From Miag-ao, Iloilo to Culasi, Antique

April 15, 2009. Since the GASC (General Assembly of Student Councils) was able to select the new Student Regent in just a day, everyone had an extra day off to leave UP Visayas earlier and to go to Guimaras or to Iloilo City or to wherever they wanted to go around. Some of us decided to take on a friend’s offer to visit their town of Culasi, Antique. Little did we know that Culasi, Antique was a good four to five hours away from Miag-ao, Iloilo. That northern part of Antique is actually closer to Caticlan and Boracay already than it is to Miag-ao. The bus also has to pass through some mountain range which separates Antique from Iloilo, or from the rest of Panay for that matter. The tallest mountain in Panay Island can be found in Culasi, Antique, by the way (sorry, random information).

It was pretty easy to get a ride to Culasi. After lunch, we just had to walk a few hundred meters to the highway from the UP Visayas campus and wait at a pedestrian shed for buses that regularly ply the road from Iloilo City to Antique. I think I’ve mentioned it a few years before when I took a bus from Infanta to Manila, but I really have a penchant for taking long, open-air provincial bus rides–all the wind, the sights, sounds, smell, and the people gives for a relatively authentic traveling experience.

After winding through some mountains, the bus descends and takes a half-hour stop at San Jose, the capital of Antique, which is halfway through the entire four-five hour trip. Many of the passengers from Iloilo unload here, and are replaced with other passengers on their way north of Antique.

Student Regent Selection ’09 (Part 1)

April 13, 2009. I took the first flight to Iloilo City to attend the GASC’s (General Assembly of Student Councils) Student Regent Selection Meet at UP Visayas in Miag-ao, Iloilo.

My colleagues in UP Diliman’s student councils chose to send me as the nominee from Diliman. There are only two nominees this year, the other one is Chaba Banez, outgoing chairperson of the UP Los Banos University Student Council. She ended up being selected as UP’s Student Regent for this year after just one day of deliberations in the GASC.

Anyway, before we get to that, last April 13, I had to manage my way from Iloilo City to Miag-ao, since everyone else had gone there the previous day to attend the KASAMA sa UP (Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP) National Council Meet. I did not expect the Miag-ao campus to be quite a distance from Iloilo City. It was an almost two-hour bus ride from the city to Miag-ao, Iloilo. Bang and I arrived in UPV Miag-ao way past afternoon, and we barely caught up with the rest of the KASAMA sa UP meet.

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.

UP students ratify student regent selection rules

The referendum for the selection rules of the Student Regent has finally concluded successfully after months of logistical preparations and campaigns, of bitter debates and divisive partisan propaganda. The iskolar ng bayan can now be assured that we will be able to select our sole representative to the Board of Regents in a month or two to uphold our interests amidst intensifying schemes of commercialization and amidst threats of new rounds of tuition and laboratory fee increases. We have once again proven that students united will never be defeated. Here’s to greater victory in defending our rights!

UP Campus YES % NO %
UP Baguio 1,680 98.4 14 0.8
UP Diliman 7,147 63.2 4,031 35.6
UP Diliman in Pampanga 371 90.9 29 7.1
UP Los Banos 4,025 79.5 982 19.4
UP Manila 1,500 54.5 1,243 45.1
UP Manila in Baler, Aurora 54 93.1 3 5.7
UP Manila in Palo, Leyte 105 68.2 42 27.3
UP Mindanao 737 98.4 4 0.5
UP Open University 54 64.3 18 21.4
UP Visayas Cebu College 767 90.7 74 8.8
UP Visayas Iloilo City 532 94.7 23 4.1
UP Visayas Miag-ao 878 89.7 71 7.3
UP Visayas Tacloban 403 61.4 249 38.0
TOTAL 18,253 72.1 6,783 26.8

Unity in securing our representation

A referendum is essentially a good thing. But this referendum doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It comes at a time when there is a pending proposal in Congress to cut UP’s maintenance and operating budget in 2009 by PhP 200+ million, which will justify another round of tuition and lab fee increases. It comes at a time when the administration, through UP President Roman, admitted on cable television the strong possibility of increasing tuition once again.

The SR (Student Regent) has traditionally stood against these whenever he sits at the BOR (Board of Regents), an arena dominated by administrators and political appointees. The referendum, I believe, is a cunning way to challenge the presence of the SR in the BOR, and effectively neutralize the representation especially at this crucial juncture of our university’s history.

