“I am prepared for the consequences in defending students’ rights. As long as what you are fighting for is right, we should never give up the fight.” – James Bryan Deang, president of the NU Supreme Student Council
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – While the Philippine Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, two students of the National University (NU) have been punished for exercising these rights.
The administration of NU has just terminated the scholarship of students James Bryan Deang, fourth year Education major, current editor-in-chief of The National, NU’s campus newspaper and incoming president of the NU Supreme Student Council (NUSSC) and his fellow student, Jose Mari Callueng, fourth year Hotel and Restaurant Management major and outgoing vice president for internal affairs of the NUSSC and incoming editor-in-chief of The National for actively opposing the proposed 3.5 to 10 percent increase in tuition and other fees.
In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Deang said the administration of NU monitors their social media accounts. Police are also present within the vicinity of the school aside from the university’s security guards. Prior to that, he also received a notice from NU’s Discipline Office after he joined and spoke in a rally against tuition and other fee increases held at Mendiola bridge last Feb. 28.
Deang and Callueng are both scholars of SM Foundation.The SM Group of Companies acquired majority ownership of NU in 2008.Deang said his contract as scholar of SM only states that scholars should exhibit good behavior at all times. “But is fighting for the students’ education a misbehavior?” Deang told Bulatlat.com.
According to the notice provided to Deang, a report was submitted to the Discipline Office regarding Deang’s participation in the said rally that was held on March 2. The rally was actually held on Feb. 28, Friday. The said rally coincided with the last day of consultations with the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) regarding tuition and other fee increases in public and private higher education institutions.
In the notice dated March 4, the Discipline Office said that Deang “has gone against the norms of the University,” citing Section X-L of the university’s student handbook, which provides that: “Any report regarding a student’s behavior automatically brings about an inquiry by the Discipline Office” and Section X-N that states: “Students are not allowed to participate in any outside activity, contest, play, band, orchestra, choir, conference, association, society or group as representative of the University or any recognized student organization, without written authorization of the Dean of Student Affairs.” The notice added that Deang also committed a major offense under Section XXI-D-2-j of their student handbook: “Gross acts of disrespect in words or deeds that tend to put the University or any administrator, member of the faculty, co-academic personnel, security guards, maintenance personnel, students, and visitors in ridicule or contempt.”
Deang answered all the allegations against him. He asserted that he was only practicing his freedom of expression and speech as stipulated in the Philippine Constitution and United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. He also said that Section X-N of their student handbook violates his freedom of assembly. He also asserted that he did not commit any major offense. “I didn’t put the name of the University in ridicule and contempt for what I said in the rally are my sentiments as a student and as a student leader,” Deang said in a letter addressed to the Discipline, a copy of which was provided by Deang to Bulatlat.com.
Deang said he asked for the complainant and the incident report. “I was told that it was the Office of the Student Affairs that submitted the complaint. But when Rep. Terry Ridon sought out Dean Ricardo Ocampo, the Dean of Student Affairs, the latter reportedly said that I did not commit any violation.”
It is not only Deang’s freedom of expression that was repressed by the administration. Deang said one Discipline Officer confiscated the ID of Joshua Eric Jimenez because he was wearing campaign pins with slogans calling for a stop to campus repression, for a refund of illegally collected fees, and a stop to tuition and other fee increases.
“He did not even violate any rule of the university. He only practiced his right as a student,” said Deang. He said Jimenez was told by the Discipline Office that his ID will only be returned if he will tell the source of the campaign pins. After that, Deang said, police were deployed in NU. The monitoring of their Facebook accounts also began after they filed a complaint against tuition and other fee increases and student repression in NU.
After that, scholarships of Deang and Callueng were terminated by the administration. “I was asked why I am joining the protests against tuition and other fee increases when I am a scholar, I am not paying for my studies, and thus I am not affected (by the increase). I told them that as a student leader and a student, I understand what the general student population is going through. I know there is something wrong (with the system). Does it mean that if I’m a scholar I will just tolerate the wrongdoings of the administration?” Deang told Bulatlat.com.
He also decried the lack of due process in the termination of their scholarship. “There was not even a warning or hearing. It was arbitrary.”
Callueng’s grade was also manipulated by the administration, Deang said. “During midterms, Callueng’s grades were at 3.5; after the finals it went down to 1 (1 in NU is the lowest grade and 4 is the highest). How did he suddenly receive low grades when he had high grades during midterms? He was also told that his grades were already encoded when we know that during that time, grades have not yet been encoded.”
He said Callueng asked for a re-computation of grades but he was told by his professor that it is not possible because of the long process. “The professor said the re-computation of grades has to be approved by the Vice President for Academic Affairs.
The administration also threatened student council members who are scholars of SM. “After we filed the complaint in Ched, the administration immediately called for a meeting with the student council. In the meeting, the complaint was showed to them. They were told that if they want a fight, the administration will give to them. They (administration) also said that members of the student council under the SM scholarship might lose their scholarship if they will continue to protest against the tuition and other fee increases.”
Threat of impeachment
The repression did not stop there. According to Deang, news reached him that the administration is finding reasons to impeach him from the NUSSC, including other members of his party who won in the recently held student election. He is the president elect of the NUSSC for academic year 2014-2015.
He said the administration is also finding ways to disqualify those who won from his party. “Some of my party mates had problems with their grades when they were in first year. Now, the administration insists that those who won as officers in the student council should not have a failing grade during their whole stay in the university. But that is not what the NUSSC Constitution says,” said Deang. He said failing grades during the semester or the semester before he/she ran for office would be a ground for disqualification and does not cover their whole stay in the university.
“The Commission on Elections has already said before the elections that there was nothing wrong with our requirements. Why did the administration suddenly become strict with the qualifications of the candidates?”
Deang has been a scholar since first year. His only expenses are his books, uniform and his everyday allowance going to school.
According to the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), Deang and Callueng are both convenors of Rise for Education Alliance, a nationwide alliance made up of student councils, governments, publications and organizations united in the call for the right to education.
Upon hearing the news that his scholarship is being terminated, his mother was upset. “But I explained it to her and she understands.” He still applied for an academic scholarship in the university, however, he already anticipates that his application will not be approved.
He is now working as a call center agent to save for his education. His mother is a housewife and his father works as a service crew in a restaurant.
Bulatlat asked if he has any regrets. “No,” he said. “I am prepared for the consequences in defending students’ rights. As long as what you are fighting for is right, we should never give up the fight.”