Various formations of youth and student groups commemorate the 84th International Students Day (ISD) as ever militant and progressive to lambast the repressive student policies, looming budget cuts, and militarization among schools.

One Taft and One U-Belt held their protest actions at UP Manila and Far Eastern University, respectively.  

“Mula noon hanggang ngayon, alam ng mga kabataan, ng mga estudyanteng makabayan na kapag ginigipit sila, pinapahirapan, makatwiran ang tugon nilang paglaban. Ang ginagawa natin ngayon ay simbolo ng muling pagbabalik sa atin ng politikal na espasyo,” said UP Manila University Student Council (UPM- USC) councilor Kyla Benedicto.

[From then until now, the youth and students-at-large know that when they are harassed, or tortured, their resistance is justified. What we are doing now is a symbol of the return of political space to us]

The ISD marks the commemoration of the 1939 Nazi storming of the University of Prague following demonstrations against the killing of Jan Opletal, the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the execution of nine student leaders, the internment of over 1200 students in concentration camps, and the closure of all Czech universities and colleges.

Initially observed in 1941 in London by the International Students’ Council, many of whose members were refugees, in collaboration with the Allies, the tradition has been continued by the successor International Union of Students. This organization has been advocating, along with National Unions of Students in Europe and other groups, for the day to be officially recognized as a United Nations observance.

On budget cuts in SUCs, tuition hikes in PHEIs

With the looming threat of slashed budgets among local and state colleges (LUCs and SUCs), private higher education institutions (PHEIs) bear the brunt of tuition hikes.

“Gaya ng gobyerno na patuloy na pinagasasamantalahan ang mamamayan, hindi nahihiwalay ang mga kapitalistang edukador gaya ng mga Montinola. Ngayong taon 23% ang itinaas ng net income nito sa pamantasan,” said Anakbayan Morayta SHS spokesperson Xialeya Pelayo.

[Capitalist educators like the Montinolas are similar to that of the government that continues to exploit the people given this university’s net income increased by 23% this year]

Pelayo scored an increase in FEU’s net income of P1.89 billion from P1.54 billion last year. Such income growth was driven by higher student enrollment.

“Sa kasalukuyan, nagpapatuloy ang laban natin para sa pagpapataas ng badyet sa sektor ng edukasyon at kalusugan,” Benedicto affirmed.

[Currently, our fight continues to increase the budget in the education and health sectors]

The University of the Philippines (UP), which includes the UP Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), is facing a potential budget cut of P2.93 billion next year given the Marcos-Duterte administration has only allotted a total budget of P22.59 billion from its 2023 budget of P25.52 billion.

Given this, PGH will face a P 1.12 billion deduction with a P14.22 million deduction from the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) while nothing (0) is reserved for capital outlay (CO). The impending budget cut has diminished only because Congress allocated P 1 billion for Medical Assistance to Indigent Patients (MAIP) last October 10.

Benedicto also slammed Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno who quipped that free college education is ‘unsustainable’ last August 19.

“Para kay Diokno, dapat niyang malaman na kapag tinanggal ang free tuition law, makikita niya ang pagdagundong at paglabas ng libo libong mag-aaral ng SUCs kapag natuloy ito,” said Benedicto.

[Diokno should know that if the free tuition law is removed, he will see the rumbling and walk-out of thousands of students from SUCs]

It has been six years since the Free College Education Law or R.A. 10931 was enacted with more than 1.6 million graduates in 2022 who enjoyed a free college education.

On MROTC, campus militarization

Student protesters lambasted the railroading of Mandatory ROTC in the guise of National Citizens Service Training (NCST) which already passed in Congress last December 2022.

According to them, heightened military presence in schools alongside the dangers of red-tagging and surveillance threats among progressive students will take effect should MROTC be legalized.

In TUP Manila, Ivan Punzalan shared the chilling effect that the “fear-mongering” post of Relissa Lucena from Hands Off our Children and the mother of activist Alicia Lucena, caused to student leaders since last year.

Lucena mocked a picture of the Kampi Party having a clenched fist and insinuated that a “new organization” linked to the communist movement was formed.

“Her usual red-tagging posts not only create terror but also endanger the lives of Kampi Party who only wish to run in student council and push for a pro-student and pro-people student council,” said National Union of Students of the Philippines NCR in a statement.

Kabataan Partylist representative Raoul Manuel expressed support for the recent pronouncement of United Nations Special Rapporteur Dr. Ian Fry on the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“Napapanahon na, nananawagan din tayo sa ating mga kasamahang mambabatas na tanggalan na ng pondo ang NTF-ELCAC dahil walang ibang dinulot ito kundi kapahamakan at pagpatay sa mga environmental defenders at volunteers,” said Manuel.

[Now is the time as we also call on our fellow legislators to defund the NTF-ELCAC because it has caused nothing but destruction and killing of environmental defenders and volunteers]

Meanwhile, in UP Manila, students expressed concerns about the security implications of the agreement between the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) signed last May 10.

Such an agreement aimed to enhance dental education for both civilian and military dentists within the AFP through specialized training provided by the UP College of Dentistry (UPCD).

Students averred that the agreement might pave the way to increased interventions by the armed forces within the university campus.

On abstain, 50%+1 vote in UP Manila

“Ang abstain ay hindi tunay na boto ng estudyante,” said Sulong UP Manila chairperson Alec Miranda.

[The abstention is not a genuine student vote]

It was during the 2018 UP Manila General Elections that the use of “abstain” as a candidate gained prominence led significant difficulties in student representation upon reaching the required 50%+1 threshold for councilor positions.

