More Harassment, Trumped-Up Charges Against Student Leaders

Student leaders from the University of Northern Philippines (UNP) have been met with trumped-up charges by the university administration. Ma. Criselda Diocena, Editor-in-Chief of the closed student publication, The Tandem and Student Regent and Student Council (SC) President Warren Rafal were charged with robbery after they opened the Tandem office and took out official receipts and other personal items.

BY ZOFIA LEAL
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 8, March 30-April 5, 2008

VIGAN CITY (407 kms north of Manila) – Student leaders from the University of Northern Philippines (UNP) have been met with trumped-up charges by the university administration. Ma. Criselda Diocena, Editor-in-Chief of the closed student publication, The Tandem and Student Regent and Student Council (SC) President Warren Rafal were charged with robbery after they opened the Tandem office and took out official receipts and other personal items.

According to the students, before they opened the Tandem office they made sure that they had the permission of Dr. Lauro Tacbas, the University President, which they were able to obtain.

Jeric Pelayo, Vice-President for Operations who also ran for the presidency in the SC elections was charged with grand slander and was eventually disqualified from running. Dean Joel Beleno filed the case at the Municipal Trial Court of Vigan. Beleno claims that Pelayo maligned his integrity as a Dean when the latter said, “Hindi ako natatakot kay Dr. Beleno ng CHS (College of Health Sciences); kailangang ibalik niya ang perang ninakaw niya sa college, maski makarating ito sa kanya” (I am not afraid of Dr. Beleno of CHS; he needs to return the money that he took from the college; even if he hears about this) during an open forum with the students.

Pelayo claims that he never uttered such words. In the joint affidavit of the witnesses for Beleno, they claimed that Pelayo said “Hindi lang anti-government ang pina-publish ng Tandem, kundi pati malversation of funds na ginagawa ni Dr. Joel Beleno ng CHS… Kahit marinig ako hindi ako natatakot sa kanya” (The Tandem does not only publish anti-government [articles], but also about malversation of funds that Dr. Joel Beleno of CHS did… Even if he hears about this, I am not afraid of him).

According to Rod Tajon of the Ilocos Human Rights Advocates (IHRA), the cases filed against the student leaders are meant to discredit them and as a retaliation for their pro-students stand.

“Diocena stands for campus press freedom and the democratic rights of the students. Pelayo and Rafal are the only members of the SC who stood against the tuition fee increase last June 2007 and they are both supporters of the Tandem. What the UNP administration is doing to these students are against their human rights – they are experiencing mental and emotional anguish due to these harassments,” Tajon said.

Aside from the cases filed against them, the students also have to think about their academic standing in the university. Diocena was not able to take her final examinations because the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) was holding her clearance and exam permit. Although Pelayo was able to take his final examinations without a clearance, he was not able to enroll for his summer classes.

The students are now talking to their respective lawyers as to what steps they should take. They are also looking into the possibility of filing an administrative case against Dr. Lauro Tacbas before the Ombudsman. (Bulatlat.com)

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