By Merryll Phae Red Carao
Students from the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP CMC) expressed disappointment over CMC Dean Elena Pernia’s statement on the eUP Project Team’s criticism of Journalism graduates Ronn Bautista and Krixia Subingsubing’s investigative thesis.
According to the dean’s statement, no breach in academic freedom and no attack on free speech were committed when the eUP Team published a critique of Bautista and Subingsubing’s investigative report on the project.
In a statement published Aug. 29, the CMC Student Council (CMCSC) responded to Dean Pernia’s claims, saying the dean “watered down” the concept of academic freedom and free speech by equating them to freely choosing a thesis topic and being published online.
The CMCSC said the dean forgot to “consider the freedom of the students to freely express their critiques, and to do academic investigative research that aims to expose the anomalies in our administration without any prior constraint.”
The Council also expressed frustration on the eUP team’s claims of having exercised only their freedom of speech when they associated malice to the authors of the thesis, describing the investigative report as “poorly conducted research work,” and a “witch hunt disguised an academic endeavour.”
CMCSC Chairperson Almira Abril added that the eUP statement created a “chilling effect” on the studentry, saying the next attempts to expose other anomalous projects of the university might be met similarly.
Meanwhile, in a statement published hours before the CMCSC’s, CMC-based progressive organization Anakbayan Media Collective (ABMC) shared the same sentiments.
“Sa halip na harapin ang mga panawagan ng mga mag-aaral at kawani ay lantarang ipinagtatanggol ng eUP team ang kanyang sarili sa pamamagitan ng pagbibigay malisya, pagpapasinungaling, at paninira sa kritikal na suri ng mga mag-aaral,” ABMC said.
The organization also asserted that Pernia’s statement further dampens the discourse surrounding the failure of the eUP project.
“Sa kabila ng malawak na kampanya na panagutin ang eUP team ay malinaw na hindi siya naninindigan kasama ng mga estudyante, kawani, alumni at guro ng Kolehiyo ng Pangmadlang Komunikasyon,” ABMC said.
Maskom community demands apology
In a Facebook post published Aug. 8, the eUP team said the Bautista-Subingsubing thesis makes “misleading claims, questionable conclusions and false allegations,” and that Bautista and Subingsubing intended to “derail an important initiative that will modernize and improve the operations of the University.”
In response to this statement, former Dean Rolando Tolentino spearheaded a signature campaign demanding an apology from the eUP team.
The campaign, signed by more than 300 members of the UP CMC community, described the eUP statement as “a serious breach of academic ethics” and an “attack on free expression.”
“Its statement in fact declares that any criticism of a UP administration project or initiative is made in bad faith and constitutes an offense against attempts by the University leadership to improve UP processes and systems,” the campaign read.
A ‘plurality of views’
Despite the statements claiming that the eUP statement was indeed an attack on free speech and academic freedom, Pernia believes in the ‘plurality of views’ that exists in UP, wherein all individuals or groups concerned may express their opinions and critiques freely.
Pernia said that in releasing a statement that criticized the Bautista-Subingsubing thesis, the eUP team only exercised its right to be heard in the way it saw fit.
In response to the various statements released against her own, Pernia remains steadfast that her intention was only to protect the right to free speech by all parties. In an interview, she reiterated that she “defended everybody” and not only the eUP team.
“I [also] stand by Ronn and Krixia. I stand by the Journalism department. I believe in free expression. I did not defend anyone [because] I defended everybody’s right to free expression,” the dean said.
The dean, a former readers’ advocate for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, stressed the difference between a news story and an academic work such as a thesis, and how this contrast also affects the way in which parties involved may express their differing views.
“In media, if the thesis were published as an investigative report, there would have been venue for the news source [in this case eUP] to put out its position and find equal publication,” Pernia said.
“But the thesis did not see publication. If it were published, the issues brought up by the eUP team would have found publication alongside the investigative report,” she added.
However, Abril reiterated the council’s disappointment over the dean’s statement, saying that they expected Pernia to stand by their calls to uphold academic freedom.
She called for the studentry to be “fearless” in exposing all anti-student and anti-people policies being implemented in the University.
“Sa ganitong panahong nakikita nating ang ating administrasyon ay hindi titindig para sa ating mga karapatan, tayo na mismo ang tumayo,” Abril said.
Bautista and Subingsubing’s thesis entitled System Error: An Investigative Study on the implementations of the eUP project in the University of the Philippines earned the Best Thesis award in Investigative Journalism in June 2016.