Student groups denounce Duterte regime’s state fascism, GE reform

By Abigail Zara

Progressive groups from University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman staged a protest at Palma Hall, Tuesday, condemning all fascist attacks under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

The groups also decried the University Council’s decision to reduce UP Diliman’s General Education units from 45 to 21 starting 2018.

Expressing their rage, the students slammed repressive government actions such as counter-insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan, the recent bombing operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Abra, and the eviction of urban poor groups from housing projects in Pandi, Bulacan.

“Daan-daan na mga mamamayan ang dini-displace sa kani-kanilang mga komunidad at ilan-ilan ding mga lehitimong aktibista at mga progresibong organisasyon ang kinukulong at dinadakip,” said League of Filipino Students (LFS) member Renz Pasigpasigan on Oplan Kapayapaan.

Also known as Development Support and Security Plan Kapayapaan, Oplan Kapayapaan is the AFP’s security strategy to supposedly reduce terrorist groups to a “minimal strength” within six months, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

In the same interview, AFP Chief General Eduardo Año said 51 battalions were deployed in Western Mindanao and parts of Central Mindanao to fight terrorist groups such as Abu Sayyaf, Maute Group, and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Contrary to its purpose, Oplan Kapayapaan is being used to spread fear among communities where communist groups express their dissent, said Pasigpasigan during the protest.

According to the LFS member, the program is intended to suppress those in the countryside who oppose the government and to breed terror within civilians as well to discourage them from joining the fight.

“Malinaw kung ano ang isinusulong ng ating administrasyon at rehimeng Duterte sa kasalukuyan,” Pasigpasigan said.

“Naghahasik siya ng takot sa hanay ng mga mamamayan para tayo ay tumigil sa ating paglaban, para tayo ay magpasupil,” he added.

The protesters also denounced AFP’s bombing operations in Malibcong, Abra , following a firefight between members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and the AFP on March 15.

A day after, Imelda Tabiando of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) confirmed that the AFP dropped 14 bombs over the town, causing a forest fire and the suspension of elementary and high school classes in the area.

A take over for rights

Student groups also condemned the recent eviction of urban poor groups from idle housing projects in Pandi, Bulacan.

Led by urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), thousands of homeless individuals from Taguig, Navotas, and Malabon cities occupied more than 5,000 unused units in Villa Elise, Pandi Village 2, Villa Louise, and Padre Pio housing projects in a campaign known as Occupy Bulacan on March 8.

Kadamay member Elizabeth Aguirre said in an Inquirer interview that the movement was done because of NHA’s refusal to provide them with “decent homes,” despite many dialogs.

“We were willing to pay [for government housing which] we could afford, yet, we were always told that there were no vacant houses. But based on our inspection, all these houses were unoccupied,” Aguirre added.

The National Housing Authority (NHA) issued eviction notices for the informal settlers on March 20.

According to NHA data, the 52,341 idle houses nationwide were intended for members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and AFP, but only 13 percent or 8,327 of these were being used.

The eviction efforts are further proof of the government’s continuous deprivation of rights to basic social services like shelter, according to Anakbayan CSSP member Kiko Caramat.

“Sapilitan silang pinapadaan sa mga burukuratikong proseso gaya ng napaka-mahal na mga fees, kaya sa pinaka-matagal na panahon din ay wala silang sariling pabahay,” Caramat said during the protest.

Caramat said that because of this deprivation, Filipinos all over the country are asserting their rights through collective action.

“Kaya naman sila na ang mapagpasyang kumilos para angkinin ang higit limang libong tiwangwang na pabahay sa iba’t ibang relocation sites sa Pandi, Bulacan,” he added.

Call for critical, holistic general education

Further worsening the issue of these fascist state attacks is the implementation of the General Education (GE) Reform within UP Diliman, according to the student groups.

With votes of 302 for, 31 against, and 41 abstain from members of the UP Diliman University Council in the GE Reform Conference on Monday, the minimum number of GE units was lowered from 45 to 21 beginning 2018.

Supporters of the GE Reform insisted during the conference that the reduction of GEs will alleviate the academic burden of students by lessening tuition fees and the number of years of certain degree programs, like Engineering courses, which would go down from five years to four.

Institute of Mathematics instructor Ma. Cristina Bargo said in a Facebook post that the curriculum of Engineering and Science majors requires taking service courses before major subjects, allowing for too little room for students to take GEs.

The professor refused to be interviewed further on the issue, as of press time.

However, student groups acknowledged the reform as a scheme to produce graduates in a shorter time in order to further fuel the cheap labor pool demanded by the global market.

“Ang reporma sa GE na ito ay magsisilbing daluyan, magsisilbing balon, magsisilbing poso ng murang lakas paggawa ng mga kabataan,” Anakbayan CAL member Alix Matute said during the rally.

Moreover, LFS Engineering said in a Facebook statement that reform would further expose graduates to unfair and abusive labor policies.

“The influx of fresh graduates would only limit the number of jobs available for them, creating conditions that would make them more vulnerable to low wages, contractualization, and poor working conditions,” LFS Engineering said in a Facebook statement.

UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan joined the protest to express his opposition of the GE Reform.

“A true UP product is not for the existing distorted job market. A true UP student will question the job market,” the chancellor said in his solidarity message during the rally.

Tan, who served as chair in the conference, expressed his dismay because the discussion in the event failed to tackle the wider issues surrounding the reduction of GEs, like its connection to neoliberalism and struggles under the Duterte regime.

“We tried to get things discussed. Umaasa pa ako na magkakaroon ng kompromiso dito, pero mainit na ang ulo ng mga tao dito,” the UPD chancellor said.

“Basta nahirapan na ako mag-ano dito ng malayang talakayan. And I’m very disappointed,” he added.

Student groups agreed that limiting GE subjects will also lead to the lessening of the holistic quality of UP education and reducing subjects that teach students to think critically and act in the face of these issues under the Duterte Administration.

“Yung edukasyon natin ay nagsisilbi hindi para paunlarin yung kakayahan ng mga kabataan, kundi para supilin ang ating kakayahan upang mag-isip nang kritikal, upang gamitin ang ating abilidad upang baguhin ang lipunan,” Matute added during the protest.

Because of these ill effects, Chancellor Tan urged for a stronger campaign to oppose the GE Reform.

“We will create new niches that serve the country, not serve the interest of others,” Tan said.

The chancellor also called for the students to exhaust more actions and venues to counter the GE reduction aside from the existing protests.

“Kailangan din may discussions na kung bakit may posisyon kayo, tayo, tungkol sa GE, at ano ang implications nito para sa buhay ng mga estudyante afterwards… Pwede pa tayong mag-meeting para ma-plano kung ano ang pwedeng content dito,” Tan added.

The chancellor agreed with the students’ call to seek accountability from the Duterte Administration and its fascist attacks.

“Ang hamon sa atin ay patuloy na ipanawagan ang paniningil sa rehimeng Duterte at ipagpatuloy ang pakikipag-kaisa natin sa iba’t ibang mga organisasyon sa ating pamantasan,” Pasigpasigan said. #

IBON: Duterte’s economic plans geared towards neoliberalism

By Jeuel Barroso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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