This resulted in only two councilor positions being filled, despite a full slate of candidates. The subsequent 2018 UP Manila Special Elections and the 2019 UP Manila General Elections also faced challenges, with key positions remaining vacant, hindering the USC from effectively carrying out its functions.

“Nagiging balakid ito sa paglalatag ng malakas at kumpletong konseho na siyang nagtatayo at haharap para sa mga isyung kinakaharap ng sangkaestudyantehan. Hindi naman talaga pagtatanggal ng demokratikong karapatan ang pagtatanggal ng abstain. Sa totoo nga, ipinalalakas pa nito ang demokrasyang mayroon tayo,” Miranda noted.

[This becomes an obstacle to the establishment of a strong and complete council that builds rapport and deals with the issues facing the student body. The removal of abstention is not really a removal of democratic rights. In fact, it further strengthens the democracy we have]

According to Miranda, abstain and the 50%+1 threshold have led to incomplete councils and thus hindered effective student representation with adverse impacts on organizing campaigns and providing services to students. He added that without safeguards ensuring seat fulfillment, the issue will only compromise student representation at UP Manila.

On Return Services Agreement in UP Manila

Miranda further elaborated on their issues regarding the Return Services Agreement (RSA) and the impending threat to repeal the Free Tuition law.

According to Miranda, RSA is a new and extreme form of commercialization in education.

Thirteen years since the RSA implementation, students who have accumulated 60 units in university are required to reside and work in the country for a minimum of two years. Those who fail to fulfill the program requirements, leading to a breach of contract, must render payment as an option. 

Consequently, this arrangement has prompted some students to continue in their degree programs even if they are struggling or lacking interest. Others choose to enroll in fewer courses than the standard load each semester to avoid reaching the 60-unit threshold, while some opt to drop out of school.

On Wellness and Recreational Program (WRP) in FEU

While the WRP curriculum was revised during the academic year 2022-2023, it continues to be a burden among FEU students, protesters said.

The WRP has been implemented in FEU since 2018 serving as the university’s Physical Education (PE). Under this program, students can choose specific classes based on their preferred activities, comprising a mix of indoor and outdoor options.

However, starting this year, students clamored about the fixed schedules for WRP. According to them, it would only allow students to book one activity per week to meet the 20-hour requirement. Additionally, the WRP department provides community dance fitness sessions with 1.5-hour credit and occasional lectures ranging from 1.5 to 3 hours.

According to Pelayo, many students expressed confusion and dissatisfaction with the new WRP system implemented this semester following the updates on schedule, booking procedures, and vague policies that are unclear.

FEU students said the limited slots and activities available prompted them to book early in the morning, leading to inconvenience, lack of sleep, and safety concerns for those commuting from outside Manila. Additionally, the booking process for them is challenging due to the inefficiency of the PowerApps application causing faulty delays and errors

The overall situation raises concerns among FEU students, deeming as if WRP is really concerned about their well-being given its inconvenience coupled with their issue on tuition hikes, lack of facilities and instructors alongside heavy academic workloads.

In this regard, FEU students urged the WRP department to improve communication through a systematic and transparent approach to announcements.

“The goal is to create a more inclusive and adaptable wellness program aligned with the diverse needs of the student body,” said one student who wished not to be named.

International solidarity

UP Manila students wore ribbon-laced bracelets resembling the colors of the Palestine flag to express solidarity among Palestinian people and condemn the genocidal attacks of Israeli forces backed by the United States.

More than 11,000 Palestinians are slain, 4,500 of whom are children and around 1.6 million people have been displaced due to incessant aerial bombings in Gaza since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war against Hamas in October this year.

The West Bank and other communities are also being bombed, with reported incidents of extra-judicial killings (EJK) targeting Palestinian civilians, community raids, mass arrests, and detentions. Infrastructure, including hospitals and power sources/transformers, has also been damaged by Israeli bombings.

Meanwhile, League of Filipino Students UP Manila organizer Bryan Lara slammed the Marcos Jr. administration which voted “abstain” at the United Nations General Assembly that called for an immediate humanitarian truce between Israel and Gaza.

“Ang imperyalistang US na siyang sinusuportahan ng ating gobyerno ang sanhi ng libo libong pagkamatay sa mga bata at estudyante na katulad natin sa Palestine sa pagpondo at pagbigay ng armas nito sa Zionistang Israel,” said Lara.

[The imperialist US that our government supports causes thousands of deaths among children and students, like us, in Palestine by funding and providing weapons to Zionist Israel]

The Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MHESR) reported that there have been 439 people killed including 427 students and 12 academics or employees (85% of them in the Gaza Strip) while nine of the 11 higher education buildings were damaged in Gaza and two in the West Bank.

Furthermore, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a child is killed on average every 10 minutes in the Gaza Strip adding that “nowhere and no one is safe.”

According to Lara, the Marcos government should be held accountable as it turned a blind eye to the genocide in Gaza while continuing to buy weapons from Israel.

The Philippines is the third-largest buyer of weapons from Israel amounting to $275 million behind India and Azerbaijan. The country is also the only Southeast Asian nation not joining the 120 countries supporting the UN resolution.

Lara said the armed resistance among Palestinians is indifferent to the Philippines waging its revolutionary war against US imperialism and compradors for more than five decades.

Even Manila court Judge Marlo Malagar-Mendoza affirmed that the armed conflict between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines – New Peoples Army (CPP-NPA) is rooted in the historic and decade-long struggle of social classes. That is to say that the CPP-NPA is not a terrorist organization as accused by the Philippine government alongside its military forces and the NTF-ELCAC.

Protesters further stressed the need for the continuation of peace talks to address and resolve the roots of armed conflict in the Philippines.


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