On Velada Tomasina, and being Thomasians at the turn of another century

To close its celebration of its Quadricentennial, the University of Santo Tomas is holding a two-day festival (January 25-26) that hopes to recreate UST in the “perspective of the cultural milieu of old Manila at the turn of the 19th century” through “period costumes, songs, dances, poems and festivity.”

This, I think, is a great opportunity for us to appreciate the role of UST students in Philippine history. It was, after all, the period of Jose Rizal, Emilio Jacinto, Apolinario Mabini and Padre Jose Burgos. However, I am disturbed by the tendency of the administration and many students to regard this celebration as a mere pageantry of costumes and deodorized commemoration of whatever concept of grandeur they have of “old Manila,” devoid of any socio-political context of its times.

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Photos: September 8, 2011

Law class meeting Class president Aquino (yes, we have our own President Aquino in class) discusses our collective proposed schedule of exams. It usually doesn’t get approved or followed a hundred percent.

Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Law class meeting

Earlier, Kabataan Party-List Rep. Mong Palatino gave a talk at a students rights forum in UST, hosted by the Central Student Council. That week, the student councils of UST launched its renewed campaign for the approval of the long-stalled “UST Students Code”.

Abandonment of State Universities and Colleges

This table shows the share of state subsidy and internally-generated income in state universities and colleges’ (SUC) total operating budget through the years. What is evident is that SUC’s are being forced to rely less and less on government subsidy and more and more on internally-generated income (in the form of tuition and other student fees, privatization of assets, etc.). One sector which has always suffered from the government’s policy of contracting spending for social services in favor of continued debt servicing is the sector of higher education. When I was still in UP, I had friends who abhorred militant activists and the “leftist” slogans. One of the state policies they continuously deny is existing is “state abandonment of education.”

Recently, I’ve been reading through the budget and financing books and policy papers of the government over the past years in order to draft a budget briefer and interpellation guide for some congressmen once the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the heads of SUC’s come to Congress to defend their budgets.

Government policy papers are very clear on the direction they intend to take state universities and colleges. Government intends to cut down on spending for public higher educational institutions and encourage such institutions to generate their own income, through tie-ups with private corporations and tuition and other fee increases.

All such mechanisms, unfortunately, places the burden of financing tertiary education to Filipino students themselves, many of whom will be unable to afford it. Such policies, as mentioned in the government’s Medium-Term Higher Education Development Plan include: strengthening income-generating capacities of SUC’s”; providing support to corporatization initiatives in SUC’s”; and encouraging “voluntary merging of SUC’s to pave the way for the direct channeling of financial assistance to students through a voucher system instead of maintaining and financing a large number of SUC’s.” Worse, the same policy paper directs SUC’s to “rationalize tuition by implementing the full cost of education in public HEIs and designing/adapting socialized tuition fee schemes.”

These same policies are echoed in other policy papers such as the Long Term Higher Education Development Plan, the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan, and the President’s own Budget Message for 2010.

Here’s one reason why the government should desist from its policy of minimizing support to SUC’s: Filipino youth are actually flocking to SUC’s due to the increasing cost of studying in private universities and colleges. In the past years, more and more Filipinos are opting to study in state institutions. In 1980, only 10% of all college students were studying in SUCs. By 1994, the number went up to 21%. By 2008, the share racked up to 35%. Here are the statistics for this decade based on CHED’s own data:

Despite the increasing demand and enrollment of Filipino students in SUC’s, its budget has remained stagnant over the years, forcing SUC’s to get its operating expenses from students, eventually leading to the ever increasing cost of tertiary education, which eventually result in the high drop-out rates, and non-enrollment rates in institutions that have hiked up tuition steeply like UP.

The table below shows how much SUC’s have been earning from students over the years, based on the Budget Department’s own data (Sources of Financing and Budget Expenditure books). Clearly, SUC’s income from the students have been growing steadily, which is simply a manifestation of the tuition and other fee increases that have been rampantly implemented in such institutions the past years. If the government aims to “broaden access to higher education,” this is definitely not the way to do it. Not even the government’s scholarship programs can adequately answer for its lack of support to state universities.

