Some private universities and colleges violate students’ basic freedoms as they prohibit redress of grievances, and punish those who are critical of school policies.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Philippine Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech, expression, the press, and to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. But some private universities and colleges violate these basic freedoms as students are prohibited to express their grievances or are punished for opposing policies of the school.
The College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), the oldest and broadest alliance of tertiary student publications in the Asia-Pacific region, has documented more than 500 cases of violations of campus press freedom from May 2014 to February 2015. These violations were committed because of the opposition of students to increases in tuition and other fees.
The group also reported of cases of violations of students’ right to peaceably assemble in socio-political issues such as in solidarity with those killed in the Mamasapano fiasco.
Marc Lino Abila, CEGP national president, said “the unabated hikes in tuition and other school fees (TOSF) have resulted to a violent, even deadly education system for Filipino students struggling for their right to education.”
“Vocal critics of increases in tuition and other school fees and commercialization of education have been met with repression of their democratic rights from school administration and also from armed government forces under the regime of President Benigno S. Aquino III,” Abila said.
The CEGP and other progressive youth groups filed complaints of violations of campus press freedom and students’ democratic rights before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on March 5, Thursday. They also staged a protest outside the CHR offices in Quezon City.
Students were clad in chains to depict how “the fascist and violent education system” is curtailing the students’ basic rights to free expression, free speech, organize, association and peaceable assembly.
One of the complaints filed at CHR was that of campus journalists from the UP Vista, the official student publication of University of the Philippines Visayas –Tacloban College who were tagged as members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“Just this mid-February, one junior staff was directly asked by her ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) classmate, who happened to be their ROTC class president, if she is already a member of the publication. Without any hesitation, she answered ‘yes’ only to receive a direct comment, or more of an imposition, that she should quit her membership. When she asked the reason why, the answer was plain blatant, the members of the publication are members of the NPA,” the complaint read.
There were also reports of insinuations, through jokes or examples, in their ROTC lecture class of the same allegation tagging the publication.
The ROTC component of NSTP (National Service Training Program) has long been opposed by progressive youth organizations, like the CEGP, as it has been continually used by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to intimidate, harass, threaten and put progressive and critical-thinking students under surveillance.
“The incident of red-tagging of staff members of UP Vista by the officers of the ROTC unit of UPVTC is a direct assault to their right of association and a form of intimidation and harassment by ROTC officers to the members of the student publication,” the groups said in their complaint.
On Aug. 23, 2014, at a forum called “Threat to National Security” held at the Ateneo de Davao University, Army Capt. Nathaniel Morales of the 10th Infantry Division, branded the CEGP as “a legal front of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).”
The forum was said to be part of the university’s NSTP orientation. Capt. Morales also falsely claimed that the late Benjaline “Beng” Hernandez, a former editor of Atenews and CEGP-Mindanao Vice President, was an NPA.
Hernandez was slain along with two others on April 5, 2002 in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato when government forces strafed the hut they were staying in.
Beng Hernandez, at that time was Deputy Secretary General of human rights group Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region and was on a fact-finding mission on the Tababa massacre, which happened a year earlier in a Lumad community.
The group said the military officer also red-tagged the League of Filipino Students (LFS), Karapatan and Bayan Muna Partylist, “which is a violation to the rights and safety of progressive organizations, a form of political repression and human rights violation under the national and international declarations, particularly the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
Even students who were active in actions against tuition increases and national issues were also subjected to harassments and red-tagging.
Recently, June Dioso, second year Education major at the National Teachers College (NTC) was threatened to be expelled from the school if he will continue to organize other students to join the LFS. Dioso is an active member of the LFS and Tanggol Wika.
The attention of the school administration turned to Dioso when they organized a solidarity action on Feb. 13 for those who were killed in the Mamasapano clash.
In its complaint to the CHR, CEGP said that some 70 students of the NTC and nearby schools, led by progressive youth organizations such as LFS, Kabataang Tanggol Wika, and Anakbayan gathered in front of the main gate of the campus for a candle-lighting solidarity activity for those slain in Mamasapano. NTC security guard told the organizers that the peaceful assembly was creating a commotion.
“A certain Professor Consing of the College of Arts and Sciences maligned and threatened June Dioso, chairperson of LFS-NTC. Prof. Consing told Dioso that the activity was illegal because the activity lacked a permit, students were wearing their uniform and it was held within 50 meters of the campus,” the complaint read.
Also on Feb. 26 in a protest action against tuition increase, students who gathered in front of the school were forcefully dispersed by the security guards who also locked the school gates to prevent other students from participating in the protest action.
Mark Lloyd Garcia was supposed to graduate with a degree on Computer Science from De La Salle Araneta University (DLSAU) in 2013 when he was suspended by the university.
It started on March 8, 2013 with the Facebook status of former DLSAU Supreme Student Council President Robert Gatbonton regarding tuition and other fee increase in DLSAU. Garcia posted a photo comment on Gatbonton’s status. Four days later, on March 12, Garcia received a memorandum from the Prefect of Discipline, stating his violation of Section 5 of the Revised Student Handbook of 2012.
The school administration held a hearing, which resolved to put conditional sanctions on Garcia: 1) if he gets a failing grade, he will be suspended for one semester, with 50 hours of community service and 2) if he passes all his subjects, he will be allowed to graduate, but he will not be permitted to join the graduating rites. Due to family matters, Garcia failed many of his subjects last semester; thus, he was not able to graduate, was suspended for one semester and was required to render 50-hour community service.”
CEGP asserts that no student should be suspended for expressing disagreement with the school administration as stated in Malabanan vs. Ramento.
Students are also guaranteed their rights under the Constitution as per the opinion of Justice Fortas in Tinker v. Des Moines Community School District, who said: “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
Never be discouraged
Abila said students subjected to these harassments should never be discouraged. He said the youth comprises a big number of the population and they can win any fight, if they act collectively.
“The youth is the hope of the nation. It is important that we are socially and politically conscious and we are involved in the struggle. We have the duty to change this society because we are also the future leaders of this nation,” Abila said.
He said, CEGP and other progressive youth organizations “stand firm in their belief that education should be of quality and accessible to all Filipinos regardless of socio-economic status.” It is also the “students’ democratic right to develop into nationalist and progressive youths.”