“Press freedom violations are being committed to prevent student writers from becoming critical, or to tame, paralyze and even shut down militant student papers.” – College Editors Guild of the Philippines
By RONALYN V. OLEA
CEBU CITY – Student publications experience various forms of attacks.
During the 73rd National Convention of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) held this week in this city, student journalists decried campus press freedom violations ranging from censorship, withholding of funds, non-mandatory collection of funds, libel to outright closure.
Marc Lino Abila, CEGP deputy secretary general, highlighted the most severe cases of violations in a forum on the Philippine media situation, April 15. The forum is one of the discussions in the convention attended by more than 200 campus writers.
Three student publications were closed down. Members of a student publication in the Visayas were subjected to surveillance by suspected state agents. Others are facing other forms of attacks.
Abila condemned moves by the University of the East (UE) administration against the Dawn, student publication of UE.
Since 2012, the administration decided not to collect publication fees. For the first semester of school year 2012-2013, the Dawn collected only P2,000. Still, the publication came out with an issue.
Recently, the UE administration declared that no one has passed the recent qualifying examinations for the campus paper. No results were posted. At the moment, the Dawn does not have an editorial staff. The administration did not announce whether or not there would be another round of examinations.
The UE administration also filed libel charges against the editorial board of the Dawn for its lampoon issue.
The Pedon, student publication of Mindanao State University-Marawi campus College of Agriculture, is also facing threats of abolition after the administration said it would no longer collect publication fees.
Abila said that editors and staff of the EARIST Technozette of the Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology (EARIST) in Manila have been frustrating attempts by the administration to shut down the publication.
Meanwhile, members of the student publication in Quezon City were evicted from their office, their equipment recalled.
Last month, the university president of Quezon City Polytechnic University, Salvador Enriquez, Jr., informed the Monthly Quest, through the information and advocacy officer that he wanted to “reorganize” the student publication.
It turned out that reorganization, for him, meant emptying all posts. There was no memorandum or any other document explaining the purpose of the reorganization. The publication was later unceremoniously evicted from their office and the equipment was recalled.
Since April, the publication has not yet released an issue, and there was no clarification on whether or not the fund was being withheld.
Through a directive, the university president said the publication has to allot space for articles written by administrative officials and faculty members.
“PR is different from journalism,” Abila said. “The administration can put up its own paper if it wants to. Leave the student publication to the students.”
Abila also shared the curious case of the former editor in chief of La Sallian, student publication of the De La Salle University Manila.
After the La Sallian released an article questioning the income-generating activities of the school and the student government, the administration reversed an earlier decision regarding the cheating case filed against Jessy Go, editor in chief of La Sallian.
Earlier, the cheating case against Go was dismissed for lack of basis.
Abila said the reversal of the earlier decision was made without due process, and the sanction against Go was harsh. Go was disqualified from graduating with honors.
Campus Journalism Act
The non-mandatory collection of publication fee has been institutionalized by Republic Act 7079 or the Campus Journalism Act of 1991.
The CEGP has been calling for the scrapping of the CJA of 1991, saying that their experiences prove that the law is being used to curtail press freedom.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino and Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino authored a substitute bill, the Campus Press Freedom or House Bill 4287.
The filing of libel cases is also being used to silence the campus press.
On August 25 last year, a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) Baguio filed a libel case against Jesusa Paquibot, current editor in chief of Outcrop. The complaint was based on a blind item.
Earlier, the City Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the case, citing the lack of one element of libel. The prosecutor also said that the nature of the article “was not in opposition of persons but of the acts of persons.”
A few months later, the case was revived following the filing of a motion for reconsideration by the complainant. The Regional Trial Court issued a warrant of arrest for Paquibot. Paquibot posted bail, which was donated by organizations and student institutions.
In Eastern Visayas, attacks on campus press take on a different form.
Since 2010, the staffers of The Pillar, student publication of University of the Eastern Philippines – Samar have been under surveillance by suspected state agents.
Karl Doceo, former editor in chief of The Pillar and CEGP vice president for Visayas, told Bulatlat.com that he was able to obtain a copy of the military’s order of battle and editors and staff of The Pillar are included in the list.
Doceo said they filed a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights against the 803rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army. The military denied the existence of the order of battle.
The order of battle is a list of persons/organizations that the military aims to neutralize.
Doceo said that for years, suspicious men would stay in front of the publication office. The university has no gates and anyone can enter the campus premises.
On February 25, 2012, a group of men on motorcycles tailed members of the publication and Pauline Gidget Estella, the national president of CEGP while they were in Catarman, Samar.
These men were asking questions about Estella and her companions’ whereabouts and conducted a “house-to-house” search in the street where the campus journalists spent the night.
“What wrong have we done?” Doceo said. “This proves that the state is desperate in silencing critical voices, including student publications.”
Rising up to the challenge
The CEGP members said they would not take the attacks sitting down.
“We would never be cowed,” Doceo said.
“CEGP believes that the logic of campus press repression lies in the irreconcilable interests of the students and school owners,” it said.
“Press freedom violations are being committed to prevent student writers from becoming critical, or to tame, paralyze and even shut down militant student papers,” the alliance of tertiary student publications said.