In SY 2007-2008, there were only 50,000 beneficiaries of CHED’s scholarships, and such scholarships only amount to P5,000 per student, not even enough to cover tuition in state universities like UP, where tuition is more than P36,000 a year. Budget for such scholarships was even slashed by P100 M this year compared to last year.

For those who say that there’s no such thing as free state-sponsored college education, they only need to look east and west. Ireland, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark provide and ensure free college education to its citizens. Even developing countries such as Sri Lanka, Cuba, Brazil, Libya and Argentina provide free college education to its people. Again, this “state abandonment” of tertiary education is real because the government is focused more on ensuring payment of its debt obligations. In order to ensure such, it follows policy mandates from foreign financial institutions and other foreign creditors to minimize spending on social services such as health, education and housing and to implement more consumer taxes in order to “balance the budget” and ensure debt payments. All these go without saying, that truly, the victims of this tragic order are the Filipino youth, continuously robbed and denied of their opportunity to attain tertiary education that is accessible and affordable, if not free. Such is not only a loss to the personal growth of the youth, but will also be a loss with grave consequences on a ‘developing’ country such as ours, denied of the many engineers, scientists, intellectuals and other professionals it needs to fuel the nation’s growth and road to prosperity.

Age of Consent

On the issue of the UP Student Code and national issue of the Constituent Assembly

It was modern thinking that placed a high premium on Consent as a foundation of law. Consent has a transformative moral power, but it has its own pitfall: it can transform a wrongful action into a rightful one. If Manny Pacquiao had knocked down Ricky Hatton outside of the ring, he would have been prosecuted for serious physical injuries.

Still, this philosophy stems from the core belief that all men are reasonable, and that Reason will then lead us all to a single, unassailable conclusion. This legal theory, stridently discussed in Malcolm Hall, is relentlessly tested in practice.

We note two particular instances: in proposals for a new code for student discipline in Diliman, and for a constituent assembly to change the Charter. When the UP administration moved for the codification of student rules sometime in 2005, students were only allowed piecemeal participation. In a university where 80% of students are older than 18 years — the age of consent — the lack of active and inclusive student participation is suspect. The drafting of the Code undermines the basic right of students to be consulted, represented, and decide in the formulation of policies that affect their rights and welfare.

UMAKSYON last year joined 100 other student organizations, in submitting to the Board of Regents an 18-point demand “reclaiming the rights of student organizations in the University of the Philippines”. The document specifically demanded student council control over two properties; softer rules on organization and assembly; and secure student representation or participation in important campus activities.

In contrast, the draft Diliman Student Code emphasizes that the use of university facilities and the use of a tambayan is a grant, a privilege. It also offered stricter guidelines on student organizations, and barely promised solutions to staffing and appointment issues of student publications and representatives. What the draft code puts forward is a simpler procedure for discipline cases.

The mismatch is worse on the national arena. Charter change during the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has never had the support of the people. Yet still, at a time when citizens are clamoring for economic palliatives — jobs, higher wages, a more beneficial agrarian reform, lower tuition — the Philippine Congress decides to start changing the charter.

Personal political interests have always found their way into the legislature, but never before as daft and brazen. The House of Representatives approved House Resolution 1109, which converts Congress into a Constituent Assembly, before midnight of June 2. The Assembly, which finds no difference between members of the lower and the upper chambers, is legally infirm. It would be, in straightforward terms, a usurpation of power of the Senate by members of the House of Representatives. Standing to benefit from nine years of similar political machinations is Mrs. Arroyo, one of the slyest UP alumni ever to sit in office.

Amidst some of the worst scandals in political history, she was safely tucked in the immunity of public office. Charter change, a new run for office, and a whole motley of exit plans promise to unreasonably, but permanently keep her untouchable. It will be one large question of political survival for Mrs. Arroyo — and for the Filipino people — after June 30, 2010. As we mark every milestone: her last State of the Nation Address in July, election day in May next year, it won’t take a legal education to answer: would Coercion succeed where Consent cannot?

