Amidst escalating repression, student publications remain undaunted

By Alaysa Tagumpay E. Escandor

The present is a time of suppression.

Exclamations of dissent are silenced in a climate of impunity. While top officials vow to “protect democracy,” the people’s democratic rights are snuffed out at every turn. The right to peaceably assemble is met with police and military brutality; the exercise of free speech and expression is marred by the continuing murder of journalists. Meanwhile, members of legitimate organizations, such as the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), are proclaimed “enemies of the state.”

Universities are not exempt from such repressive measures, which have become “normalized” in a supposedly “liberal environment.” As student publications boldly expose anti-student policies, school officials retaliate by attacking campus press freedom. Already, the number of campus press freedom violations (CPV’s) has increased at an alarming rate. Recent events show how student publications function in a constricted space, under the watchful gaze of the school administration. Campus papers must be monitored, the authorities reason.

Press freedom, however, cannot survive in an atmosphere of control – only its illusion.

Students’ rights above all

The existence of student publications is an affirmation of the students’ democratic rights.

The onset of the American period saw the creation of numerous universities and colleges under a colonial administration. The relative proliferation of academic institutions, and their emphasis on discussion and debate, was key to the formation of student publications. Founded on the ideals of democracy and the right to information, students saw the need to disseminate alternative narratives against the American-controlled media.

Students finance, manage and maintain the publication’s operations, usually without monetary compensation. Publication funds come solely from the collected student fund, making students its sole publisher. As such, the practice of campus journalism veers against the orientation of mainstream media, which are largely commercial and corporate-owned. Free from the attachment to profit accumulation, the students’ welfare and interests are the publication’s primary priority. On its pages, topics on repression, imperialism, capitalism and social taboos see print – a testament to its bold discussion of far-ranging, but nevertheless, critical issues. As vital agents of change, campus journalism continues to condemn the status quo’s deceptive illusions and contradictions, without fear or apology.

Uncowed, unswayed

Thus, the nature of campus publications is necessarily antagonistic, never subservient. History is replete with instances when campus journalism faced assault from both the school administration and the national government.

The near absence of autonomous media during martial law drove campus publications to expose what the Marcos regime sought to hide: the unprecedented height of corruption and human rights violations. Among these publications were Philippine College of Commerce’s (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines) Ang Malaya, Ateneo de Manila University’s Pandayan, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila’s Hasik, Mapua Institute of Technology’s Balawis, University of the East’s The Dawn, and University of the Philippines-Diliman’s Philippine Collegian.

Not a few student journalists were imprisoned, tortured and murdered. For instance, former Philippine Collegian editor-in-chief Abraham Sarmiento, Jr. was arrested by the military under the guise of “protective custody” and subsequently killed. The same occurred to Liliosa Hilao, former editor-in-chief of Hasik.

Decades after martial law, the same conditions prevail, if not worse. Human rights violations have claimed thousands of lives; corruption has never been more blatant. Militancy remains a valid call for student publications.

Gag order

Yet, in a system that fosters acquiescence and breeds indifference, militancy is not without cost.

Student publications and school administrations often have contending concerns. While the former dedicates itself to the struggle for student rights, the latter often abides by the dictates of state abandonment. Thus, the administrations’ policies on commercialization and privatization are promptly condemned by student publications. In the ensuing debate, the administration is not unscathed.

Inside the academic institution, however, publications hold no administrative power. In contrast, school administrations can easily impose their authority upon the student paper. According to Vijae Alquisola, CEGP national deputy secretary-general, among the most common forms of CPV’s are non-mandatory collection of publication funds, appointment and intrusion of advisers and censorship. The publication staff may also suffer harassment, demotion, and academic persecution, such as dismissal, filing of disciplinary cases, rejection of enrolment, and non-entry to the university.

This year, 90 percent of recorded CPV’s involved student papers that openly campaigned against the administrations’ commercialization and privatization schemes. Among these are University of the Northern PhilippinesThe Tandem, Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology’s Technozette, Tarlac State University’s The Work, Ang Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Muntinlupa’s The Warden and Technological University of the Philippines’s The TUP Artisan.

Meanwhile, the CEGP describes Republic Act No. 7079, or the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 (CJA), as “seriously flawed.” For instance, the CJA permits the non-mandatory collection of publication fees, without which a student paper cannot operate. Further, the act does not contain any penalty clause, leaving erring administrations unpunished. While the CJA claims to protect campus press freedom, administrations can manipulate its provisions against student publications.

Student publications are unremitting in their task to uphold the students’ rights. On the other hand, students must also vigilantly protect the publications from the administrations’ repressive policies. An autonomous student publication is a mark of democracy, the absence of which can only mean a violation of the students’ rights.


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