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Doesn’t matter if it rains or shines, Thomasians will walk

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Weeks have passed by and at last the long wait is over. The Thomasian Freshmen Welcome Walk finally came to life, the much awaited part of every freshman student like me enrolled in the University of Santo Tomas. After being postponed twice, it finally proceeded on its third scheduled date, August 05, 2011. I remember a saying applicable to this situation: “Success is on the third try“. Humorously, it appears to be true with this matter.

Before the walk began, we prepared ourselves by painting our faces with the corresponding symbol(s) of our faculty and major; through this we show our pride and glory. Mother Nature was on our side. It did not rain but the warmth of the sun was there, it felt undistinguishable from our emotions at the moment due to the unexplainable enthusiasm while we were falling in line waiting to embark on the walk of our life. We didn’t consider this a struggle under the heat of the sun for the reason that it did not stop us from waving our banners up high and cheering for our beloved faculty; filling the air with unity and love not only for our respective colleges, institutes and faculties we represent, but for UST as well.

Upon entering the Arch of the Centuries, an overwhelming joy and excitement filled my emotions as we were welcomed by our fellow Thomasians. That was the moment I told myself, “I’m proud to be a Thomasian and this is where I belong.” I know I share the same experience with my colleagues.

After the walk a mass was held by Rev. Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa, O.P., our Rector. He mentioned that the moment we entered the Arch of the Centuries which is considered as a national treasure of our nation, we are also recognized as “national treasures”. His speech was inspirational for us freshmen and by this we know that we are only going to pass through the Arch of the Centuries twice in our stay in UST – first during our Freshmen Welcome Walk and lastly when we finally graduate from the University. Through this, we shall do our best now that we are part of the Thomasian community.

Subsequently, the freshmen welcome party was held though it rained. This did not bother, we still had a great time as we sang along with the bands who performed marvelously. Let’s just simply assess the rain only symbolizes the blessing from the Almighty One as our glorious journey at the Pontifical and Royal Catholic University of Santo Tomas had begun.#

By Kristi Celyn C. Banks

Freshman

 

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July 2020: A great storm of misplaced priorities

What’s the plan now?

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Photo courtesy of Reuters

We have all managed to get past the halfway mark of 2020, but Pandora’s box has barely opened.

As infections skyrocketed and millions continued to struggle due to the pandemic, the government had arguably been taking a detour from the main assailant. While they celebrated the “success” of their recent maneuvers, the public simmered with outrage and discontent.

In true bayanihan spirit, Filipinos continued to come together in physical protests and social movements to voice their dissent and frustration towards the government’s lack of concern for the real issue and its crumbling effects. Considering how the pandemic has been exhausting hospitals and healthcare workers, many echoed the urgent need for a concrete and feasible plan as the country is a ticking time bomb. It would only be a matter of time and misplaced priorities for it to go haywire.

We listed down the events and movements that made headlines this month.

1. Harry Roque and the UP Prediction

Photo courtesy of CNN Philippines

With the country’s COVID cases tallying to 36,438 on June 29, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque congratulated the Philippines for its victory against the pandemic and the 40,000 cases prediction by the University of the Philippines. Rather than cheers, this caused a stir on social media as many expressed their dismay over the government downplaying the COVID situation to a mere “UAAP Game” statistics.

On the same day, the UP OCTA Research projected that the number of COVID-19 infections would likely reach 60,000 by the end of July based on the infectivity rate of the virus. However, the number of cases had already breached the 60,000-mark in the second week of July.

While some netizens congratulated UP for winning this round, many raised their concerns for the drastically increasing number of infections and again urged for immediate actions from the government. A recent estimate by UP researchers showed that the reproductive rate of the country rose from 1.28 to an alarming 1.75. If the trend continues to grow at this rate, not only would this result in a staggering number of cases and deaths but also overwhelm the already struggling healthcare system.

2. ABS-CBN remains off-air

Photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

On July 10, the franchise renewal battle of ABS-CBN concluded as the House Committee on Legislative Franchises voted 70-11 to reject their bid for a 25-year extension. In the 13 congressional hearings conducted, Congress cited issues on Gabby Lopez III’s dual citizenship, tax avoidance, foreign ownership, and unjust labor practices as some of the network’s violations of its constitutional provisions.