Think of an ordinary organization seeking recognition from the OSA (Office of Student Affairs), in order to be eligible to use the university’s facilities. For more than a decade, this organization has existed with is own constitution and rules on selecting their organization officers. In a sudden turn of events, this year, before the OSA recognizes the organization, it asks the formation to submit its constitution and rules on selecting its organization officers to a referendum by all its members. It’s quite an added burden, which was largely unnecessary because of an already existing democratic and working mechanism. Perhaps it may not be a problem to ordinary organizations with around thirty members, but think of it this way, 60% of the members rarely show up at the tambayan. UP has 55,000+ students. Even in the most heated student council elections, turnout has never exceeded 50%. The administration knows this. It’s a challenge it knows will be difficult, logistically, for the students to fulfill. It’s the challenge that will give them the space to maneuver and to do what it seeks to implement while the selection of the SR is uncertain.

Some groups try to create the atmosphere that it’s okay for the referendum to fail because the OSR (Office of the Student Regent), as a public office, will not be abolished anyway and that the law abhors a vacancy in public office. True enough, the OSR will not be abolished, and that the current SR will remain in a hold-over position. However, for how long until the other members of the BOR challenge her presence? This propaganda line doesn’t take into consideration the historic tendency of the UP administration to intervene in what is supposed to be a purely student affair, whenever it suits its interests.

In 1991, President Abueva shunned the nominee chosen by the students and appointed his own SR. In 1999, the administration expelled the sitting SR from school, and consequently the BOR booted him out of the board, because he wasn’t a student anymore. These, despite the legalities that supposedly ensure student representation in the board.

Current SR Abdulwahid is a graduating student. She will cease to be a student in a few months. The administration and pro-administration groups can assure us all they want that there shall be no vacancy in the OSR but we all know what the administration has done and is capable of doing in order to take advantage of the situation in case of such a vacuum.

Fortunately, in 1999 a replacement was chosen after the student regent was ousted, but that was when the CRSRS was in practice and recognized. In the event of a failure of a referendum this year, there will be no mechanism to replace SR Shan, in case she ceases to be a student, or if, god forbid, something terrible happens to her. Indeed we will have an OSR, but we will be unable to choose a new SR. That’s where the vacancy comes in.

Granting without conceding that the law really abhors this vacancy, and that it won’t happen. And in case it does, we can file a case in court to assert our rights and our representation. This is exactly the kind of space pro-tuition increase administrators is seeking to roll the dice for another round of hikes.

Instead of the SR or the OSR and the students uniting in principle to oppose such moves, we shall be concerned still with validating and securing our representation in the board. That’s where the delay comes in.

I’m similarly frustrated, honestly. Student councils have bickered and campaigned for amendments last year. All of us had the chance from June to December to argue over this and I’m really disappointed that even after they have failed to gather popular support and to be accommodated, they insist on their political agenda and divide the students at a time when unity is imperative in securing our representation. Last year, from June to December, they campaigned for amendments and consulted with their constituents. There was very little favorable response among students. Ask for the qualitative and quantitative results of their consultations. There is no unbiased clamor for these amendments. The fact is that these amendments have been campaigned for year in and year out by the same political force who have their own interests in mind. Year in and year out, when the GASC convenes, these amendments are rejected by majority of student councils system-wide.

Last year, despite their effort to gather support for their amendments, the students aren’t biting. And what’s more, they didn’t submit their amendments on time, despite the fact that the mechanism for amendments wasn’t repealed by RA 9500 (the new UP Charter). I was personally willing to concede and accommodate whatever they want, even if I don’t agree with the merits of their arguments in favor of amendments. But given the results of their consultations, there really is no un-colored clamor for amendments even in their colleges. It really just comes from the same political force whose efforts are frustrated every year. All I see is blue and yellow. It almost makes them similar to pro-administration congressmen hell-bent on pushing for charter change without any clamor from the constituents they supposedly represent, except for the clamor within their frustrated political parties with vested interests.

I also want some amendments (albeit not the ones they push for), but I believe the time had past for all the bickering and arguing over them. We all had the chance, we all had the time, from June to December last year, to exercise our duties to consult our students. Pinag-awayan at pinagpuyatan na natin ang mga debate tungkol dito. Now is the time for us to unite in securing student representation in the BOR. If we really feel so strongly about amendments or whatnot, student councils can deliberate on it as early as April once the referendum has succeeded. If the referendum fails, wala rin naman tayong magiging arena to debate on these proposals.

