By Alexandra Gabrielle Francisco
Candidates for University Student Council chairperson called for justice for the Morong 43 at the USC Debate Forum at the College of Mass Communication yesterday.
All the candidates urged the government to respect the rule of law, due process and commitment to social services for the 43 health workers arrested in Morong, Rizal on Feb. 6 on suspicions that they were rebels.
Rain Sindayen of the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND-UP) said the Morong 43 underwent psychological and physical stress as a result of an “illogical” arrest.
He said the only evidence linking the Morong 43 to the New People’s Army (NPA) were acupuncture needles.
“So matakot na yung mga Filipino-Chinese sa atin. May acupuncture needles kayo diyan therefore komunista kayo. Ganoong ka-illogical ang ating pamahalaan,” said Sindayen.
According to earlier news reports, Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato, 2nd Infantry Division spokesperson, said acupuncture needles were a “trademark” of the NPA.
Detoyato denied torturing the 43 health workers.
Mario Cerilles from Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral Para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran (Alyansa) said the military disobeyed the law by producing the Morong 43 four days after the Supreme Court issued the writ of habeas corpus.
The writ requires the military to produce a person’s body after 24 hours.
Beng Villamil from the KAISA-Nagkakaisang Iskolar para sa Pamantasan at Sambayanan (KAISA UP) said the government should not violate human rights based on hunches and urged students to be more vigilant in guarding against human rights violations.
The Morong 43 was just one of the issues discussed in the forum, where candidates discussed their views on national, university and personal issues.
On the other hand, candidates for university Councilor agreed that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), initiated under former President Corazon Aquino’s term, was a failure in distributing land from the landed elite to the tillers.
On Sumilao farmers, CARP
Gem Garcia of STAND-UP called CARP the Cojuangco-Aquino Reform Program, saying it did not change the percentage of farmers without land titles, reminding students that Aquino was a stockholder in Hacienda Luisita.
In 2004, at least seven farmers picketing for increased benefits, higher wages and more committed agrarian reform were killed when police and military men stormed the blockade of 6,000 sugar plantation farmers.
“A genuine agrarian reform program rooted not on the whims of the landlords but from the hands of the farmers themselves by consulting them, by knowing their struggles, by integrating with them,” said Garcia.
Chorva David of KAISA UP slammed the stock distribution provision of the CARP, saying it should be distributed directly to the farmers themselves. In the stock distribution scheme, farmers do not get titles of the land but shares in the stocks of the land.
UP students should study the law and formulate solutions to its problems, said David.
Chase Suguitan of Alyansa said the whole UP should have welcomed the Sumilao farmers when they visited the campus, instead of just the College of Law when the Sumilao farmers came to UP in March, 2009.
Suguitan cited how the students of the Ateneo de Manila University welcomed the Sumilao farmers and skipped their classes.
“Dito, wala man lang sumipot sa PH (Palma Hall) 400 para salubungin ang mga Sumilao Farmers,” said Suguitan.
Waking on foot from Sumilao, Bukidnon to Manila, the so-called “Sumilao Farmers” were present at the screening of the film “Lupang Hinirang” at the Malcom Theater UP College of Law last March 12.
Merits, demerits of VFA
Meanwhile, candidates for vice-chairperson disagreed on the merits of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which has been slammed by many civil society groups as allowing foreigners to exploit the country’s human and natural resources.
Amme Agudo of STAND-UP said the VFA was a way for the government to inject neo-liberal policies that put Filipinos at the disadvantage.
Bevs Lumbera of Alyansa said the Philippines should increase the safeguards involving the VFA.
Ton Bacungan of KAISA UP said that while Filipinos assert their independence, the military should learn everything they can from the U.S. forces.
“We need to stress that we need to learn and we can learn from them,” said Bacungan.
Incumbent USC Chair Titus Tan commended the UP Debate Society for facilitating the event in coordination with the Academic Core, USC Education and Research Committee and CSSP Academic Circle, but he hoped candidates could discuss the UP budget in the forum.
The TOFI (Tuition and Other Fee Increase) babies—students who entered the university in 2007 amid the 300 percent tuition hike—will be graduating next academic year, so it is important to assess if the current system is “financially sustainable,” said Tan.