Text by Ingrid Alexandrea T. Delgado and Sofia Ines Q. Abrogar
Student publications in state universities and colleges (SUCs) in the Philippines face one of their greatest operational hurdles yet: a funding loophole in the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (RA 10931).
Signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte in August 2017, the free tuition law prohibits SUCs from collecting matriculation and other school fees, including publication fees. With the law in effect, student publications which previously operated on miscellaneous fees are now scouring for funds to cover their operational expenses.
The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has yet to provide alternative sources of funding, paralyzing campus press operations in SUCs all over the country.
Disruption in operations
Bicol University’s Budyong cried foul over this sudden retraction of funds. From an allotment of P30 per student in miscellaneous fees, the publication now receives nothing.
With their funds maxed out, Budyong’s editors have resorted to loaning their personal money which are yet to be fully reimbursed. Budyong used to produce eight issues in an academic year, but last year they were only able to produce three.
From a 1:1 newspaper to student ratio, Budyong can now only release 500 copies to a college of 938 students divided among seven departments.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) condemned the act as “a blatant attack to the practice of independent and free journalism of the campus press, while the Duterte regime is boasting of its free education.”
Budyong editor-in-chief (EIC) Kristhel Dalanon said many local publications in Bicol University have been financially struggling for years. With the defunding, most have either gone defunct or are struggling to revive and sustain their publications.
“Minsan hindi rin alam ng students kung ano ang nangyayari, though may social media naman, iba pa rin ang impact kapag may publication sa loob ng college,” said Dalanon.
Of the supposed 15 student publications in Bicol University, only eight remain active.
A number of college publications at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) are also starting to “dissolve” due to lack of funding, according to PUP’s The Catalyst EIC Regina Tolentino.
“The effect was rippling kasi, although retained or at least funded ng CHED ang The Catalyst, other publications were stripped off funding,” Tolentino said.
Tolentino also said that the defunding directly attacks the reporting capacities of individual college papers.
“Mahirap ‘yun kasi malaki ang PUP at malawak ang sakop niya systemwide. Kailangan ng PUP yung college and department publications to ensure na maibabalita niya yung nangyayari sa bawat kolehiyo,” she added.
Eryn Añonuevo, EIC of the UPD College of Arts and Letters (CAL) official student publication Kalasag, said funds used to be sufficient for the publication to produce “printing press quality” issues regularly before the law was implemented.
Kalasag had to release an issue in back-to-back bond paper for this year’s September issue.
UP Baguio’s sole student publication, Outcrop, is currently running on remaining funds accumulated before the RA’s implementation. EIC Adrianne Aniban cites major adjustments in their operation in anticipation of the inevitable loss of funds..
“As of this year, we still have enough accumulated funds to publish our issues once every two months. However, because of the limited funds, we are forced to ration our expenditure. For example, instead of planning to publish six issues and folios, we are forced to publish just four issues,” Aniban said.
Publications had to resort to creative ways and innovative tactics to sustain their operational expenses. Advertisers, alumni solicitations, merchandise selling, fundraising activities, call donations and contributions from staffers (patak) are some of the ways identified by publications in which they plan to recoup their funds.
They have also resorted to online reporting. However, its drawbacks don’t go unnoticed.
One of its flaws is its inaccessibility to some students and distractions from social media, thus physical copies are still preferred and strived for despite the lack of funds.
Bureaucratic and ambiguous processes in acquiring funds add to the already taxing financial obstacles faced by student publications as in the case of UPD College of Social Sciences and Philosophy’s Sinag.
Sinag former officer-in-charge Aniceto Martinez cites the lack of transparency offered in their college’s administration when asked to view the status of Sinag’s trust account.
“Yung problem is lack of transparency. Mabagal. ‘Di namin malaman exactly kung ilan na lang exactly ‘yung natitira,” Martinez said.
Sinag owns a separate trust account where funds allocated from collected miscellaneous fees were deposited. Upon inquiry with the administration, Sinag discovered the original Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) for their trust account could no longer be found.
Martinez also pointed out that even the Office of the Dean was uninformed about the publication’s funding process. Alternatively, the publication was given the option to submit a budget proposal to the Office of Student Activities (OSA) instead of being funded directly from the college.
“Parang we’re bargaining just to get our budget,” Martinez said.
Student publications have also been coerced to convert from being a student institution to a student organization to solve the problem of funding. Being recognized as a student organization would allow the publication to collect organization fees and conduct income generating projects as needed to continue operations.
This conversion, however, would strip publications of their autonomy as independent student institutions as organizations are subject to various accreditation and recognition processes under college or university administrations.
Even UPD College of Mass Communication’s (CMC) own student publication, Tinig ng Plaridel (TNP), remains unrecognized by its college administration despite its 41 years of existence. Current EIC Jefferson Losito cites “policies that aim to constrict operations” as a major deterrent in accepting organization status.
TNP, which has been relying on the CMC Student Council (CMCSC) for funding, is in an even tighter position financially, with student funds being optional as per the new law. However, the publication strives to maintain their presence in online real-time coverages, multimedia outputs, and web technology, if not able to produce physical copies.
“We cannot fail our audience just because we are being silenced,” Losito avowed.
“Alam naman natin ‘yung strenuous org recognition process dito sa UP, […] trade-off ba na dapat magpa-recognize pa kami na dapat may certain number of members with executive board or ‘yung dapat mayroon kaming mga requirements na dapat i-fulfill bago kami ma-recognize as the official student publication,” Martinez adds.
Sed Latoja, EIC of The PUP Psychology Department’s student publication Trident, shares the school administration only funds the school’s official university publication. College publications like Trident are left to their own devices.
Latoja affirms, however, that Trident will fight to maintain their autonomy as a student publication.
“Trident will resort to planned sponsorships and the selling of original literary works printed by economical resources,” he said, when asked about Trident’s long-term plans to maintain operations despite the defunding.
Dalanon meanwhile expressed similar sentiments, reasserting Budyong’s position to defend their status as an independent student publication.
“You can’t deliver good news if you are under an administration,” she said.
Editors remain steadfast and undivided in affirming their journalistic right and freedom. Tolentino reports of plans to reconvene the Alyansa ng Kabataang Mamamahayag to help further the fight for funding and eventually raise concerns to CHED.
The issue at hand also prompted Kabataan Partylist Representative Sarah Elago to raise the urgency of repealing the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 which she describes as “insufficient and lacking in material aspects to fully maintain the existence of campus press, and protect the rights and welfare of student journalists.”
Añonuevo remarks that student publications are still exhausting all possible means to retain operations and uphold students’ rights to a free press as the issue awaits resolve.
“Sa ngayon, motivation namin ang lumaban bilang mga peryodista ng bayan dahil hindi kami papayag na ang hibo ng repression na ito ang s’yang maging hindrance sa’min to write,” she said.