Ugnayan ng Mag-aaral Laban sa Komersyalisasyon (UMAKSYON) UP College of Law

2009 UP Diliman Code of Student Conduct

Manifesto of unity calling for the junking of the proposed 2009 Code of Student Conduct and for the forwarding of an alternative, democratic Code

Ugnayan ng Mag-aaral Laban sa Komersyalisasyon ng Edukasyon (UMAKSYON)

We, students of the University of the Philippines, firmly denounce the questionable procedures through which the draft of 2009 Code of Student Conduct (CSC) was formulated, as well as oppose its anti-student and repressive character. We firmly believe that the proposed Code runs counter to the student demands that we have long forwarded to the Board of Regents since the start of the academic year, and as such deserves the greatest condemnation from the ranks of students and organizations aspiring to uphold their democratic rights in the University.

The provisions of the Code did not undergo student consultation. At the onset, the drafting of the Code has already violated the basic right of students to be consulted and represented in the formulation of policies that affect their rights and welfare. The procedure by which it was drafted undermines the capacity of the students to recommend solutions to long-standing student issues in the University. Moreover, it is unjust that the Code was consulted to College administrators, while the assertion of the University Student Council to participate in the drafting of the Code was deliberately refused.

The provisions in the Code runs counter to the ideals of academic freedom in the University. The basis of discipline and its corresponding sanctions imposed by the Code also imperil the academic freedom inside the University. It dictates on the organizations the kind of activities it must pursue for it to be able to qualify for recognition and application of tambayans. It also prohibits students from using UP’s Information Technology System for political, personal, and commercial reasons, including crossposting in email groups. “Breach of peace”, “disrespect towards persons of authority” and “threatening behavior” are vague statements that may render academic and extra-curricular activities as punishable by the Code. Moreover, the transformation of the Student Disciplinary Tribunal into a Council eliminates student representation in disciplinary proceedings, as it effectively removes the existence of Student Jurors. At the same time, the proposed process of hearing cases of violations also runs counter to the principle of fair and due process. In fact, the Code approximates the Human Security Act in its totalitarian tone. It unilaterally imposes the kind of thinking, behavior, and endeavors that students must conform to.

The Code violates our basic human rights of freedom to organize, express, and assemble. We decry the gross violation of our basic rights, as our constitutional right to organize and right to free speech stands to be crushed by the stipulations of the Code. Aside from the provisions stated above, it also sets high criteria for the recognition of organizations, requiring an approximate of 100 members to qualify for University recognition. It also prohibits freshmen and transferees from joining organizations, otherwise, the individual and the organization shall be punished by the Code. Instead of providing an academic community that upholds our basic rights and instituting safeguards for the realization of the students’ holistic and full potential, the Code limits our democratic space, effectively restricting students from joining organizations and expressing our opinions.

The Code silences collective dissents, paving the way for further commercialization and repression in the University. We analyze the proposed policy as a clear adjunct to the programmed commercialization of the university, which we have consistently opposed for the longest time. The free organization, assembly, and expression of students are the biggest obstructions in forwarding anti-student policies in the University, such as fee increases and privatization of student services. The passage of the Code will cripple organizations, sororities and fraternities, hindering students from registering dissent against anti-student and pro-commercialization thrusts of the university via organized and collective fronts. History tells us that student formations and institutions had been instruments of expressing and asserting our democratic aspirations. During the Martial Rule, when organizations, student councils, and publications were banned, our ability to unite, organize, express, and create collective fronts despite repressive conditions contributed greatly to the reinstitution of our democratic rights and to the eventual end of Marcos dictatorship. We shall not let any moves that aim to weaken the collective strength and potency that we have.

With the position articulated above, we decisively call for the immediate junking of the proposed Code for Student Conduct, as it clearly stands as an affront to our basic rights and interests. We demand for an alternative student code that shall encourage, rather than restrict, the flourishing of basic rights and civil liberties of Iskolars ng Bayan — a code that shall put our general and specific student demands in legislation. For a university can never flourish if its primary stakeholder, the students and organizations, is shackled to the dogma of coercion and discipline.

University Student Council Turnover ’09

April 20, 2009. We had a turnover ceremony for the University Student Council (USC). That pseudo-officially ended our terms as members of the University Student Council.

Good luck to incoming USC for 2009! The turnover ceremony was a joint ceremony. The outgoing and the incoming editorial leadership of the Philippine Collegian also had their part of the program. It felt a little anticlimactic for me. After all, involvement in campus issues has never really been confined to the USC, for me. And I didn’t feel that anything ended that day. Even engaging colleagues from the other parties in debates, surely, didn’t end that day–even if it was goodbye to the long and harrowing GA’s we regularly had, when we just couldn’t agree on some issues at all. Though, I’d have to say despite all that, we managed to get along somehow in the end, some more than others, politics aside of course.

