UP President Emerlinda Roman was forced to respond to the students’ demands after student leaders submitted petitions through mass lobbying and demonstration last July 31 during the Board of Regents (BOR) meeting.
The meeting held at UP Manila was greeted by student protesters from UP Diliman, UP Manila, and UP Los Banos, carrying their demands for tuition rollback, immediate UPLB student elections, and the reclaim of student institutions and organizations’ democratic rights. Determined that these demands need to be answered directly by the UP Administration, the students insisted that the BOR face the students and hold a dialogue outside the halls.
After minutes of negotiations, President Roman agreed to meet the protesters and gave her responses on the different issues raised by the students. Her initial responses were: there will definitely be no rollback of tuition; the UP Administration refuses to intervene in the UPLB student-elections issue; and that the student organizations’ demands will be studied and be left to the discretion of the Chancellors of different UP units.
Student leaders believe that it was a collective victory that students were able to urge President Roman to give immediate responses to student demands. However, it was also clear to them that she was merely washing her hands off the issue, a clear refusal to take responsibility over the dismal state of students’ democratic rights in the university, according to Jaqueline Eroles, Chairperson of Students Rights and Welfare (STRAW) Committee of the UP Diliman – University Student Council (USC).
Student institutions and organizations who led the action pledged that all BOR meetings will be greeted with mobilizations until the demands were properly addressed.
Early this month, the USC released a statement calling for the rollback of tuition and the junking of the UP’s newest tuition policy. In the statement, the USC declared that in light of worsening economic crises plaguing the Filipino people, the UP Administration must provide economic relief to iskolars ng bayan and their families through a rollback in tuition. It also demanded for “the junking of the UP’s most recent tuition policy without prejudice to further investigation of the STFAP and the increase of state subsidy for education.”
President Roman, acknowledging the present economic condition, was however firm that there will be no rollback of tuition for this academic year since UP has not increased tuition for the past two years in spite of inflation. She added that the issue of tuition increase is already over, thus she encourages students to “move on” and leave calls for rollback and support the review and revision of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP).
Some students claim, however, that the issue of tuition increase is far from being over. They said that the increasing no-show rates, the increasing number of student loans, the decreasing number of enrollees in non-marketable courses, and the continuous commercialization of education, among others, are proof that the tuition increase has not addressed the problem of quality of education. Rather, such has only apparently caused other issues that are inconsistent and contradictory to the aims of a state institution such as UP.
They also believe that UP’s recent tuition policy proves to be anti-student and anti-people, having provisions that allow automatic increase of tuition based on inflation. The danger of uncontrolled, escalating tuition in the future continues to confront iskolars ng bayan.
Hands-off the UPLB student elections
Admitting knowledge of the four-month delay of student council elections in UPLB, Pres. Roman said that the UP Administration will not act on the said issue, on the fear that it may be interpreted as a form of administration intervention on student institutions. However, the protesters were able to assert for a dialogue on August 4 between the incumbent UPLB University Student Council, UPLB Chancellor Luis Rey Velasco, and Vice-President for Legal Affairs Atty. Theodore Te which shall be mediated by the President herself.
On the August 4 dialogue, student leaders from UPLB challenged President Roman, having the highest administrative position, to take responsibility and uphold her statements that the administration should not intervene with the autonomy of student institutions such as student councils and publications. They challenged her to direct Chancellor Velasco to cease its intrusion on the UPLB SC constitution and should hold elections within the month. The dialogue ended with the students successfully urging the UPLB Administration to concede into allowing for an immediate conduct of student council elections in Los Banos.
Calls for reclaim of democratic rights, to be acted upon by Chancellors
President Roman will not act on the demands of more than 111 student formations in UPD since she believes that these are within the jurisdiction and discretion of Chancellors. However, student leaders insisted that the dismal conditions of student organizations’ democratic rights are alarming, since they are evident in almost all UP units, thus, the need and the demand for a system-wide policy that will safeguard the rights of all organizations in all UP units. Pres. Roman later assured the protesters that she will direct Chancellors to study the said demands.
Continued support and collective action
For the contingents from UPD, UPM, and UPLB, the July 31 BOR protest action and mass lobbying proved that gains can be achieved through collective action. The signature campaign, the petition, and the mobilization were not simply disregarded by the UP administration because it showed the broad support and the commitment of students for the address of their demands. Thus, they were resolved to go back to their campuses to gather more support from students, faculty, and likewise, administrators, to gather them in a collective force to push the BOR to concur and act upon these demands.