Red-tagging of campus press prompts renewed calls for laws protecting student journos

Story by C.Q.

After the recent spate of red-tagging incidents on campus publications, Kabataan Partylist representative Sarah Elago urged the fasttrack passage of two bills to protect and solidify campus press freedom. 

Filed by Makabayan bloc lawmakers, the Campus Press Freedom Act (House Bill 319) and the Students’ Rights Act (House Bill 318) promote the safeguard of editorial independence, fiscal autonomy and the rights of students and campus publications.

The Campus Press Freedom Act intends to repeal the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 and “replace it with a law that genuinely upholds campus press freedom.”  The bill aims to penalize those that will commit campus press freedom violations, such as discrimination, censorship, administrative sanctions, among others.

(READ: Bill penalizing campus press freedom violations refiled)

Meanwhile, the Students’ Rights Act consolidates students’ rights to admission, non-discrimination and quality education among others. The bill also promotes their rights to organize, associate, express and speech that strengthen the security for student journalists. 

Since being filed in July 2019, both bills have yet to pass the committee level in the House of Representatives. 

Red-tagging of student journos

In an online consultation facilitated by the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), campus publications recounted their experiences in the pandemic and the aftermath of the recent red-tagging incidents on student journalists.

The most recent red-tagging incident happened March 1 when several UP campus publications received death threats and accusations of terrorism from two anonymous accounts. Tinig ng Plaridel was one of those campus publications red-tagged.

Malaking challenge din sa atin ngayon dahil with the anti terror law, it has really created a chilling effect among campus journalists,” Elago said.

The Anti Terrorism Act of 2020, which has been a widely-contested law in the country, is currently undergoing oral arguments in the Supreme Court. Over 30 petitions have been filed to junk the law due to the inclusion of “broad offenses” of terrorism. 

Marvin Ang, chairperson of UP Solidaridad, a system-wide alliance of student publications and writers’ organizations in UP, spoke about the chilling effects of such threats.

“Malaking bagay po para sa amin na maipasa yung mga batas na makakapagprotekta sa amin,” Ang said.

UP Solidaridad was one of the organizations red-tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict on their official Facebook page. 

(READ: Red-tagging of UP students, orgs worsened during pandemic — student councils)

Raina Galut of Sinag also asserted the call for a free academic and campus press.

Wala naman tayong ginagawang mali dahil ang pagbabalita ay never magiging terrorism,” Galut added.

Sinag, the official publication of the UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, is one of the campus publications of UP Solidaridad. Two of their current editors and their former Editor-in-Chief were among those targeted by the recent red-tagging incident.

Red Masacupan, Editor-in-Chief of Himati, paralleled this sentiment as she detailed the attacks her publication also went through in the past year.

Sa pag-intensify ng attacks against the [publications] for reporting our truths, mas nagiging evident na need ang protection ng mga pubs at ng mga staff,” Masacupan said.

Elago reiterated the need to immediately pass the bills and to unify the youth in junking the Anti-Terrorism Act in addressing targeted attacks on students and campus publications. 

“Now, we are creating more spaces to advance our calls to collectively junk the anti-terror law and to raise the voices of student concerns, issues and demands amid the pandemic,” she added. 

Over 20 campus publications nationwide participated in the online consultation with KPL and CEGP. 

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