[Photos above, and some below, are from here (Tim Medrano) and here (Jonna Baldres)] Last Thursday, July 10, 2008, thousands of students across the country walked out of their classes to protest the Arroyo administration’s willfull refusal at implementing genuine reforms and changes in government policies that would alleviate the lives of millions of Filipino youth and their families in light of soaring prices of oil, food and other basic commodities, and a worsening crisis in the education sector. In the University of the Philippines, where students, especially those in their first and second years, are beset with a tuition increase and new laboratory fees, half a thousand students joined the simultaneous programs held at various points in campus which culminated in a demonstration at Palma Hall at noon.
In the morning, I was at the program in the College of Arts & Letters (CAL) atrium, with Airah, a colleague in the University Student Council, the CAL Student Council and members of other mass organizations inviting students to join the nationwide walkout. Before it hit noon, we held a snake rally around CAL and marched to Palma Hall to join hundreds of other UP students in a demonstration at Palma Hall Steps. We then marched to the University Avenue, where another brief program was held while we barricaded the road. By past two in the afternoon, more than a dozen jeepneys packed with UP students proceeded to Espana in Manila to join other Metro Manila students in protest.
From España, more than a thousand students attempted to march to historic Mendiola, near Malacanang Palace, but the bulk was stalled by dozens of policemen and a fire truck at Morayta. A program was then held in front of Far Eastern University. The program included burning an effigy of the President. Below is a repost of a press release of the nationwide youth walkout.
Nationwide student walkouts vs. oil price hikes today
Bigger walkouts set on July 18
Students from the University of the Philippines in Manila and Diliman, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Adamson University, Philippine Christian University and some public high schools walked out of their classes today to protest soaring prices of oil and other basic commodities.
The student walkouts are part of Youth Act Now’s (Youth for Accountability and Truth Now) National Youth Action Day spearheaded by the alliance’s member organizations, the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), Kabataang Pinoy, Student Christian Movement (SCM), Liga ng Kabataang Moro, Youth Revolt, Anakbayan and League of Filipino Students (LFS).
The students held simultaneous programs in their respective schools at lunch time before converging in front of UST in Espana at 3:00 in the afternoon for a centralized program. They burned a giant Gloria Arroyo puppet as a symbolic show of protest. The student participants echoed the calls of the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines and other concerned sectors for the scrapping of the VAT on oil and the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law. LFS Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo said, “The Arroyo administration cannot continue to ignore demands for the scrapping of VAT on oil. Consumers, including students, are receiving the hardest blows from weekly oil price hikes. The government’s reasons for not scrapping VAT on oil are hollow compared to the reasons why students have opted to walk out of their classes today in protest against crippling oil prices.” They also demanded higher wages for their parents, saying that a wage hike is just and imperative as costs of food, tuition and other school needs continue to soar because of weekly oil price increases.
For his part, Anakbayan chairperson Ken Ramos criticized Malacanang’s refusal to even entertain calls for a wage hike. “While we understand drivers and operators’ demand for a fare increase, for instance, how can this government expect us to cope with the meager wages and salaries of our parents? So-called subsidies are but fleeting and insufficient. This government is not offering the public anything substantial to live by.”
The youth protesters also slammed the Arroyo administration’s lavish spending and blatant corruption amid the economic crisis. “Arroyo’s latest junket to the US spending millions of dollars is a disgrace and an insult to millions of Filipinos who are scrimping to survive,” said Kabataang Pinoy President Dion Cerrafon. SCM Chairperson Biyaya Quizon said, “We are expected to tighten our belts while Arroyo and cabal are flaunting their affluence. Where is the social justice in that?”
Youth groups NUSP and CEGP, meanwhile, deplored the state of the education sector saying that it is one of the most affected by the economic crisis. “The crisis of education has reached the most miserable depths when we have students opting to drop out of school because they could not afford to even pay for their transport fares, what more for high tuition rates and other school needs?” said Alvin Peters, NUSP President.
“In a time when the state’s abandonment of education is at its peak, the youth chooses to stand steadfast against this administration’s continuous neglect. In a time of greed for power, we choose to walk out for our democratic rights.” said CEGP President Vijae Alquisola.
Meanwhile, students from Metro Baguio, Cebu, Davao, Negros and Laguna also staged their own programs and protest actions in their respective key cities and provinces today. The students announced that more schools and universities are expected to participate in the next scheduled nationwide walkout on July 18.