Simultaneously, UP Administation officials, USC 2008 and Senator Richard Gordon unveiled a bust of Wenceslao Vinzons, which the Senator commissioned to do, in honor of the hero to whom the historic and quintessential hub of university activism and politics was named after. There were also dozens of brods present too–since Vinzons, the Senator, and a handful of members of the incoming and outgoing University Student Council are members of the Upsilon Sigma Phi.

Student Regent Selection ’09 (Part 2)

April 14, 2009. The day after the KASAMA sa UP (Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP) National Council Meet was the GASC’s (General Assembly of Student Councils) Student Regent Selection deliberations at the CFOS (College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences) Auditorum of UP Visayas, Miag-ao.

I forget how many exactly were the student councils who were represented in the assembly, around thirty-three, I think. As I’ve mentioned, there were only two of us who were nominated to the GASC. Me, from UP Diliman, and Chaba from UP Los Banos.

The deliberations started off with an individual presentation of our vision for the office, and our programs of action–platform, if you may call it that. Then, it was grill-time, with both of us in front answering the same set of questions alternately. It was amusing at times since we were responding to the issue-based questions with relatively the same answers, which was no surprise since we are both from the militant political parties in our respective campuses. There were also personal questions, and questions which were deliberately and hilariously out-of-this-world.

After the first grilling, it was lunch time. Chaba and I were isolated from the rest of the assembly, so as not to tarnish the integrity of the student councils’ votes, apparently. So the both of us had lunch in a separate table with our chaperon. An hour after, the entire campus was on black-out, so the assembly was called off till electricity came back.

To kill time, we walked from the CFOS Auditorium down this concrete path to the beach, where we stared into the ocean for around an hour. Several members of some student councils did the same thing and played on the sand.

By 3 PM, the assembly resumed. It was then time for the individual grilling, and it was Chaba who went first. While she was being questioned by the assembly, I had to be isolated so I was taken around by our chaperon for the day. I was able to catch a half-hour nap at the Executive House, too.

After almost two hours, it was my turn. I was grilled for around an hour and a half. Honestly, and I hope you understand, by that time my reservations and doubts about the entire Student Regent thing came back. I wasn’t supposed to say it out loud but eventually when a colleague of mine posed the last question, “how would you feel if you don’t get chosen as Student Regent?” I just had to answer it honestly. I said, well, definitely hindi ako malulungkot. Short of saying matutuwa ako, I said I’d focus on law school and still take part in various student campaigns. Then I blurted off something about me being prepared but still wanting of commitment and passion to perform the duties of a Student Regent. I added, in Tagalog, that I’d not be any less confident with Chaba as Student Regent, as the outgoing Chairperson of the UPLB University Student Council, her experiences with their repressive administration equips her very well for the position. Bang told me I shouldn’t have done that, I practically wrote myself off and threw in the towel right before the student councils made the vote. I don’t know, perhaps I should’ve maintained the candidate-facade, but I was just being honest, couldn’t help it.

It was dinner time after the grilling, then it was the unit caucuses of the student councils. Chaba and I were again isolated from the rest of the assembly. I was able to catch another nap at the Executive House before we were ushered back into the auditorum for the announcement of the vote.

Eventually, the GASC unanimously selected Chaba as the Student Regent to represent the students in the University’s Board of Regents. Right after the announcement, we immediately got into business and Chaba, as the incoming Student Regent, had her first consultation assembly with the GASC.

[Photos by the Manila Collegian]

It’s not just a Plan B or C

A few weeks ago, my colleagues in the UP Diliman University Student Council and representatives from the College Student Councils in Diliman deliberated among each other and chose to send me as the Student Regent nominee of UP Diliman to the UP System-wide Student Regent selection tomorrow in UP Miag-ao in Iloilo.

Hay, the things I [allow myself to] get into. I don’t know how to plan my life for this year anymore. With all these present uncertainties and possibilities. I’m just very indecisive right now. I don’t know which ones to do, which to drop, which to prioritize. Let’s see what will happen. So it’s off to Iloilo for me today for a KASAMA sa UP (Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP) National Congress then for the SR Selection sessions of the General Assembly of [UP] Student Councils (GASC).