Support for the network poured on social media through the hashtags #NOtoABSCBNFranchiseDenial, #IbalikAngABSCBN, and #DefendPressFreedom, to name a few. While House Speaker Alan Cayetano insisted that the issue was not press freedom, journalists, media groups, and student organizations argued otherwise. As Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon puts it, “The sword of Damocles will continue to hand perilously over other media networks. Both the legislators and the executive can wield the sword at their whim and caprice. This is when democracy starts to weaken.”

Together with the employees and supporters of the network, various media groups and human rights organizations joined the noise barrage held at the company’s headquarters in Quezon City to voice their dissent following the said decision and to shed light on the importance of press freedom. ABS-CBN’s regional stations also took part in the movement in their respective provinces.

This week, the People’s Initiative for Reforms and Movement for Action (PIRMA Kapamilya) was launched by a group of citizens in an effort to grant the network a “people’s franchise.” The initiative, which currently has 13,000 signatures, aims to gather 7 million more to comply with RA 6735.

3. People of the Philippines vs. the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

Photo courtesy of Rappler

Amid the coronavirus health crisis, President Duterte signed the feared Anti-Terror Bill into law despite strong warnings from legal experts and concerns from human rights groups. Filipinos went on social media to denounce the law that blatantly “penalizes” freedom of speech and other constitutional rights.

On July 4, a group of lawyers and civic leaders, led by Professor Howie Calleja, filed the first petition seeking to nullify the said law. More appeals from senators, Muslim lawyers, veteran journalists, human rights groups, and church leaders followed suit. As of this writing, 19 petitions challenging the newly signed law have been submitted before the Supreme Court.

Public protests also sparked all over the country to denounce the passage and call for the immediate scrapping of the controversial law. Various organizations in Metro Manila held an indignation rally in UP Diliman while maintaining social distancing. 

In another protest in Cabuyao, Laguna, 11 members of Karapatan, Gabriela, Pamantik KMU, and other youth organizations were arrested. Kyle Salgado, a member of Karapatan ST, stated that they were not informed of the charges against them upon arrest. “Free Cabuyao Eleven” then trended on social media, demanding the immediate release of the captured activists.

4. The call for an academic freeze

Photo courtesy of 8List

As the coming academic year shifts to other modes of learning, the future of Philippine education came into question. Last week, DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones stood firm by her decision to open classes on August 24 despite the constant plea of students and teachers regarding the lack of resources. Likewise, CHED Chairman Prospero de Vera III said that universities and colleges are “ready to open classes this August” through the implementation of flexible learning.

While many students and teachers understood the importance of learning, they feared that this would further compromise the quality of education to be delivered and the academic competence that the students will gain. On a socioeconomic stand, effectuating an “online and offline” mode of learning would aggravate the digital divide among students and burden families to pay for the delivery fees of modules and requirements. 

With face-to-face classes still being far from reality, students and youth groups urged government agencies to initiate an ‘academic freeze’ which would require “a flexible academic term, calendar, and curricula to lessen the school days required, lower the number of course requirements, and reduce tuition and other fees.”

5. SONA 2020

Photo courtesy of The Summit Express

Despite several invitees testing positive for COVID-19, President Duterte pushed through with delivering his 5th State of the Nation Address at Batasang Pambansa. Only 50 officials, mostly Duterte’s allies, were present to physically witness the annual tradition, whereas the usual attendees were present through Zoom.

The incumbent president opened his speech by assuring the Filipino people that a vaccine is “around the corner” and thanking the frontliners for their sacrifices. He then spent the next minutes to praise his administration’s “success” in the 30th Southeast Asian Games and Senator Bong Go for his work on several bills filed in the Senate.

Duterte called on Congress for the quick passage of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act, and National Land Use Act, among others. He also sought for the creation of government agencies for OFWs, protection of online consumers, support to provide accessible food for every Filipino, implementation of “e-governance,” and the revival of the death penalty for drug convicts.

Although he raised measures to improve the country’s healthcare system, there was no mention of a concrete and detailed plan to address the current health crisis—a point which Malacañang officials said he would lay down. Instead, he detoured and went on a tirade about tangential matters like fire trucks and telecommunication services and his grudge towards the “oligarchs” of ABS-CBN and Senator Drilon who “defended” them. Surprisingly enough, the enactment of the highly debated Anti-Terror Law was not brought to light in his penultimate speech.