Unwillingness to settle for this compromise is for me quite unreasonable–taking into consideration all the pressing issues we’re going to face in the next few months, from budget cuts to tuition increases. Putting it in another way, the willingness of some groups for this referendum to fail just because their amendments weren’t accommodated now (and justifiably so), at a time when we’re facing further attacks on our rights as students, is preposterous and selfish. We can’t afford uncertainty. We can’t afford any delay. It is imperative for us to secure student representation in the BOR now.

Yes to Student Representation!

For the most part of the university’s existence as a higher institution of learning, policies were crafted and imposed by the Board of Regents (BOR), the highest policy-making body in the university, without the students’ participation.

For the longest time, the BOR had no student representative–the university’s largest constituency long subjected to policies they didn’t see coming. Through sustained and collective efforts of the students, however, which began during the First Quarter Storm, heightened and intensified further during the dark years of Martial Law and beyond, the Office of the Student Regent (OSR) was established.

The OSR serves as the student-run institution where the Student Regent, the sole voting member of the BOR, who comes form the university’s largest sector, is seated. Instituted in 1986, it has served to uphold the interests of the students, voting and arguing on their behalf from issues ranging from appointments of deans to increases in laboratory fees and tuition.

The enactment of RA 9500 or the new UP Charter, however, endangers this institution, under the smokescreen of democratization, by actually subjecting a decade-old Student Regent selection process crafted by duly-elected student council representatives across the UP System and subjected to debates and amendments every year, to a terribly difficult challenge–a challenge that the administration cunningly knows, given the trend of student election turnouts, has the tendency to fail. UP, after all, has more than 55,000 students system-wide.

The failure of this challenge, a referendum with less than the required majority of voters’ turnout, will endanger the existence of the OSR. In the face of impending tuition increases, as President Roman herself mentioned in a recent TV interview, and other schemes of commercialization, the absence of the sole student representative in the BOR shall only serve the best interest of those who push for such policies–policies that the students and their Student Regent have traditionally stood up against.

It is at this juncture of time in our university that it is imperative for the students to once again link arms and unite in the struggle to defend the institution that ensures the rights and interests not only of present UP students but of future generations of iskolars ng bayan in an arena largely controlled by administrators and political appointees.

In the face of impending and further attacks on our democratic rights as students and the democratic rights of the people to accessible education, we must intensify our campaigns and broaden our ranks. Together, we shall prove once again that students united will never be defeated.

On January 26-31, participate in the system-wide referendum. Vote YES, defend the Office of the Student Regent!

Defend the Office of the Student Regent concert

I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend the anti-Charter change rally in Makati last December 12. We in KASAMA sa UP (Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP) needed all the manpower we had to set-up and prepare for the Defend the OSR concert that night.

The concert was organized by the Office of the Student Regent (OSR) and KASAMA sa UP, together with Philmusic Collective, to raise awareness and encourage participation in the campaign to defend the OSR in the upcoming system-wide referendum this January. We held it in front of the Faculty Center.

It was a successful event, albeit it was undeniably a very exhausting night for all the organizers. That same night we were also having a Student Regent Reunion at the UP Hotel.

Aside from running errands back and forth, one of my most interesting feats that night was producing a five-digit sum before ten in the evening, without touching my personal funds (which wasn’t enough anyway). Funny how we even came close to pawning a laptop to produce the money. We eventually pulled it off (without pawning anything).

Past midnight, I was experiencing a terrible migraine so I dropped asleep in the car till around four in the morning when the concert was about to end.

Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08) Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08) Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08) Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08) Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08) Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08)

STAND-UP 12th Anniversary

Under the theme, “Defend Student Rights, Uphold Human Rights,” STAND-UP (Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights – UP) marked its 12th anniversary more than two weeks ago coinciding with the commemoration of International Human Rights Week, an Anti-Charter Change campaign and a campaign to Defend Student Rights and the Office of the Student Regent.

On Saturday, December 6, together with its member and observer organizations and student formations under the League of Youth For the Environment (LYFE), the alliance held a road-painting activity along the street between the Faculty Center and Palma Hall. Aside from the orgs’ logos, the most prominent mark on the asphalt canvass is the large “Defend Student Rights, Student Regent” call, which highlights the important campus campaign to defend the Student Regent institution.

