‘Drop the charges’ | Students denounce university’s looming expulsion of 3 protesters

Photo courtesy of Anakbayan – Morayta

By AIRA MARIE SIGUENZA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Students of Far Eastern University (FEU), along with other university belt schools, staged a protest last November 4 to condemn the FEU administration for the possible dismissal of three Tamaraw students.

The three students are facing charges after they participated in a September 21 protest commemorating the 50th year since the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. declared Martial Law.

In an interview with Bulatlat, one of the students, Romarie Relator, 20, a first year nursing student narrated the timeline of events about the issue.

Timeline of Events

Relator said various groups in the university made plans and initiatives for the Martial Law commemoration, including a massive callout to join a silent protest in the university pavilion with participants wearing black.

At precisely 12 noon, during breaktime, many students joined the Sept. 21 protest, which lasted for only two to three minutes. This was followed by a short discussion about the atrocities committed during the martial law years.

While the discussion was taking place, several university guards approached the students and took pictures of their discussion circles. The students then returned to their classes after the discussions.

Relator and two other students Marie Justine Keswani, 20, a second year student, and Dyan Macerin, 22, a second year education student, stayed at the pavilion since they no longer had classes. They were then “forcefully escorted” to the Office of the Student Discipline (OSD), where they were questioned by the security personnel without being informed why they were being apprehended.

Relator said OSD director Rosalie Cada ordered the three to look for the other students who joined the protest.

The university staff also confiscated the pamphlets that were distributed during the activity and attempted to take the their identification cards. When they asked why, the students were told to ask for clarifications during the Parents Committee.

They were also warned that if they do not comply with the hearing that will be conducted by the Ad Hoc Discipline Committee, together with their parents, they will not be able to enrol the following semester.

Seven days after the protest, she said that their  school IDs were blocked, leaving them without access to the campus and that they missed their classes as a result. Relator, for her part, said she missed her midterm examination for her Art Appreciation class.

Macerin’s parents conference took place last Oct. 21, while Relator’s was last Nov. 3. For Keswani, the OSD has yet to schedule the conference with her parents, since they are working overseas and that the OSD insists that the parents be present during the conference.

During the conference, the students then learned that they were being charged with grave offenses stated their handbook. These are:

1) “Hazing and recruitment or membership to fraternities, sororities, or other organizations not recognized by the university,” and

2) “Acts of subversion and insurgency, such as unauthorized demonstrations, rallies and boycotting of classes, including use of class hours or classrooms to encourage students to join in subversive acts or insurgency.”

Relator said they tried to negotiate the OSD’s decision, and that they be at least allowed to finish the first semester. They were told, however, that the handbook is “black and white” and that their appeal will not be granted. They were also advised to voluntarily withdraw from the university to still be able to obtain a good morale certificate instead of their respective records be marred with the alleged offenses.

Calls to drop the charges

Relator said their silent and short protest was only meant to remember the atrocities during Martial Law of Marcos Sr. and that this is very much relevant with the dictator’s son now seating as president.

“We protested in order to forward our calls during the Martial Law commemoration but the FEU’s actions resulted in trampling our freedom of expression and the people’s rights to organize,” Relator said.

This, she added, will result in a chilling effect among her fellow students.

Various progressive youth groups came to the defense of the three students, expressing their disappointment over the “lack of action on the grievances of the student body, which encompasses the students’ right to quality education and democratic rights.”

“FEU labeling the Martial Law Commemoration protest as ‘acts of subversion and insurgency’ is no different from the NTF-ELCAC’s massive spate of red-tagging and harassment conducted against those who fight for historical truth and justice,” said Justine Keswani, spokesperson of Anakbayan Morayta.

The intercollegiate alliance of student publications in the Asia-Pacific, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), meanwhile said that the university that claims to champion fortitude, excellence, and uprightness should be the same university for a safe haven of discourse and pillars of critical thinking.

The groups called on the FEU administration to drop the charges against the three students, saying that “as our nation faces a severe education crisis, FEU must channel its energy in putting primacy on giving quality education and heeding the demands of the students.”

What happens next?

According to Relator, the OSD said they will forward the case to the Student Conduct Committee, consisting of seven representatives from the university. However, she also reiterated that during the time when their case was deliberated, no student conduct committee was formed.

The three students are now talking to a lawyer for possible legal action.

Bulatlat has reached out to the FEU administration for comments. As of this writing, the university has not yet replied. (RTS, RVO, JJE) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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