6. #SONAgkaisa: The unified resistance

Photo by Mark Demayo/ABS-CBN News

As with previous addresses, this year’s SONA was met with protests from various groups and organizations in the country. Thousands of people from all walks of life marched to UP Diliman to condemn the government’s response towards the pandemic, the signing of the anti-terror bill, and the franchise denial of ABS-CBN, among others. Issues on human rights, education, livelihood, and freedom were also raised.

Unlike past protests, the traditional burning of an effigy was done through a stop-motion video shown during the program. Along with the iconic singing of ‘Bayan Ko,’ a Filipino rendition of Les Miserables’ ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ titled ‘Di Niyo Ba Naririnig’ was also performed.  

During the protest, veteran journalist Ces Drilon spoke out on how ABS-CBN’s shutdown would negatively affect the press as many might fear to report the truth. Likewise, it carried the warning that anyone who reports on them may be shut down next. Meanwhile, when asked to rate the president’s performance, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said that he could not give one since the president himself insults human rights.

A focal point at the unified protest was an urgent call for the government to realign its priorities in responding to the COVID-19 crisis as millions more will suffer if trivial matters are attended to first. Placards raised during the event highlighted the resumption of operations for jeepney drivers, environment protection, mass testing, red-tagging of students and indigenous people, and the call to oust the president.

This year’s protest drew attention not only for its cause but also for its creativity. Artist-activist Mae Paner who went viral with her iconic Debold Sinas look in last month’s Grand Mañanita, dressed up for this year’s protest in a swimming attire while carrying inflatable dolphins as a reference to Spokesperson Harry Roque’s trip to Subic Bay despite the strict quarantine protocols.  

Along with wearing face masks and social distancing, the event capped off after a few hours in adherence to health protocols. Those unable to attend physically registered their support through an online rally and use of the hashtag #SONAgkaisa. The mass protest also spread to many regions in the country like Cavite, Laguna, Baguio City, and Cebu City who each rallied for their demands and causes.

READ: Walking in unity for this year’s #SONAgkaisa

7. The sudden surge in COVID-19 cases

Photo courtesy of the Manila Bulletin

On July 1, the Department of Health recorded a total of 38,511 infections, with deaths at 554 and recoveries at 5,131. As the month comes to a close, the country stands at a record-high number of 83,873 cases, 1,947 deaths, and 26,617 recoveries.

This month also saw the highest single-day rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths with 2,539 infections on July 8 and 162 deaths on July 13. Private hospitals St. Luke’s Medical Center and Makati Medical Center also reported that their COVID-19 bed allocation and workforce had reached full capacity, which meant that they could no longer accept critically ill patients.

As the alarming rise in infections continued to strain the healthcare system, the public threw a question to the government: “Ano ba talaga ang plano?”

8. Getting close to a cure

Photo from Gilead Sciences via Reuters

In his annual address, President Duterte asserted that a vaccine is around the corner and had sought the help of President Xi Jinping to prioritize the country in any case that one becomes available. Realistically speaking, how far along are we towards a cure?

Of the 140 candidates, six vaccines from six different companies and research institutes, namely Moderna (US), BioNTech (Germany/US), AstraZeneca (Sweden/UK), Sinopharm (China), Sinovac (China), and Murdoch (Australia), are currently in phase 3 of clinical trials. In this final stage, the vaccine would be administered to thousands of people to test its safety and effectiveness.

Once proven to be safe and effective, it will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval, and only then can the approved vaccine be cleared for mass production and public use. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Health reminded the public to be “cautiously optimistic” as phase 3 trials will take months.

The rain continues to pour, but it’s safe to say that this month created the perfect storm of fear, disappointment, confusion, and frustration. The pandemic may have masked our mouths; it certainly did not silence our voices. At a time where critical matters are being neglected, it is high time for us to continue exercising our right to free speech and wield it to overcome the fear and intimidation that the powerful use to hold us from upholding the truth. With enough magnitude and force, perhaps we can make them listen.

As we move forward to more days grappling with the pandemic, our actions should also be as strong as our voices. Behind the curtain, healthcare workers and scientists work around the clock to save lives while risking theirs. Our part in abiding by health protocols and quarantine guidelines is our most significant contribution in breaking the chain and easing their burdens.

These challenging times for all of us, but hope should never be lost. In unity, we will prevail against our enemies: both the invisible and visible.

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10 tweets summing-up this year’s SONA

A brief scroll through #SONA2020 and #SONAgKAISA will show you how most Filipinos are yearning for better governance.

