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Persecution, not activism, besets student leaders

Since last year, several student activists have been red-tagged, and they were either in the student councils or were vying for the positions. 

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Ian Patrick Laqui/TomasinoWeb

A student leader’s affiliation with a human rights organization resulted in his non-readmission in the next academic term, igniting suspicions of a university administration-led witch hunt among Thomasians. 

Since last year, several student activists have been red-tagged by the school administration, along with the right-wing organization “The Right Thomasian.” The red-tagged students were either in the student council or were vying for the positions. 

The hunt first plagued student activists at the University of Santo Tomas, but at present, even student leaders are no longer exempted. They are also primary targets. 

Witch hunt, defined as an attempt to find and punish a particular group of people who are blamed for something, often because of their opinions and not because they have done anything wrong.

Shoti Ampatuan made headlines in January after being persecuted for “joining unrecognized organizations.” The show-cause order released by the University barred him from enrolling in the next academic year. 

Ampatuan was also removed from his head council position in the Senior High School Student Council (SHS-SC) , and was denied his certificate of good moral character, which is an essential requirement for admission in some schools.

“I became worried about my safety, knowing that it became rampant [and] that even my former school and teachers knew about this,” he said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

Ampatuan revealed that his mental health deteriorated due to threatening and intimidating social media comments, which overwhelmed him, having almost five months left to serve in the student council. 

I feel like may pagkukulang ako knowing na I still have four to five remaining months to prove myself, to prove that the council prepared a lot from the body and the constituents,” Ampatuan said.

‘I never felt safe’

Avery Alo, another SHS student and a presidential candidate in the SHS-SC elections, also faced charges from the SHS administration, and a parent accused him of recruiting students to join Anakbayan. 

Alo almost had the same fate as Amputan but was acquitted on Feb. 15 due to a “lack of sufficient evidence.” He “never felt safe” after the incident and receiving threats and intimidation through SMS. 

Nandoon pa rin po ‘yung threat of being sent a show cause letter or being red-tagged, and I think ‘yon po ang isa sa mga effects sa akin ng red-tagging, like I never felt safe anymore in our university,” he said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

“Honestly, I was scared na baka matulad po ‘yung nangyari kay Kuya Shoti na mangyari din sa akin, because alam naman po natin na tinanggal po siya sa council then ‘di po siya bibigyan ng good moral […] I feared for my stay in the university,” he said.

He expressed concern that UST is being used as a tool for the witch-hunting of progressive groups and called for the administration to change specific provisions to prevent further incidents.

I think po it’s high time po para baguhin ‘yung mga provisions na ‘yon kasi it does not do anything [good] to the students,” Alo said.

“It does not help them to improve upon themselves which is lagi nila pong sinasabi ng aming admin na tutulungan daw nila po kami na mas maging better students, which in that case, it only endangers students and it does not even help us in any way,” he added.

Unwarranted labelling

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Jeric Mataga, a second-year IICS student, was in the middle of his virtual miting de avance speech on April 30 when the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) ordered him to change his background showing a protest. 

“I’m literally going to talk about red-tagging here and they’re going to red-tag me because of my background,” Mataga said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

When asked about his thoughts on OSA’s alleged red-tagging, Mataga said the students deserve fairness and justice rather than unwanted labelling.

“There are many things much worse than student activism. Keep that in mind. The students deserve fairness and justice, not unwarranted scrutiny and red-tagging,” he added.

As a student activist himself, Mataga advocated for the formation of the student’s code to amplify students’ voices.

He has also been red-tagged The Right Thomasian, which is no stranger to committing such acts. It notoriously labeled student leaders, ordinary students, and even professors in the university.

Nagalit ako. Sa dami-daming pwedeng gawin sa buhay, mangrered-tag ka pa. ‘Di ka na nga nakatulong, nakakapahamak ka pa ng tao,” he said in an interview.

