Text by Rhenzel Raymond Caling
Once envisioned to uphold the integrity of the campus press, the Campus Journalism Act (CJA) has done more harm than good in almost three decades of its implementation.
The law has been used against the freedom and welfare of campus journalists, said Kabataan partylist representative Sarah Elago.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) has recorded more than 800 cases of campus press freedom violations in both high school and college levels since 2010.
“322 of those cases are related to inconsistencies and suppression of funds while censorship, administrative intervention, and harassment are of significance,” CEGP said in a statement.
More campus press freedom violations go unreported as the CJA lacks a mechanism for the creation of an agency that monitors its implementation and investigates suspected offenses.
High school student publications face a more difficult situation, with attacks kept under wraps by the very law meant to protect their rights.
With the CJA’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) allowing moderators to determine editorial policies and making them responsible for the publication’s contents, Elago said publication advisers tend to go beyond their duty of providing technical assistance.
This has compromised the editorial independence of high school publications under the control of their school administrators.
University of Santo Tomas Senior High School’s La Stampa was not able to publish their pioneer issue in 2018 because of an editorial that criticized the university’s policy of using e-books as primary learning materials.
Former Editor-in-Chief Mary Joy Abalos recalled they already finished the whole paper by May of that year, just in time before graduation. However, things did not go as planned when the write-up caught the ire of their principal. They were told they would not get published unless they would change, among many things, their editorial piece.
“Our principal specifically told us to change the editorial because she said that ‘it would not be good for the incoming students to see such negative news,” Abalos said.
La Stampa refused to heed to the administration’s request as toning down their write-up would go against the interest of the students.
“The editorial was supported by the interviews we did with the students. Toning it down would mean we had to censor the voices of the students, and labag ‘yun sa kalooban namin,” Abalos added.
Barred from publishing, La Stampa had no choice but to publish parts of their first-ever issue online. To this day, Abalos says they are now limited to online publication..
A provision on independence in the proposed Campus Press Freedom (CPF) bill intends to prevent outright attempts of censorship. The measure seeks to grant the editorial board the power to freely determine its own policies regarding the content it chooses to publish and the selection of its members and staff.
Members shall also not incur administrative sanctions through the articles they have written, so long as it does not violate any law or the school’s “reasonable” regulations.
The CJA does not impose mandatory collection of publication fees. This leaves public school publications like Banyuhay of Quezon City Science High School to depend on voluntary contributions from students since the law does not provide for them a part in the school’s appropriations.
Editor-in-Chief Christianneil Ocampo said they are forced to rely on a 90-peso fraction from every 500-peso PTA donation a student gives. However the principal handles all this money, including their allotment and is only used for the printing of the newspaper.
“The workshops and trainings we fund ourselves are, a lot of the time, under budget and our adviser usually pays for remaining balances which she directly sources from her own income,” Ocampo said.
As a consequence, Banyuhay had no option but to resort to alternative sources of funding like selling t-shirts, lanyards and other merchandise. Still, the funds they generate from this endeavor is small, compared to the one from the students’ voluntary contributions.”
Some editorial boards from private schools which require students to pay publication fees are often forbidden access to their finances. This occurs despite the IRR mandate to automatically release all publication funds to the editorial board a month after enrollment.
Aaron*, a student journalist from La Consolacion University Philippines (LCUP), said they were not allowed to freely manage their student publication’s expenses.
Members of the publication became concerned when an issue remained unpublished despite sufficient funds. Aaron said the administration did not disclose any details on that matter.
“I don’t really know what they did with [the funds] dahil wala nga pinapakita sa amin at ‘di transparent… Hindi [naman] pwede na kakulangan ng budget ang dahilan kaya walang output. Alloted na iyan eh,” he said.
The CPF bill strives to achieve the mandatory collection of publication fees and the subsequent turnover of these funds to the editorial board for their handling.
The senate proposal also requires public schools to provide their respective publications sufficient funds from a portion of their annual budget.
CJA’s inability to guarantee spaces for publications is yet another hurdle the CPF bill seeks to resolve.
Banyuhay is compelled to utilize an abandoned speech laboratory as their office. Ocampo said its deteriorating conditions make it an unsafe and improper workplace.
“What Banyuhay has in terms of resources and venues to train ourselves and produce our yearly newspaper is the bare minimum,” Ocampo said.
“We don’t even have a permanent room to use. There are even times when we literally have to beg our school librarian just for her to lend at least a few hours in using the library,” he added.
Ocampo and his co-staffers have no choice but to look for other places, like vacant rooms, where they could hold trainings and meetings. This leaves them to compete with other school organizations that are also vying for a place to stay.
Regular training is essential for student journalists to hone their skills, as the law mandates the Department of Education to sponsor periodic competitions that culminate with the National Schools Press Conference (NSPC), which schools are required to join.
New breed of culture
The NSPC, originally intended to promote responsible and free journalism, has made some school administrators focus entirely on joining in the competition and neglect campus journalists’ duty of being a platform for the students’ voices.
A member of LCUP’s student publication disclosed how an issue was submitted by school administrators to the organizers of the Regional Schools Press Conferences despite not being released to the students, just so their participants would be allowed in the contest.
This contest-centric view has also scrapped attempts of a biannual release as there is no more reason for the administration to fund another one, Aaron said.
“Since first sem halos lahat ng contest, nasaan ang incentive sa kanila na mag-second sem pa?” he said.
CEGP Deputy Secretary General Ryan Martinez said the implementation of the flaw-ridden law has perpetuated a practice encouraging only the ability to write articles rather than the responsibility of being critical and active in reporting student concerns.
“Nakikita naman natin yung implementation nito na tila nagiging pangkompetisyon, parang pwersa lamang para makita kung sinong mas creative gumawa ng mga artikulo. ‘Yung mga isyu sa mga press conventions na ito ay hindi nilalaman yung mga issues ng students,” Martinez added.
Turning the next page
Through the Kabataan Party-list, the CEGP filed the CPF bill to replace the ‘outdated’ law with one that protects the student press as they become more critical of social issues.
“There is just cause in passing the Campus Press Freedom Bill, as it is imperative to uphold institutional autonomy and press freedom in campus,” Martinez said in the February 17 hearing on the bill.
Abalos hopes the bill would lapse into law. For her, it is high time to pass the CPF especially when media organizations are under systematic attacks from the state.
“Now more than ever, when mainstream media is shut down, we are in danger of being met with the same fate. Sama-sama tayong lalaban para lahat ng mamamahayag may kalayaan,” she said.
*The name of the interviewee has been changed at his request.
This is Part 2 of a two-part story on the Campus Press Freedom Act. Read Part 1 here.