See you all when I get back. I’m pasting below a short essay I wrote after some of my law blockmates nominated me with the College of Education Student Council endorsing the nomination.

As the next hundred years of the University of the Philippines begins, it is faced with challenges that confront its nationalist history and opportunities to reaffirm its pro-people and pro-student character.

We are at a time when education in the University is becoming increasingly inaccessible to a vast majority of Filipinos. Despite a one-year freeze on a supposed annual tuition hike, laboratory fee increases are pending across the board in almost all UP units. Student organizations, catalysts of student involvement in campus, are being challenged through imposed policies and requirements that essentially limit their freedom. Despite an increase in the capital outlay budget of the University, the government severely decreased UP’s maintenance and operating budget.

These are just a few of the issues that will confront the next Student Regent.

We are also at the juncture of time, however, when, due to the recently and successfully concluded CRSRS Referendum, there is heightened awareness with the Office of the Student Regent, its tasks and function, and its history. We are at a time when students’ involvement with the issues of the Student Regent is unprecedented. It is a great opportunity to reaffirm the Student Regent’s role among iskolars ng bayan.

Indeed, this is the year when great expectations are demanded from the Student Regent, and when great opportunities are present. This year is an opportune time for the Student Regent to harness the heightened awareness into increased involvement. This is a great opportunity for the Student Regent and his Office, to reach out to the widest number of students, through genuine and effective means of consultation and communication, and engage the students in matters that directly affect their lives as iskolars ng bayan.

More than ever, this is a time for the Student Regent to be more transparent, accessible, accountable and attuned to his constituents. The Student Regent, notwithstanding geographic limitations, must be accessible to iskolars ng bayan in all UP campuses. He must take advantage of effective and modern means of information & communication technologies and must devote time and resources to be physically present whenever it is imperative, through regular campus-hopping. The Student Regent must strengthen present mechanisms, through institutions like the historical KASAMA sa UP but be also more open to students and student groups who may decide to pursue alternative formations.

He should create innovative mechanisms for students to air their grievances to the BOR. He must also ensure the presence of devoted liaison officers and volunteers in every UP campus, distinct from the student council but in coordination with them, in order to effectively and efficiently mount campaigns and projects in a university system that spans the entire archipelago.

The Student Regent must also be accountable and transparent. He must constantly communicate his agenda through regular press releases to be published in campus papers, and via communication lines through the internet. For this purpose, the Student Regent may also maintain an interactive website to ensure access to information that pertain to the BOR’s agenda.

The Student Regent must also not only represent and ensure the rights of present students of the University but of every Filipino aspiring to enter UP, and for all Filipinos who look up to the University as an agent of change and as an incubator of the nation’s progress. Decisions passed by the Board of Regents are policies that shape the destiny of UP and affect present and more so, future UP students. Policies in UP are also echoed among many other public institutions of higher learning across the country, and affect every Filipino’s chance of achieving formal higher education. As such, the Student Regent must always and continue to be grounded on the principles of accessible education for all Filipinos, especially whenever he is confronted with the many issues that tend to limit access to this inalienable right.

The Student Regent must be unwavering in his principles, despite adversity or animosity, for he must recognize that the University exists at a time when the government’s standing policy is to decrease spending on higher education, more so this year when it is bound to implement and fulfill the objectives of its Long-term Higher Education Development Plan 2010. He must also recognize that he exists in an arena largely controlled by administrators and politicians. He must not be cowed by administrative pressure, and not be afraid to expose irregularities in the administration where they exist.

Despite these, the Student Regent must also know how to strike a balance and to cooperate, whenever possible, with allies in the administration and the government, to gain tactical victories and ensure that the rights and interests of present and future UP students are not compromised at the altar of vested interests.

Most importantly, however, the Student Regent must recognize the potency of the collective strength of the tens of thousands of UP students he represents. He must draw inspiration from them, and learn from the history of collective action.

Through this vision he must ensure that UP students themselves, together with his humble but dignified representation in the BOR, and the rest of the student institutions such as the student councils, will chart their own destiny in the University and the nation. With all humility, I submit this vision for the Office of the Student Regent as a nominee for the position of Student Regent.