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Photo courtesy of CNN Philippines

The State of the Nation Address is one of the annual traditions where we get to hear our president update the citizens of the country’s progress, or lack thereof, in handling different problems in our country, as well as the administration’s vision for the year ahead of us. 

At the beginning of the speech, the president addressed the pandemic looming over us and immediately proceeded to call out people who he deemed were ‘taking advantage of a pre-occupied government,’ followed by his disapproval of oligarchs, specifically the Lopezes. Aside from that, what is a President Duterte speech without commending Senator Bong Go?

In terms of accomplishments, Pres. Duterte commended the ‘committed’ members of the congress that made the success of the 30th SEA Games possible. He also said that they have coordinated with different sports commissions to be able to assist student-athletes so that they can excel still in their chosen fields. For the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program, he didn’t delve much into the details because he says that he doesn’t want to bore his audience. 

For his future goals, he wants to end the discrimination of people based on age, gender identity & expression, ethnicity, and disabilities by launching a national program that aims to eradicate these types of segregation. Children’s rights are also aimed to be amplified to hopefully end unethical violations of child labor, and many more.

We went on Twitter to see what netizens had to say about #SONA2020.

1. Shame, shame, shame!

Thomasian Central Student Council President Robert Dominic Gonzales (@robertkaaatz) said in a tweet that the president is a shame to all of those who fought for our country’s sovereignty and independence.

2. Clap! I said clap!

Internet personality @macoydubs1 made fun of the congress for clapping after the president called them out for not applauding after he talked about legislating the death penalty.

3. SONA’s main takeaway

Twitter user @bagongpinay tweeted what she deems as the most important takeaway from the speech.

4. Redefining the state of the nation address

Twitter user @heroangel17 gave a new meaning for the acronym SONA.

5. Together we say, “sana all”.

UST Medicine alumnus Jose Mari Garcia (@itsJayEMD) vented out about front liners having limited access to COVID test kits, while SONA attendees have mandatory testing.

6. Poet, just didn’t know it

CNN tweets live updates about the SONA, and Twitter user @zhoumara_622 wittily commented on one of the president’s statements.

7. A treat for cinephiles

Twitter user @kaisipangabitan compared the SONA to one of Ruffa Mae Quinto’s comedy movies.

8. The timeless Bea meme

As the President asks the nation to just trust the government, Twitter user @markgeronimo_ utilized the Bea Saw meme from PBB as a response to this.

9. Cosplaying to express nationalism

We may have come across Mae Paner’s Debold Sinas costume that she wore during the Grand Mañanita and during a rally on the day of the SONA, she dressed up as Harry Roque swimming with dolphins.

10. Girl, same.

It’s pretty much self-explanatory.

A brief scroll through #SONA2020 and #SONAgKAISA will show you how most Filipinos are yearning for better governance. A lot of Filipinos don’t think that the government’s actions are adequate to address different societal problems along with the pandemic we are all trying to get through. Based on the time allotted between addressing the health crisis, along with countless problems that come with it, and expressing contempt over oligarchs, what does this administration truly prioritize? Patricia Santos

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Cancel Culture: Challenging Impunity or Threatening Free Speech?

Cancel culture enables people to call out injustices, but is it all good, or does it just make the internet a “vogue for public shaming and ostracism”?

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Artwork by Fernardine Hernandez

There are two reasons why a person could become the talk on social media. It’s either they did something noteworthy like donating to frontliners or delivering a superb performance in a movie or TV show or something terrible like spouting anti-poor and elitist comments on workers during quarantine like mocking tricycle drivers. If it is the latter, chances are that person is already “cancelled” on social media.

The situation mentioned above refers to cancel culture: the act of calling out and boycotting people on the internet because of a problematic act or statement. This includes boycotting a person or their works, which contributes to limiting their cultural influence. Cancel culture spares no one, from regular people posting racist views to big names like author J.K. Rowling and YouTuber Shane Dawson.

Cancel culture enables ordinary to call out injustices, but is it all good, or does it just make the internet a “vogue for public shaming and ostracism”?

Challenging a culture of impunity

Like many of the terms used in modern internet vernacular, the term “canceled” came from Black Culture.

After an episode of Love and Hip Hop: New York aired in 2014 wherein a cast member said “you’re cancelled,” the term quickly spread on social media, particularly on Black Twitter. After some time, the term evolved from a meme-able reaction to an act of mass boycott and call-out of an individual or group, particularly famous ones who did something unpleasant or unacceptable.

