Students Mark National Youth Action Day with Walkouts, March

Last Thursday, July 10, students from various colleges and universities marched towards Morayta to hold a program culminating the day’s events, which they dubbed as National Youth Action Day. The day began with simultaneous walkouts and programs in all participating schools.

BY JEFF OCAMPO
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 23, July 13-19, 2008

Last Thursday, July 10, students from various colleges and universities marched towards Morayta to hold a program culminating the day’s events, which they dubbed as National Youth Action Day. The street turned red in a stretch of flags and banners as thousands of students walked out of their classes and converged in a march towards historic Mendiola bridge. Their ranks stood steadfastly before the barricade set up by the Philippine National Police at the corner of Morayta and C.M. Recto Ave.. The activity was spearheaded by Youth Act Now (Youth for Truth and Accountability Now) and its member organizations, ANAKBAYAN, League of Filipino Students (LFS), Student Christian Movement (SCM), Kabataang Pinoy, Youth Revolt, National Union of the Students of the Philippines (NUSP) and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP).

The students condemned the Macapagal-Arroyo administration for its “incompetence in solving the country’s economic crisis and its resoluteness in implementing government policies beneficial only to the elite few and its circle of allies.” The poverty-stricken populace, according to them, is sick and tired of the unjust order prevailing under the administration.

The National Youth Action Day declared by Youth Act Now began with walkouts, and programs and activities conducted in participating schools before converging in Morayta. In the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD), students held programs in different colleges before joining together at Palma Hall for a snake rally. They then proceeded to march along the University Avenue. In his speech, Terry Ridon, former UP Student Regent and the current spokesperson of Youth Revolt, said that classes in UPD were paralyzed. Classes in UPD’s Math Building and College of Mass Communications were suspended as faculty members supported the students’ protest action. Prior to this, UP students conducted various activities, including the Diliman Commune- inspired barricade, to gear the rest of the UP community towards continuous protest actions in and out of the campus. Jacqueline Eroles of the UPD Student council said it is high time that UP students air out their wrath against the Macapagal-Arroyo administration through these activities.

Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) students, meanwhile, launched their chapter of Youth Act Now before converging with other schools in Morayta. According to Sophia Prado, the current PUP Student Regent, her fellow students would persist in fighting for their rights and for social justice and change amid the blatant campus repression the students are experiencing.

Students from Catholic universities such as Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle University, and the University of Santo Thomas also participated in the National Youth Action Day. The Alliance of Concerned Thomasians (ACT-NOW) led the UST students in the protest action as its chairperson, Jasmin Victoria, encouraged the rest of the Thomasian community to “uphold the Thomasian value” of tirelessly seeking truth and justice. Representatives from the Faculty of Arts and Letters Student Council also joined the march.

Delegations from private schools such as Adamson University, Jose Rizal University (JRU), Lyceum of the Philippines and University of the East Manila were also present. Adamson students launched a signature campaign and were able to collect more than 5,000 signatures.

Students from JRU held a red shirt day 3 days before the protest action, which was participated in by a significant number of students. These activities were held to intensify the fight against oil price hikes and the economic crisis prevalent under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.

Students from Sauyo, Culiat and Quirino High Schools joined the youth action day. Kate Tuvera, LFS High School spokesperson said the walkout marked the beginning of more massive protest actions against the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.

Youth Revolt said in a statement that the Filipino people are bearing a crisis that is a consequence of Macapagal-Arroyo’s stubborn stance in implementing anti-people policies. They put to task the government for refusing to remove the Reformed Value-Added Tax (R-VAT) which, together with the oil deregulation law, causes the surge in prices of petroleum products. There has been 19 oil price increases since the beginning of 2008.

The protesting students also blamed the Arroyo government for not acting on the demand of workers for a substantial wage hike even as the spike in oil prices caused a drastic effect in prices of basic commodities. According to ANAKBAYAN chairperson Ken Ramos, the P20 ($0.438) wage increase last June was an insult to workers since it is not enough to make up for the rising cost of commodities.

Worse, the SCM said, the Macapagal-Arroyo administration and her allies are hell-bent on pocketing billions of pesos through anomalous government transactions such as the National Broadband Network contract with ZTE of China, popularly known as the NBN-ZTE deal. The SCM accused the Arroyo government of trying to harass its critics by sowing intrigues against witnesses in the NBN-ZTE scandal particularly Jun Lozada and Joey de Vencecia.

The students also cited data from human rights group Karapatan, which showed that more than 900 cases of political killings and enforced disappearances occurred since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency in 2001.

Dismal state of Philippine education

Alvin Peters, NUSP President, meanwhile, expressed dismay over the state of Philippine education saying that it “has reached [its] most miserable depths.” Basic education, said Peters, has been afflicted by alarming statistics of shortages. According to data from the Department of Education (Dep Ed), there is a shortage of 57,930 classrooms, over 3,000,000 desks, 49,695 teachers and 4,234,813 textbooks.

Public high school students complained of having to pay for different fees including fees for IDs, PTA, Red Cross, Boy Scout and Girl Scouts. Though there has been a Dep Ed memorandum ordering public schools not to collect fees from students as a prerequisite for enrollment, students still have to pay these fees after enrollment forcing some students to drop out instead.

The protesting students decried that “tertiary education is fast becoming available only to the elite” as data from the Commission on Higher Education shows that 378 private schools increased their tuition by 10.7 percent since the tuition cap was removed. Students from state colleges and universities are not spared either, they said. In UP, for instance, tuition increased from P300 to P1,000 ($6.57 to $21.90 at an exchange rate of $1=P45.66) per unit affecting incoming students beginning last school year. They cited a case of a UP student from Mindanao who dropped out and returned to his home province after only three days of school because of the high cost of tuition. At the PUP, a P250 ($5.475) developmental fee was imposed.

Because of the rising cost of Philippine education, 34 percent of Filipinos belonging to the 6-24 age bracket are forced to drop-out of school.

A student at the Far Eastern University in Morayta who just finished her class stood outside the university premises listening to the program as she waited for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s effigy to be burned by the protesters. “Apektado talaga kaming mga estudyate. Kasi, aside dun sa mataas na yung tuition fee namin, ang mahal pa ng bilihin tsaka nung pamasahe,” (We students are really affected. Because aside from the high tuition and other fee, prices of basic commodities, and transportation fares have gone up.) she told Bulatlat.

Mang Vicente, a jeepney driver plying the Balic-Balic-Quiapo route, who was waiting for the stoplight to turn green at an intersection in Morayta, said, “Salamat sa mga ANAKBAYAN na yan. ‘Pag nagkaanak ako, pasasalihin ko dyan,” (Thanks to ANAKBAYAN for fighting for our rights. When I already have kids, I will encourage them to join that group.)

Just the beginnning

Youth Act Now said that these are the reasons why they urge the youth and the rest of the Filipino people to seek for truth and justice and to oust Gloria Macapagal –Arroyo from Malacañang. They said the suffering of the Filipino people must end right now.

They declared the National Youth Action Day successful for it was able to register the Filipino youth’s stand on issues beleaguering the country under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. Moreover, the protest action, they said, revived and invigorated the Arroyo ouster movement as it would serve as a kick-off to continuous and more massive walkouts and other protests against poverty, corruption and repression perpetuating under the current administration.

The militant students said that they have set another walkout on July 18. Contributed to (Bulatlat.com)

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