By Alexandra Gabrielle Francisco

Amid the detention of the Morong 43, three student leaders of the College of Mass Communication (CMC) said the next president should reverse the culture of corruption, enforced disappearances and impunity.

In an open letter for the next president read in a press conference organized by the Journalism Department yesterday, CMC Student Council (CMC SC) chairperson Rupert Mangilit reiterated the call for the release of the 43 health workers arrested in Morong, Rizal for alleged links to communist rebels.

Included among the 43 is former CMC SC chairperson Jacqueline Gonzales, who along with other volunteers were on a health training seminar when they were arrested, an act condemned by activist, medical and international lawyer groups.

CMC SC chairperson-elect Sherwin Su said the biggest challenge for the next president is to change the culture of corruption and injustice, to lay the grounds for transparent leadership and uphold free speech.

Kathy Molina, secretary-general of the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP CMC (STAND UP CMC), said the president must “dispel the culture of impunity,” coming from an administration with a worse record of enforced disappearances and journalist killings than Ferdinand Marcos.

Journalists targeted

Local human rights organization KARAPATAN identified over 800 extrajudicial killings since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed office in 2001.

According to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, 165 journalists have been killed since 1986, 112 of which were killed in the line of duty. 74 journalists were killed during Arroyo’s term.

Mangilit urged the next president to release other illegal detainees and the next council to continue the call for the Morong 43’s release.

Mangilit said journalists who choose to air the concerns of marginalized and far-flung groups, whose needs are not addressed by the national government, are often targets of human rights violations. He cited the cases of Gonzales, sociology student Karen Empeno and College of Human Kinetics student Sherlyn Cadapan, all from the University of the Philippines (UP).

In 2006, Empeno and Cadapan were conducting research in Bulacan when they were allegedly abducted by military groups.  Activist groups have been demanding their release since then, but they have not yet surfaced.

“Ikinalulungkot namin sa panahong ito na ang maglingkod sa bayan ay mistulang isang malaking kasalanan,” Mangilit said.

Mangilit said the next president should improve the health sector, among other basic services. He urged Congress to pass stronger laws against human rights violations and the next president to ensure the punishment of violators.

Su said the next president should have a “clear and defined focus” directed to education, the arts and sciences, which would lead to the empowerment of the people.

Challenges, plans

The next CMC SC faces the same challenge to enact change that would address immediate needs and allow venues for more student involvement in issues, said Su.

Su said the council would prioritize policies for unity and representation through the empowerment of student groups, which included the formation of marketing, publicity and web teams, formalization of organizations of registration assistants (RAs) and the empowerment of Tinig ng Plaridel, the official CMC student publication.

Molina, who went up against Su in the college elections last Feb. 24, called on the next president to secure justice for victims of human rights violations and to hold President Arroyo accountable for the slew of disappearances and killings that happened during her term. She cited investigations of the United Nations that showed the killings were perpetrated by military officials and political personalities.

Molina urged Congress to pass laws against the intimidation of journalists and the Right for Information Act, which would allow the people access to government data without procedural difficulty.

The next president should prioritize education and increase the budget for courses that build national identity and encourage critical thinking, like mass communication courses, she said.

Molina called for a public broadcasting system which serves the people instead of being “mouthpieces of the government,” encouraging government stations RPN9 and IBC13 to grow as media entities.

More about the Mar. 2 press con in TNP’s print issue, which will be released on Mar. 19-Ed.


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