised is that the document allows the administration to “facilitate the operations of campus publications.” This phrase is in fact derived from Article V, Section 1 which exactly states that: “Students shall have the right to establish and run structures of self-governance, mechanisms for advocacy, and systems of decision-making. To this end, the University shall support and facilitate the creation and operation of student councils and student publications.”
The contention is clearly taken out of context as it implies that the document condones the administration’s control over the operations of publications– the exact opposite of what it truly suggests. Section 6 further supports student publications when it stated that: “All publications produced by students shall be self-regulated. School authorities shall not unduly sanction members of campus press and media.”
If students want their rights to be recognized by the UP administration, they must work around a multifaceted approach with the passage of the Magna Carta being but one aspect of it.
Rather than debating on whether UP students ought to have a formal declaration of rights, we should address the fact that while the document should be seen in good faith, it will never be enough, and this is where collective action comes to play.
Since the document is being created under a framework that is presently governed by repressive policies, it must be subjective to further amendments in the future, amendments that shall be representative of all students and for students.
While the system is obviously flawed, students must work around it, not as a form of compromise but as a way to gain better footing against those in power through both legal and collective action.
UP has been known for its long-running mass movement, and it should not limit itself to such. The UP community must remember that the means to defend students’ rights have no hierarchy and that there are other avenues to forward students’ rights. The success of Kabataan Partylist in representing the youth to the Congress and the continuous forwarding of sectoral groups’ demands by the Makabayan bloc are some concrete examples that a different approach in attaining change does not preclude the mass movement.
We have achieved victories in part because we know the rights we are entitled to and because we are determined to fight for them. History has also witnessed that no code, or law for that matter, is ever superior to our own voices. After all, the document can only be maximized by the junking of existing repressive policies through the student movement.
Establishing a document codifying UP students’ rights is but a single step. What more progressive action we can do is to see the bigger picture and fight for a nation where free education for every student is upheld. The bigger battle for a quality and accessible education across the country still holds.
However, it is time we give support where support is due. Questions and doubts have been answered, and should continuously be, as long the lines of communication of all parties involved are open. Students must go beyond party politics and focus on continuously watching for those who are in power.
The Student’s Magna Carta is neither the supreme solution nor a signal to devalue collective action. The struggle for attaining our rights must grow stronger now, more than ever. #