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#TWenty: TomasinoWeb’s year-end 2020 special

The first year of the decade greeted us with grueling challenges. What’s next?

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(Artwork by Patricia Jardin/TomasinoWeb)

A letter from the editor

By the time I am writing this, the clock has struck 3 a.m. The world is serene in these hours, almost unfamiliar and could be mistaken as the midnights of the yesteryears; what differs 2020 is the renditions of pandemonium that the day and night await.

I remember reading a similar article where my former editor mentioned that 2017 was a terrible year. Fast forward to now, it is amusing yet saddening how we thought we have experienced the worst. It turns out that there is more. It is almost like we are all floating in time rooting for the coming year just to escape this hellhole we have been to.

This year greeted us in its own fashion with the explosion of the Taal Volcano. It later followed the unfortunate widespread of COVID-19 which singlehandedly formed how 2020 would turn out to be.

Death is undeniably a common denominator in this list. With the murder of many Philippine activists, the passing of baby River, and the killing of the Gregorios, 2020 has further emphasized the blatant abuse of human rights and the rampant neglect of the ruling class to the Filipino people. Pardon was given to a murderer and one of the country’s biggest media networks was forcibly shut down. On top of that, a P15 billion-peso health fund mysteriously dissipated into thin air.

There are a million narratives untold; all of which deserve to be known especially those that speak of struggle, resilience, and hope. As student journalists, we have told too many stories of loss and many of them are impossible to bear. We look forward to meeting better days soon as we fight for what we truly deserve: hope, recovery, and a breakthrough.

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I would like to congratulate you, dear reader, for making it through this year. May we continuously fight for our rights and for our brothers and sisters who did not make it with us at the end of the year.

With all that said, I present you #TWenty: the TomasinoWeb year-end 2020 special.

For a better country, press freedom, and human rights.

Alive and breathing,

Brin Raizulli Isaac
Executive Editor

 

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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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Community pantries address food insufficiency but gov’t must address food security—Simbahayan director

According to Froilan Alipao, there is a problem with society if people will continue to rely on community pantries for a long time. 

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KINDNESS STATION—UST Simbahayan and the Santisimo Rosario Parish opens their community pantries in P. Noval and Dapitan streets on April 24. Photo grabbed from Santisimo Rosario Parish’s Facebook page.

While community pantries help address the food insufficiency in the Philippines, government officials must also look into more sustainable solutions to achieve food security, the director of UST Simbahayan said Saturday, April 24. 

According to Froilan Alipao, who is also a faculty member of the University’s sociology department, there is a problem with society if people will continue to rely on community pantries for a long time. 

“Community pantry is an immediate response because there is a need for food. Pero ang pangit naman kung habang panahon may community pantry ka. Ibig sabihin niyan, […] walang malaking tsansa ang mga tao na they can produce their own food or they can purchase their own food. Ibig sabihin, may issue with food security,” he told TomasinoWeb. 

The community pantries, according to Alipao, should also help empower citizens and encourage them to participate in governance.

“Yun bang mga pumila, ‘yung mga mahihirap, na-oorganize ba sila para tumayo rin sila sa sariling paa o ma-realize nila ‘yung dignity nila and rights sa society? Ma-oorganize ba ‘yung mga tao na later magiging active participants sila sa governance,” he said.

He also stressed that sustainable development should also include environmental stability that will cater to the “whole society, especially the marginalized and poor sectors.” 

Government vs. community pantries

Malacañang denied on April 19 that community pantries were established as a result of government incompetence, and told the public to stop politicking amid the pandemic.

“Itong mga community pantry nagpapakita na bayanihan ang umiiral, hindi bangayan. […] Sa panahon ng surge na ito, kinakailangan po talaga sama-sama tayong mga Pilipino. Kung hindi tayo magtutulungan, sino pang magtutulungan?” Palace spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing. 

But according to Alipao, the hunger and poverty experienced by Filipinos goes to show that the government is not doing its job.

“Nakikita mo ang gutom at kahirapan—at ‘yun ang totoo, hindi ‘yun myth. Ibig sabihin niyan, […] they are not really doing their role as a government—to protect and to promote the welfare of the people,” he said.

The Simbahayan director also urged the government and the private sector to come up with long-term solutions to the country’s problems.

Solidarity not socialism

The community pantry “movement,” according to Alipao, is a form of solidarity which helps those who have little to no food to eat.

“Food is a felt need ng karamihan na walang hanapbuhay, lockdown, saan ka kukuha?  So sabihin natin na religiously, kung titingnan mo, miracle. Pero sa sociological and social science term, solidarity—‘yung pakikiisa doon sa mga tao basically sa pagkain,” he shared.

He added that he calls this a “movement” because many people took the initiative to put up their own community pantries without expecting any funding.

“Pero with a starting point of community pantry at talagang maraming sumunod, nag-advocate, sumupport, doon sa community pantry, ‘yung iba nagtayo na, nagkaroon na siya ng isang movement. Movement siya kasi dumami ‘yung gumaya without any expecting resources from any specific group—it is really community mobilization,” he explained.

Although he agrees that the community pantries show a “semblance of socialism,” Alipao mentioned that he is more comfortable with the term “solidarity.”

“[T]here’s a semblance of socialism—‘yung you will share your resources and then you get what you need, kasi that’s one of the principles of socialism. But on a small scale, I think parang solidarity is a form of sharing,” he said 

So in that particular scenario, food for example, in a very particular period of time like this, we can show our solidarity,” he added.

