Photo by Maegan Gaspar

Text by Nacho Domingo, Nica Rhiana Hanopol and Edelito Mercene Jr

Vacant classrooms abound in the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman as hundreds of students took part in an emblematic gesture to lock down the gates of Palma Hall.

On February 23, the Diliman community denounced President Duterte’s anti-people policies such as Oplan Tokhang, charter change, and martial law in Mindanao, among others.

“Yung mga Iskolar ng Bayan, malinaw sa kanya, may grounds, kung bakit kinakailangan niyang lumaban, at never ‘yun naging mali para sa kanya,” said UP Student Regent Shari Oliquino.

The National Day of Action for Freedom and Democracy last Friday also aimed to condemn Duterte’s jeepney phaseout program, the Tax Reform and Acceleration (TRAIN) Law, jeepney phaseout, and efforts to revoke news outlets such as Rappler and InterAksyon.

Over a thousand students, jeepney drivers, vendors and members of mass groups took part in the nationwide protest.

“Nawawalan kami ng buhay at hanapbuhay dahil sa jeepney phaseout ni Duterte. Nagpapasalamat kami sa mga iskolar ng bayan na tumitindig kasama namin,” said one of the drivers invited to speak at the event.

Despite threats from President Rodrigo Duterte to kick students out of the university, UP Diliman chancellor Michael Tan expressed his support for them, saying there is a “sharp discrepancy” between what is taught about morality and democracy and what students see in practice.

He then urged faculty members to excuse students from their classes if they choose to join the protests.

Anakbayan UP Diliman member Nickolo Domingo also slammed President Duterte’s previous threat to dismiss students who walk out of their classes to protest.

“Sabi ni Duterte na kung mag-walkout tayo ulit, tatanggalin niya tayo sa paaralan,” Domingo said. “Pero nakikita naman natin na kahit anumang sabihin niya, basta ipinapatuloy niya ang mga anti-mamamayan niyang polisiya, hindi titigil ang laban para sa pambansang demokrasya.”

On the wrong end of modernization

The crackdown on jeepneys was one of the issues tackled in the nationwide anti-Duterte policy protest.

Jeepneys aged at least 15 years old were set to be removed by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) as part of the government’s transport modernization program.

This prompted many jeepney drivers in UP Diliman to stop operations on Feb. 9, in fear of getting charged with an unreasonable amount of P5,000, five times the amount of their take home pay, if deemed having a defective and smoke-belching jeepney unit.

“Hindi tayo tutol sa pagmodernize ng jeepneys, ang tinututulan natin ang porma ng pagmodernize ng jeepney ngayon kung saan tinatanggalan sila ng hanapbuhay at binebentahan sila ng jeepneys worth 1.5 million to 1.8 million,” said UP College of Social Work and Community Development Student Council chairperson Mayo Mendoza.

“Hindi lang naman jeep ang matatanggal sa ating mga drivers; pagkain na rin sa kanilang mga mesa, pati source na rin ng education ng kanilang mga anak ay maapektuhan ‘pag tinanggalan mo sila ng kanilang hanapbuhay,” Mendoza added.

In response to DOTr’s modernization program, the UP Asian Institute of Tourism organized a forum on Feb. 22 for UP jeepney drivers to voice out their complaints on the ‘Tanggal Bulok, Tanggal Usok’ campaign.

“Ang sabi ni Duterte, dapat daw tanggalin ang mga bulok, sino ang bulok? Si Duterte at ang kanyang mga polisiya, kaya dapat siya ang dapat nating i-phase out,” said Oliquino.

History repeats itself

On February 1971, the UP student council led the Diliman Commune in condemnation of the three-centavo oil price hike during the Marcos administration.

Two decades after, students rallied together with transport workers against the tax reform law of the Duterte administration, which is expected to impose higher fuel prices in the coming months.

An effigy entitled “DuterTerorista” was also set ablaze last Friday as a symbol of their collective dissent. This mirrored the burning of a similar effigy that took place during the September 11, 2017 commemoration of Martial Law.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same. You have to be the change you wish to see,” said martial law veteran Boni Ilagan in the local protest action at UP CMC, citing the importance of the youth’s role in large scale mobilizations.

CMC students also taped their mouths in their outcry over attacks against press freedom, such as the recent barring of Rappler reporter Pia Ranada from Malacanang Palace.

Meanwhile, Enrique Navera of League of Filipino Students UPD emphasized that this broad mobilization aims to isolate Duterte as the mastermind of atrocities that have culminated in the last year.

“Tapos na ‘yung panahon ng pagiging defensive, ang hinihingi sa ’tin ng panahon ngayon ay lumaban na talaga against Duterte,” he said.

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the EDSA Revolt, but UP students have only one answer to the past lurking behind them – never again.

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