In facing the threats and labelling, Mataga “did not even flinch,” saying that he would probably stop doing his advocacies if he is scared.

Bakit ako matatakot? Kung sa simpleng troll page lang natakot ako e ‘di matagal na akong tumigil sa mga pinaglalaban kong advocacies,” he said.

Mataga “chose to ignore” the threats and red-tagging, saying that they should receive less attention. 

Dr. Mark Abenir, a Development Studies Faculty from the Ateneo de Manila University and former Professor from the UST Department of Sociology, warned that red-tagging the youth and student leaders is dangerous.

Kapag ang bata may napansin siya kung anong mali, sasabihin niya kung anong mali. Ganun din ang kabataan because of what they’ve learned in school [or] university [which] are the things that should be done ideally,” Abenir said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

“Once we red-tag the youth, we tell them to shut up. We tell them to stop contributing to critical progress. We tell them to stop telling what is wrong in society. And if the youth stop telling us that, it will be a dark future,” he said.

Abenir strongly believes that institutions should be bastions of academic freedom.

“As institutions, we should be bastions of academic freedom kung saan ang tamang paniniwala natin ay pwede nating iexpress. Because nagnu-nurture ka ng future generations and you want [those] future generations to speak out,” he added.

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#TWenty: TomasinoWeb’s year-end 2021 special

Our triumphs emanated not only from the work of others but also from our own. But in every gain, there is loss—and this year was exhausting in more ways than one.

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Artwork by Wendell Adrian Quijado/TomasinoWeb

A letter from the editor 

The previous year was dreadful as it is; gatherings, handshakes, and even breathing became a luxury. Dealing with an existential crisis infiltrated our collective unconscious, filled us with fear and anxiety. and leaving us with nothing but a bitter aftertaste. Even so, I had strong faith that the next chapter would break the mold. 

The emergence of variants cornered us in a checkmate each time. As the virus found new ways to thrive, scientists around the world did the impossible, producing efficacious vaccines at an unimaginable speed. What was once a pipeline dream is now protecting humanity, including more than half the Filipino population, from the novel disease. 

Along with the vaccine, this year’s firsts were beyond belief: our first Thomasian Olympian, our first Olympic gold, and our first Nobel Prize. Even in the midst of chaos and strife, Filipinos proved to be better than their formidable foes. 

Our triumphs emanated not only from the work of others but also from our own. Through the bayanihan efforts of our community pantries and typhoon relief, we’ve indubitably shown that helping the community need not be initiated by personal interests and compromises.  

But in every gain, there is loss—and this year was exhausting in more ways than one. 

With the health crisis still unabated, most students and teachers had to endure another year of distance learning, whereas the unfortunate enough were forced to take a year off. Still, the learning adaptations demanded so much from both parties, causing burnout, mental health issues, and undue stress. 

Just as we were foreseeing a silver lining with the gradual reopening of schools, our political atmosphere proved otherwise. From the misuse of COVID-19 funds, the publicized PDP-Laban feud, to the unentertaining circus of the 2022 elections, a cacophony of power and greed deafened the Filipino people. 

After all the tussles, we managed to, yet again, see the final sunset. A virus-free world may still be far beyond our reach. But as our sojourn in the year of the ox comes to an end, I hope that our existence hereafter wouldn’t merely be defined by our survival of many tragedies. 

Rather, the chapter we pass on should be engraved with how we struggled and conquered; how we fought for truth and justice; how we had the courage of our convictions; and how we rose to the occasion for the common good, for this is how we truly lived. It’s a simple victory—one that may not be celebrated by medals, statues, and special holidays, but it is a testament that humanity doesn’t falter at the slightest downfall. 

Without further ado, I present you #TWenty: TomasinoWeb’s year-end 2021 special.

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May our country flourish with deserving leaders that would ensure our safety, safeguard our rights, and assure our dignity as individuals.

