Has there been an assault on academic freedom and freedom of expression?
When the eUP Project Team released a statement against Krixia Subingsubing and Ronn Bautista’s report on said initiative, they labeled the Department of Journalism’s best investigative thesis a “witch hunt disguised as an academic endeavor” and a “poorly conducted research work.”
In response to the statement, UP College of Mass Communication (CMC) Dean Elena Pernia aired a response, Aug. 25, saying there was no attack on academic freedom and freedom of expression upon the eUP Project Team’s critique of the investigative report.
While the eUP Team has every right to criticize the Bautista-Subingsubing thesis, it has no right to defame students’ reportage on an issue that not only involves UP students but also the general public with outgoing UP President Alfredo Pascual acquiring and utilizing government funds to implement his project, one he fought for tooth and nail since its implementation in 2012.
Ironically and surprisingly, instead of defending an academic work from a department that has been hailed a Center of Excellence by the Commission on Higher Education, the dean chose to place herself in a grey area, defending everyone’s “freedom of expression.”
It is disappointing that the dean of the College of Mass Communication, full of students repeatedly taught to defend itself against censorship and pressure from governing bodies and authorities, has failed to defend the role of a journalist as the public’s watchdog and even more so, the right of the public to information and to the truth.
In calling the investigative thesis a “witch hunt” that contains “misleading claims, questionable conclusions and false allegations” without concrete basis to counter the evidence presented in the report, officials behind the project have made direct attacks not just against Bautista and Subingsubing but also against the public to whom they owe transparency.
It is a shame that the college’s topmost official has no clear grasp of the idea of freedom of expression, and that she has reduced such a pillar of mass media to merely choosing a thesis topic and posting opinions online.
Freedom of speech is not limited to disseminating information on social media or bagging the award for best thesis. Rather, it encompasses the right of citizens to criticize those in power without the threat of being shot down, especially when there is sufficient proof to back their conclusions.
Most of all, freedom of speech does not equate to one’s right to repress another’s freedom of expression as done by the eUP Project Team and the UP administration.
On issues like that of eUP, discussion and debate are integral; however, repressive retaliations, which exude a chilling effect, are not.
Justice Louis D. Brandeis put it this way: ‘If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.’”
However, in defending the eUP Project Team’s allegations against the rigorously conducted and thoroughly verified thesis, Pernia has been an agent of enforced silence, gagging students who wish to criticize the programs and policies of a university that has been implementing repressive neoliberal schemes.
So, has there been an assault of freedom of speech? Has there been any attempt on the part of UP administration to prevent the exercise of the freedom of expression?
As a publication that upholds campus press freedom and defends journalists who are constantly repressed by those in position or power and as future media practitioners who will soon use our skills to expose anomalies and provide a voice to the unheard to serve the people, we rise and respond to Dean Elena Pernia: yes, the UP administration has committed the highest form of oppression against free speech, and ironically, in defending the eUP Team’s malicious claims and watering it down as merely right to express, she has also done the same.