Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond Palatino vowed to introduce amendments in the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 (CJA of 1991), saying that the law is flawed and being used to attack campus press freedom.
Palatino said that he would particularly prioritize the scrapping of the non-mandatory collection of fees and the lack of penalty clauses in the CJA of 1991.
In his recent trips to Visayas and Mindanao regions, Palatino said that he was “deeply bothered to have been accosted with numerous cases of campus publications closing down and other attacks on campus press freedom.”
“The student publication is the tangible expression of press freedom in campus. Through it, students are able to practice their rights to freedom of expression and information, rights that are protected by the 1987 Constitution. Dismissing an editorial board or closing down a publication are violations of these rights,” Palatino said.
He cited data from the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) which recorded a total of 279 cases of campus press freedom violations in 2008, more than twice the cases recorded in 2006 and 2007.
Recent cases include the closing down of publication in University of San Carlos in Cebu, the halting of publication and dismissal of the editorial board of The Wesneco Torch in West Negros University (WNU), and the imposition of a non-mandatory collection of publication fees which resulted in the ceasing of operations of The Catalyst of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and Perspective of the University of the Philippines-Los Banos last year.
“Such attacks continue because of the flawed nature of Republic Act 7079, or the Campus Journalism Act. School administrations are able to commit offense after offense yet suffer no retribution due to the lack of penalty clause.”
Palatino also said that a non-mandatory collection of fees is “equivalent to a budget freeze.” “School administrations have been using this clause to blackmail publications from publishing critical articles.”
In the case of The Catalyst, for instance, the school administration stopped collecting publication fees after the paper published articles exposing the proposed imposition of a P250 developmental fee resulting in a protest rally of more than 1,000 PUP students. The PUP Board of Regents was forced to retract the proposed fee increase.
In order to continue publishing, the editors and staff of The Catalyst had to personally collect publication fees from students, causing the paper’s budget to drop.
In a similar case, UP Los Banos’ Perspective has ceased regular publication after the Office of Student Activities gave a directive to stop the collection of student funds. “Their budget was not approved because, according to the OSA, an agreement on the collection of fees was not yet finalized. The administration was invoking the CJA of 1991 as a basis.”
Perspective is also known to publish critical articles against policies of the school administration as well as national issues.
The University of San Carlos in Cebu, meanwhile, has not had a campus publication since 2004.
Palatino said that his office is currently compiling all recent cases of campus press freedom violations since the enactment of the CJA in 1991.