 

With a handshake, 

Marcianne Elaine Gaab

Executive Editor

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You cannot separate activism from student leadership — Artlet student-leaders

Student-leaders primarily represent and protect the student body, regardless if the university stands with them or not.

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ust protest
Dainish Samantha Santos/TomasinoWeb

Thomasian student-leaders reacted to the Faculty of Arts and Letters’s Student Council’s (ABSC) presidential candidate’s statements against activism by claiming that activism and leadership go hand-in-hand.

In a series of interviews with TomasinoWeb, Speaker of the Central Student Council’s Central Board, Nathan Agustin, and former UST AB Board of Major’s Speaker, John Steven Usero, stated that student-leaders should not shy away from activism.

“We cannot really separate activism with our roles as student leaders because, as we see, students do not really hold power within the university,” Agustin said.

During the Miting de Avance for ABSC’s Special Elections held on August 31, presidential candidate Denzelle Jude Caro debated against student activism.

“Student activism is not the only way for us to go through because currently, we don’t have the protection of our university,” he said.

Usero contradicted the statement, insisting that student-leaders primarily represent and protect the student body, regardless of whether or not the university stands with them.

“[I]f it’s against doon sa karapatan ng tao maging malaya […], kailangan manindigan ng isang lider na hindi siya dapat magplay safe — kailangan ichallenge niya; at the same time, pag chinallenge mo isang bagay, kailangan maging rational ka,” he said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

The University has previously sanctioned students for joining mass organizations and participating in activism.

“Every channel is blocked because of the pandemic; in your student activism, currently, you are individualistic rather than collective,” Caro said, comparing student activism during the Martial Law period to that of today.

After admitting to being unaware of ABSC’s history, he argued that in this time of pandemic, student activism is more individualistic than collective as students do not have the masses to fall back on given the health restrictions.

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Agustin partially agreed with the security concern of practicing activism during the pandemic, but still believes that the claim does not stand well with denying student activism as a whole.

Usero further supported the statement by explaining that the essence of activism does not depend on whether or not it happens physically with the masses but rather on seeing the problems in society.

“Kapag sinabi mong activism, ibig-sabihin may mali sa status quo, […] [at] kailangan natin makibahagi sa mga tao […] hindi lang naman siya ‘Hoy pupunta ako sa labas, pupunta ako sa kalsada’ para masabi na nakikibahagi ako sa mga tao — kailangan natin pag-aralan ang lipunan […] [at] ang kultura ng mga problema,” he said.

Student activism is denoted as “the involvement of students in defending their interests and bringing about needed change that drastically affect their university life and society.”

Despite the backlash Caro’s notions received, both student-leaders called for discourse and open communication regarding these controversial issues.

“Imbis na i-condemn mo ang mga taong ‘yon, kailangan mong ieducate […] kasi biktima rin sila ng sistema, biktima sila sa lipunan,” Usero said.

The Special Elections for ABSC will be done online from September 13 to 18.

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Mga Tomasinong student-leader, dismayado sa pagtaas ng downpayment ng matrikula

“It doesn’t feel compassionate or caring at all to be on a scaled payment system. Not every student in the University has the definite means to carry on with their education, especially in times like this,” sabi ni Jazul.

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Nanawagan ang mga Tomasinong student leader sa Unibersidad na bigyang-linaw at agarang abiso hinggil sa pagtaas ng downpayment ng matrikula para sa AY 2021 – 2022.

Noong ika-23 ng Hulyo, matatandaang ibinalik ng Unibersidad ang 50 porsyentong downpayment sa matrikula ng mga freshmen kasunod ng anunsyo na hindi ito magpapatupad ng tuition hike sa panibagong akademikong taon.

Nagpahiwatig ng pagkadismaya ang tagapagsalita ng Central Student Council (CSC) Central Board na si Nathan Agustin, Internal Vice-President ng Communication Arts Students Association (CASA) na si Jeia Jazul, at Internal Vice-President ng UST Journalism Society na si Sophia Castillo sa kakulangan ng komunikasyon at representasyon ng mga mag-aaral sa mga inilalabas na patakaran ng Unibersidad.

