Pressured by the military, officials of a high school in Quezon City rejected the enrollment of a student activist. She could only enroll at the school, they told her, if she signed a waiver that would prohibit her from participating in protest actions and rallies. Aghast and angry, the student decided to fight back.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Protests and mass actions are not new to Phoebe Kate Tubera. The daughter of parents who are activists, she knows that sometimes taking to the streets to express a conviction is a perfectly legitimate exercise, a right every Filipino is entitled to enjoy.
As an activist herself, dissent and fighting for what is right are something that Tubera learned to value early on.
Then one day in May, Tubera found herself confronting political repression, which tested the progressive values she imbibed from her parents.
Pressured by the military, officials at her school in Quezon City told Tubera that she could not be enrolled because she was an activist. She could only enroll if she signed a waiver promising never to participate in protest actions again.
Tubera was aghast. This, she told Bulatlat in a recent interview, is precisely why she is an activist. “I know that the rights of the youth and of students have been greatly abused by people in authority,” Tubera said.
Angry, Tubera refused to sign the waiver and decided to fight it.
In this short clip, Phoebe Kate Tubera reads during the June 10 protests the Senate resolution denouncing charter change.
Phoebe Kate Tubera is only 15 years old. She is the chairperson of the League of Filipino Students – High School. She has been a member of the organization for only a year now.
What happened to her that day, May 28, when the principal of the Culiat High School in Quezon City refused to accept her unless she signed a waiver, is a result of the ongoing militarization of schools and campuses in Metro Manila, according to the LFS and the office of Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino, which intervened in Tubera’s behalf.
According to Tubera, Alejandro Referente, the school principal, told her that the waiver was a prerequisite for her enrolment.
“He said they are issuing the waiver because I am frequently seen on television and in other forms of mass media joining and leading protest actions against the policies of the government,” Tubera said. “I think they might be afraid that I could encourage other students to join me.”
The waiver, she said, stipulated provisions that would prohibit her from joining, organizing and leading protest actions under the LFS.
Airah Cadiogan, a member of Palatino’s staff, told Bulatlat “the principal drafted the waiver so the school would be absolved of any responsibility in case the military takes Tubera because of the activities she does outside the school.”
According to Cadiogan, a military officer went to the Culiat High School last year looking for Tubera. “The military officer, who wore a fatigue uniform, had pictures of Kate leading protests,” Cadiogan said.
“The principal was so afraid that he advised Tubera not to go to school” each time the military was around, Cadiogan said, adding that Tubera’s frequent absences caused her to fail one of her subjects.
“To the school’s credit, they figured that it was not Kate’s fault. They thought that she is a mass leader and must be a bright child. They even arranged a summer class for her, which she passed,” Cadiogan said. The matter of the waiver came right after the summer class ended and right after the military gave the school a visit.
Series of Dialogue
On May 28, Tubera and her father, Apolinario, went to the Department of Education to demand that she be allowed to enroll. The DepEd gave her a referral letter but Referente, the principal, refused to honor it, insisting that Tubera should still sign the waiver.
Tubera and her father even set an appointment last June 2 to hold a dialogue between them, the teachers and Referente. But the 30-minute meeting turned disastrous because “my father and one of my teachers walked out of the room after he brought up the rumors surrounding corruption in the financial reports submitted to the Parents and Teachers Associations in Culiat High School,” Tubera said.
The next day, Cadiogan, Palatino’s staff, accompanied Tubera and her father in another dialogue with Referente but they were not allowed to enter the school premises. They waited for 30 minutes outside the campus and were later advised by Referente to go directly to the DepEd to inquire about Tubera’s complaint.
Tubera finally had the opportunity to talk to DepEd officials, who told them that what Referente had wanted her to sign was an agreement, not a waiver. They said it was simply a misunderstanding.
But Cadiogan insisted that “regardless of what they wish to call it, the documents they presented to Kate would still legally bind her to follow all the provision it stipulates.”