Today, being “cancelled” is in the vocabulary of every internet-savvy user. When someone made insensitive comments on social media, or was called out for being racist, it’s almost certain that they will be canceled. 

However, the effects of cancel culture goes beyond the confines of social media. Several “cancelled” individuals also face real-life consequences, from getting fired from their jobs to being thrown in jail. For example, YouTube confirmed that they demonetized vlogger Shane Dawson’s channels due to the resurfacing of his old videos that show racism and him sexualizing Willow Smith, who was 11 years old at that time.

Cancel culture enables ordinary people to make a powerful person with a huge cultural influence accountable for their wrongdoings. It challenges a culture of powerful people getting away with something using their money or power and a culture of passivity and impunity that the powerful exploits for their benefit.

Promoting a culture of censoriousness?

Cancel culture can help in making a powerful wrongdoer accountable, but does it also hinder a person’s free speech? 

Harper’s Magazine published an open letter on cancel culture and free speech entitled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate.” The letter was signed by 152 public personalities, including J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, and others.

The letter laid issues such as the rise of illiberalism amidst the widespread protests on different social issues like gender equality, racism, police reform, and others. It also pointed out free speech as the “the lifeblood of a liberal society,” and the spread of “censoriousness,” citing examples such as “intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

The letter also addressed cancel culture’s “swift severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought,” citing instances of “punishments” of several canceled individuals. Lastly, it called for dialogue, saying that for people to “defeat bad ideas,” one must practice “exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”

While the arguments presented in the open letter seemed progressive, many pointed out that some of its signatories were more concerned about their own freedom to get away with doing something problematic than free speech in general. 

In 2016, The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood faced backlash after she signed an open letter asking the University of British Columbia for transparency over the firing of Steven Galloway due to sexual misconduct allegations. Atwood also wrote an op-ed criticizing the #MeToo movement in 2018. 

Author J.K. Rowling also drew ire due to her tweets and essay on trans people, as well as her continuous tweets promoting anti-trans views.

In essence, the letter did not capture the culture’s meaning, painting it like an Orwellian threat to free speech. It did, however, make some valid points such as the importance of free speech and the use of dialogue. But the letter, in their own words, just “dissolved a complex policy issue in a blinding moral certainty.” 

Cancel culture is not a threat to free speech, but a threat to a system of impunity long held by those in power. Painting cancel culture in that light is an insult to areas where free speech is threatened by things like media shutdowns and laws that can be weaponized to threaten dissenters. In short, there are more pressing matters to focus on, especially at these turbulent times.

Great power, greater responsibility

Cancel culture is a tool against impunity. It lets ordinary people create a culture free of problematic and harmful individuals. It helps in making a powerful person be held accountable without them using their power and prestige to get away with their sins. However, it is not a quick fix for societal problems. It points out a problem for the world to see, but it does not magically make things like homophobia, racism, sexism, and the likes go away overnight. 

While it is good in holding people accountable for their wrongdoings, there are still dangers regarding its use.

If used incorrectly, cancel culture will be like the killer bee drones in the Black Mirror episode “Hated in the Nation,” where every hashtag has the possibility of killing someone. Anger towards people who preach bigotry and hate is valid, but it should never drive us to bully and harass someone. We must still practice basic human decency, especially on the internet where the world can see every post we make.

Apart from that, misusing cancel culture will just return someone into a cycle of problematic behavior. If we only cancel people without the aim to educate them about their problematic behavior, they’ll continue doing it until more people are hurt. Indeed, their wrong actions must be called out, but space for them to grow and learn should also be given.  

Cancel culture has sharp fangs and it lacks a heart and mind. Rather than condemning or isolating people, it should also aim to teach and transform. The world will not be a better place if we punish an individual without the intention to correct their mistakes. 

Cancel culture is a force that arose out of modern internet culture, a power that sprung from the collective rage of people towards powerful people who always get away with the consequences of their problematic actions. While it can hold people accountable for bad deeds, it can also educate and transform if used correctly. Just like any great power, it comes with greater responsibilities. We must wield this power accordingly, and use it to make the internet, and the world, in general, a better place—a place where no bad deed, no matter how big or small, goes unnoticed. Ian Gabriel Trinidad

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