“They should have consulted us through announcements man lang, even if hindi direkta agad sa councils, […] so that we may immediately say our views or if hindi na talaga mababago, makapag-prepare sana tayo, ‘di ba?” ani ni Agustin sa isang panayam sa TomasinoWeb.

Binigyang-diin ni Agustin ang pagkakaroon ng maayos na konsultasyon sa pagitan ng Unibersidad at mga mag-aaral bago magpatupad ng mga polisiya para maiwasan ang paulit-ulit na batikos mula sa mga mag-aaral ukol rito.

Ipinaliwanag din niya ang pagkakaroon ng representasyon ng mga mag-aaral sa pagpapatupad ng iba’t ibang polisiya sa nakaraang State of Thomasian Address 2021 noong ika-24 ng Hulyo.

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Sa isang panayam, nagbigay ng karagdagang paliwanag si Jazul kung bakit mahalaga na bigyang-pansin ang mga hinaing ng mga mag-aaral sa mga ipinatutupad ng Unibersidad.

“Students are the main stakeholders of the University. The school should be listening to the concerns of its students, especially financial [matters]. Instead of increasing the fees, I would ask to please keep it at how much we’ve been paying before when consideration of the pandemic was still a concern,” aniya.

Kinuwestiyon din ni Agustin ang muling pagsingil ng mga dagdag na bayarin mula sa mga mag-aaral katulad ng energy, medical, at dental fees na hindi nagamit ng mga mag-aaral noong nakaraang termino.

“Although there are no tuition fee increases, tandaan natin, hiwalay ang other at miscellaneous fees. Wala ngang tuition fee increase, meron namang other fee increase, meron namang miscellaneous fee increase,” sabi ni Agustin.

Mas mababang downpayment, hindi pa rin sapat umano

Ayon kay Agustin, sa kanilang pagpupulong kasama ang Office of the Vice Rector for Finance (OVRF), sumang-ayon at binaba na ng Unibersidad ang downpayment mula sa 50 porsyento ng matrikula sa P15,000. 

Dagdag pa niya, sa kabila ng pagbaba ng downpayment, masyado pa rin itong mataas para sa ilang mga mag-aaral na nakararanas ng problemang pinansyal dahil sa mas pinahigpit na lockdown dulot ng lumalalang pandemya.

“Even if this amount may not be too much for some, it is too much for others, so there [are] students who may be discouraged to enroll, especially if they don’t know na may means pala para makapag-enroll sila by writing a letter to OVRF,” ani ni Agustin.

Para kay Jazul, hindi nakabubuti ang pagtaas ng mga bayarin sa kabila ng nagpapatuloy na pandemya dahil napipilitang tumigil sa pag-aaral ang mga apektadong mag-aaral.

“It doesn’t feel compassionate or caring at all to be on a scaled payment system. Not every student in the University has the definite means to carry on with their education, especially in times like this,” sabi ni Jazul.

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Inihambing ni Castillo sa isang bitin na eksena sa pelikula ang kanyang pangamba na posibleng hindi siya makapagtapos ng kanyang huling taon sa Unibersidad dahil sa nasabing pagtaas ng bayarin.

“Natatakot ako kasi paano if, yes, naka-enroll ka this semester, pero what if [sa] next sem, tumaas ulit ang tuition or ang downpayment? Parang nasa peak ka ng pag-aaral sabay cut eh,” aniya.

Nitong Biyernes, pinalawig ng Unibersidad ang enrollment para sa unang termino ng panibagong akademikong taon hanggang Miyerkules, ika-25 ng Agosto.

Iniulat ng Department of Education na halos isang milyong mag-aaral ang hindi nakapag-enrol ngayong AY 2021-2022.

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