STAND-UP 12th Anniversary Congress (Dec. 8, '08) STAND-UP 12th Anniversary Congress (Dec. 8, '08) STAND-UP 12th Anniversary Congress (Dec. 8, '08) STAND-UP 12th Anniversary Congress (Dec. 8, '08) STAND-UP 12th Anniversary Congress (Dec. 8, '08) STAND-UP 12th Anniversary Cultural Night (Dec. 10, '08)

On Monday, December 8, the alliance held a congress at the College of Education Theater, attended by member and guest organizations, and guest speakers Teodoro Casino of Bayan Muna and Vencer Crisostomo of League of Filipino Students. It was a whole day of talks, discussions and resolution building, all towards advancing the campaign for students’ rights and the broad campaign against Charter change. The next day, December 9,¬†the alliance participated in the launching of Cine Veritas Human Rights Festival, together with the UP Film Institute, the University Student Council and other participating institutions and organizations. The week-long festival was opened by a human rights march around the Academic Oval and an exhibit opening at the Ishmael Bernal Gallery at the UP Cine Adarna. The four-day festival aimed to promote human rights awareness through various multi-media and multi-format activities organized by the participating groups.

A cultural night was held the next night, December 10, on the grounds in front of the Faculty Center, with the Pi Omicron tambayan as a platform. There were cultural performances and solidarity messages from member organizations, fraternities and sororities. Over coffee and some pansit, STAND-UP members enjoyed each other’s company that night and vowed to uphold the militant character and the democratic principles of the alliance onwards to the university’s next century.

To cap off the anniversary week, STAND-UP took part in the broad mobilization against Charter change held in the Makati business district last December 12, linking arms with the people in condemning fresh attempts by the Arroyo administration to amend the Constitution. Right after the rally, the alliance supported and helped organize a twelve-hour concert together with the Office of the Student Regent (OSR) and KASAMA sa UP (Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP) dubbed Defend the OSR Concert, to raise awareness and encourage broad participation in the campaign to preserve and protect the institution of students’ sole representation in the highest policy-making body in the university.

Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08) Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08) Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08) Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08) Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08) Defend the OSR Concert (Dec. 12, '08)

Ipaglaban ang Office of the Student Regent!

[Katipunan ng Mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP (KASAMA sa UP) statement]

Pinakamainit na pagbati, mga Iskolar ng Bayan! Nagbukas na naman ang bagong semestre at kasabay nito ang panibago na namang hamon sa ating mga Iskolar ng Bayan na harapin ang iba’t-ibang usaping kinakaharap hindi lamang ng Unibersidad ng Pilipinas kung hindi pati na rin ng buong sambayanang Pilipino.

Sa harap ng kabi-kabilang isyung kinakaharap natin kagaya ng papatinding pang-ekonomiyang krisis, ang walang habas na pagtaas na presyo ng mga bilihin at matinding kahirapang hinaharap ng mamamayan, ang kabiguan ng kasalukuyang rehimeng Arroyo na tugunan ang tungkulin nito sa mamamayang Pilipino at ang pasismong hinaharap nito sa mga mamamayang lumalaban para sa ating mga demokratikong mga karapatan; ngayon, higit kailanman ang panahon upang sama-samang kumilos, mangahas at manindigan!

Continue reading

KASAMA sa UP 28th National Congress

KASAMA sa UP 28th National Congress I attended the 28th National Congress of KASAMA sa UP (Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP) last October 27 to 27 at UP Mindanao in Mintal, Davao City. I was there primarily as Deputy Secretary General, partly as member of the UP Diliman University Student Council. KASAMA sa UP is the broadest alliance of student councils in the University of the Philippines System, with almost thirty member student councils from all the UP units and campuses in the country, from Baguio to Mindanao.

KASAMA sa UP congresses always serve as venues for all the student councils to link arms and consolidate the various campaigns for students’ democratic rights and stands on various national issues. It’s a great opportunity to reinforce the idea the campus problems we face in Diliman are similar to problems faced by students in UP Miag-ao in Iloilo or in UP Cebu College and are thus best addressed collectively. And of course, KASAMA sa UP functions are always a really great way to acquaint with fellow student councils from all over the country.

This year, we are at crucial juncture. With a new UP Charter that requires a Student Regent selection process that is ratified by the entire UP System student population through a referendum, we are at the risk of losing the sole student representation in the Board of Regents (BOR), the highest policy-making body in the University, if we don’t get our act together. With almost 50,000 UP students throughout the country, the task ahead of us is gargantuan. Gayunpaman, walang puwang para isiping mabibigo ang referendum. The next few months is going to be hectic.