‘Their demands are just’: Int’l scholars pledge support to PH academic strikes

Text by Jan Cuyco

More than 70 international educators and scholars have backed the strike movements brewing across Philippine universities after the series of typhoons that battered the archipelago this month. 

Among those who inked their support are notable scholars from the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and Kenya. 

In a joint statement released yesterday, the signatories said that halting the semester can “channel energies to relief operations” for typhoon victims while calling out the government’s handling of the recent crises and the ongoing pandemic. 

“Strikes are in-themselves education processes happening outside the formal classroom setting where participants are taking direct action through relief work, immersion in impoverished communities and collection action … against social injustice,” the statement read. 

This came after a series of student-led online petitions called to end the semester, while students across different universities have likewise mobilized to withhold academic requirements until their demands are met.  

Philippine schools this year have adopted a remote mode of learning to prevent the spread of COVID-19, forcing students to continue learning in the confines of their own homes. 

But the latest deluge of Typhoons Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses has not only placed many regions under a state of calamity. It has also tested the education set-up in the middle of a pandemic. 

“We believe that their [students] strike is legitimate and their demands just,” the statement added. 

Student strike movements

Since Nov. 14, over a hundred students from the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) have co-signed a mass strike statement, pledging to withhold the submission of school requirements “until the national government heeds the people’s demands for proper calamity aid and pandemic response.” 

“We cannot sit idly by and do our modules, ignoring the fact that the Philippine nation is in shambles,” the petition read. 

More than 850 ADMU alumni have also expressed their support for the recent mass student strike.

“The fact that the idea of an academic strike came directly from the students should spark optimism to those fortunate enough to have seen it,” their statement read. 

University of the Philippines (UP) students have followed suit with more than 10,000 individuals across the system signing various petitions and over 200 student organizations expressing their support to finish the semester. 

Around 280 concerned UP faculty members have asked the university administration to immediately end the semester and implement a “Pass or Drop” grading system instead of a numerical grade. 

“Discounting the time needed to recover by those affected by the recent typhoons, the pressure to finish the remaining days of the semester have exacerbated to the point of inhumanity,” the statement read. 

Last week, students took their demands to Quezon Hall in UP Diliman in a series of daily protests, earning the president’s ire in his meeting with Cabinet members last Nov. 17. 

In the same telecast, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to defund the state university after his spokesperson Harry Roque told him about the academic strike. 

The chief executive then took the chance to red-tag UP students vocal about the administration,  calling them “recruiters of communists” without basis.

UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo responded Nov. 20, saying that UP is a “safe haven for civilized and intelligent discourse” and has “no place for intolerance, bigotry, and red-tagging.” 

“The threat to defund UP stemmed from a misunderstanding that UP does nothing except to recruit communists. Those who blame UP for breeding communists forget that UP has bred more scientists, artists, doctors, lawyers, diplomats and civil servants,” Nemenzo added. 

Nemenzo recognized the “hardship, frustration and fears of our students and faculty” calling to end the semester in UP and that it is their “inalienable right as citizens” to express their grievances. 

“We will continue to explore ways to address recurring and emerging concerns and respond to the different needs and circumstances of our faculty and students,” he said.

Nemenzo also asserted the importance of academic freedom in the university. “We play the role of social critic from a position of evidence-based scholarship and moral courage. This role is a distinct service to the nation.” 

With barely two weeks left in UP’s semester, many UP professors and students have been caught in a standstill waiting for administrative directives on how to proceed with the remaining days of the semester. 

The UP Board of Regents will convene Thursday, Nov. 26, to decide on the university’s plans for the remainder of the remote semester. 

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