Alipao added that it is up to society to put a label on the new phenomenon. He also lauded Filipinos for their willingness to help amid disasters, highlighting that it is the country’s “cultural asset.”

“May espirito ang Pilipino na kahit anong hirap, tumutulong—and that would be a good cultural asset. And I think the community pantry, why it became a phenomenon that people are supporting, is because of the cultural assets or cultural capital of the Filipino people,” he said.

UST’s Community Pantry

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The UST Simbahayan and the Santisimo Rosario Parish opened their community pantries on April 25, which were placed in Gates 7 and 10 of the University in Dapitan and P. Noval streets.

These pantries, called “Kindness Stations,” are only operational every Sunday morning from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. 

However, Alipao said that on Mondays to Saturdays, UST also contributes to the community pantry in P. Noval street organized by the owner of Mang Toots, Toots Vergara.

Community pantries became popular in the country after small business owner Ana Patricia Non opened the Maginhawa Community Pantry on April 14, which is now located at 108 Maginhawa St., Teachers Village East in Quezon City.

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TIMELINE: After 5 months, UST sets refund scheme

At the onset of the community quarantine, the University vowed to refund the unused school fees of their students, three months after the May 6 memorandum released by the Secretary-General.

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Fernardine Hernandez/TomasinoWeb

At the onset of the community quarantine, the University vowed to refund the unused school fees of their students, three months after the May 6 memorandum released by the Secretary-General.

In between class suspension and the memorandum, there were collective efforts from students, parents, and various organizations for the immediate release of an updated table of fees and refund system, varying from letters of appeal, online petitions, to social media campaigns. 

Here are what transpired during those five months:

March 9 – Manila Mayor Isko Moreno halted face-to-face classes after the Department of Health reported four new cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), pushing the total number of cases in the country to 10. 

March 15 – Manila was placed under a community quarantine following the order of President Rodrigo Duterte, due to the continuous rise of confirmed COVID-19 cases, especially in the city capital. 

March 19 – The Central Student Council (CSC), along with Local Student Councils, submitted a request to suspend online classes amid the concerns of the students with internet connectivity and mental well-being.

April 11 – League of Filipino Students UST initiated an online petition that immediately garnered more than 11,400 signatures. The petition outlined a four-point demand which focused on guaranteeing the stakeholders’ “well-being, livelihood, and democratic rights.”

April 17 – CSC wrote a letter which sought to either mass promote students and end the semester or to freeze the remaining term. 

April 20 – Then newly incumbent Very. Rev. Rector Fr. Richard Ang, O.P. responded by saying that the University must “allow learning to succeed” and assured Thomasians of a refund on a “per class basis” due to the suspension of classes. 

“We wish for you to earn that ‘moral and spiritual certificate’ that says, ‘I fought COVID-19 in the education front and I defeated it!’” Rector Ang said, which drew flak from students on social media.

“We understand that the shift to online learning has added financial implications, not only for [the students] but to the immediate family,” he added. “The amount may either be given back in cash or may be credited in the succeeding enrolment.”

May 26 – Rector Ang released a new letter announcing the implementation of the “Enriched Virtual Mode,” which would make use of blended learning, both synchronous and asynchronous, for the first term of the Academic Year (AY) 2020-2021. 

The letter mentioned the extension of financial assistance to students by renewing existing scholarships, as well as implementing no tuition increase and flexible, staggered payment schemes. 

June 6 – The interim CSC President Robert Dominic Gonzales said in a tweet that two letters were already sent to the Office of the Vice-Rector for Finance, demanding updates on the refund.

Aside from the details of the refund scheme, the letters, which were also undersigned by local student councils, inquired on the adjusted table of fees as new AY shifts fully to virtual mode. 

“Upon seeing the released schedule of fees for the freshmen students, there were still portions of the ‘miscellaneous’ [and] ‘other’ fees, which the council presidents [and] student body deemed anomalous [and] should have been removed given the proposed online class scheme,” Gonzales said. 

“These concerns were raised because a lot of our fellow students’ families are currently exhausting necessary means for proper allocation of their budget in anticipation of academic spending and other matters,” the letter of appeal further stressed. 

June 13 – The University released its updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page regarding the fees, enrollment, and refunds, as the pandemic brought office work to a blended mode set-up as well. 

June 18 – Lawyer Emilie Gemanil-Espina, a parent of a student in the University, took to Facebook the alleged “unreasonable” miscellaneous and other fees imposed by the University since classes will be held virtually. 

Espina posted a copy of the letter that she submitted to the University administration. Among the fees which she questioned was the energy fee as there would be “no electronic consumption for the University considering the use of online learning.” 

The University, however, explained in its FAQs page that the energy fee will be used to maintain the air conditioning units and other equipment in the campus. 

Espina contested the laboratory fee, as well as the medical and dental fee. She organized a petition coming from the parents, which has gathered 5,400 signatures, contesting the fees for the AY 2020-2021.

August 14 – The University formally started a new academic year, with the traditional Misa de Apertura held online, in compliance with the government protocols. 

August 28 – In a memorandum from the Office of the Vice-Rector for Finance, the University released the procedure of the refund scheme, with various options on how the students can claim their unused school fees. 

The memo stated that the newly-adjusted schedule of fees suspended medical and dental, energy, cultural, retreat and recollection, sports, and infrastructure development fees. 

Acting Vice-Chancellor for Finance Fr. Roberto Luanzon Jr., O.P. said that additional adjustments on college/program-specific fees are still under review and in consultation with each unit. Fr. Luanzon assured the Thomasians that further clarifications would be announced later. 

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