Students Hold Classes in Street, Join SONA Protest

High school student Xaviera Vasquez, 15, was among the thousands of students who were made to attend by their schools the July 16 pro-Arroyo rally in Rizal Park, Manila. Come Monday, the day of the State of the Nation address of the president, Vasquez will be among the thousands of students nationwide protesting in the street.

By Carl Marc Ramota

In an obvious attempt to prevent school walkouts and students from joining the protest on the State-of-the-Nation address (SONA), Malacañang (the presidential office) has ordered the suspension of classes in Metro Manila on July 25.

But even this, according to student leaders, will not be enough to deter students from joining Monday’s huge protest. The coming SONA rally may yet prove to be the biggest demonstration participated in this year by youth and students nationwide.

“The government may have suspended school operations but they can’t prevent students from holding classes in the streets. This only shows that Arroyo is really afraid of us,” Youth Demanding Arroyo’s Removal (Youth DARE) spokesperson Raymond Palatino said.

Palatino chided Malacañang over its decision to suspend classes on Monday saying the Arroyo government is already desperate to quell mounting student protests. Arroyo has also declared July 25 as a special non-working holiday.

At least 3,000 students from different universities and public high schools walked out of their classes last July 13 to join the mammoth anti-Arroyo rally in Ayala.

Deception and intimidation

Palatino said the Arroyo government is using both deception and intimidation to suppress growing dissent among the youth.

In the July 16 pro-Arroyo rally in Rizal Park in Manila, he said several student groups have complained to Youth DARE that they were required by their school administrators to join the rally as an academic requirement. Cadets and community volunteers of the National Service Training Program (NSTP) in different schools in Metro Manila were also obliged by their commandants to attend. He added that even public high school students were also compelled to participate in today’s pro-Arroyo mobilization.

Among them is Xaviera Vasquez, a senior high school student from Camp Emilio Aguinaldo High School in Quezon City and chair of Anakbayan’s high school chapter. Vasquez did attend the Luneta activity as required by her school but instead of cheering for Arroyo, Vasquez together with high school members of Anakbayan condemned the “manipulative tactics” to make high school students’ attendance in the rally mandatory.

“This is pure blackmail. Hindi lang pala siya sinungaling at magnanakaw, diktador pa” (She’s not just a liar and a thief but also a dictator), Vasquez said.

Meanwhile, Palatino said officers of several student councils from different Catholic schools, including Miriam, St. Scholastica and San Sebastian College cried foul over Malacañang’s press release last July 12 stating they were supporting Macapagal-Arroyo.

The student leaders were invited in Malacañang for a dialogue with the president but, according to Palatino, it turned out as another photo opportunity session with Arroyo’s “supporters.”

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