January 11 and 12 saw student councils from all across the UP system coming together for the 50th General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) to discuss campus, systemwide, and national issues, as well as selecting the 38th Student Regent (SR). Much like last year’s emergency GASC, this one was held online.
“Ang mga student council ay nagco-convene tuwing start ng semester para mag-discuss ng issues ng Filipino people, ng different campuses natin around the country. Dito rin nagca-craft ‘yung student leaders natin ng campaigns at advocacies na ica-carry out nila for their whole upcoming term,” Julianne Afable, former UPLB Perspective editor-in-chief, stated in a [P] Live interview last January 11, when asked of the function and importance of GASC.
Formed in 1997 when the Codified Rules for Student Regent Selection (CRSRS) were first crafted, GASC composed of the 54 student councils in the UP system. It is chaired by the SR, the sole representative of about 60,000 UP students to the Board of Regents (BOR).
Renee Co, the SR-select, stated that GASC “forges unities” among students, concerning the different issues that they face.
“Dito po tayo gumagawa ng shared responses na susundin po natin in the years coming forward,” she said.
Solidarity amidst challenges
Outgoing SR John Isaac Punzalan presented his term report to the body in the morning of January 11, after the agenda and house rules were approved without additional amendments.
His speech was centered on how UP is a university that brings hope to the country, because of the fight that it manifested for every student’s academic freedom, showing strong resistance against state forces intervening into university campuses.
“Our intensified #DefendUP campaigns created a big impact. Around 5,000 students under the UP system decided to go against this national threat. Even at a distance, we are strongly in solidarity when it comes to facing issues concerning our university and the nation,” he said.
Punzalan also mentioned how the UP community proved its role to serve the Filipino people through scientific advancements, humanitarian efforts, campaigns for medical and economic solutions, and protection of human rights.
“Naging komitment natin na samahan at lumaban kasama ang ating mga kababayan […] Nakakahanap tayo ng maraming paraan para maipanalo ang ating mga laban para sa ating mga kapwa estudyante,” he added.
Concluding his term report, Punzalan acknowledged the dedication and sacrifice of the student councils, citing that the students’ campaigns succeeded because of their service.
“Even though we had a lot of struggles, it is worth seeing how we were able to help the student body and the Filipino people at large. Sana…handa tayo [na] magsama-sama para paglingkuran ang bayan, para ma-fulfill ‘yung mandate na pag-asa ng bayan,” he said.
Heeding the constituents’ calls
Unit reports were then presented by each of the seven University Student Councils (USC). A common ground among the reports were the struggles that were faced by the students during the remote learning setup, brought by academic difficulties, digital divide, financial burden, and mental health issues, among many others.
“Napag-alaman namin na 4 out of 5 respondents [ang nagsabing] hindi conducive ang bahay for remote learning, [samantalang] 2 out of 5 students do not have access to stable internet, at 1 out of 5 ay walang laptop or smartphone to participate,” UPLB USC said in their unit report.
The USCs also raised how the current situation made it more difficult for organizations to act, with the difficulty of recruitment and consolidation of new members, as well as due to their lack of resources and policy implementation.
UPLB USC claimed that student councils themselves are “very undermanned”. UP Manila (UPM) USC asserted that their officers are experiencing fatigue, many of which resigned.
“Sila [the officers] mismo ay nag-u-undergo sa transition sa bagong mode of learning. Doble ‘yung pressure sa kanila,” UPM USC said.
On the matter of student publications, UP Diliman (UPD) USC discussed how those within their campus were underfunded, while also experiencing red-tagging and administration repression.
Amidst these challenges, however, the student councils initiated and took part in various activities that upheld student demands and heeded calls of the university constituents. Among these was the #WalangIwananUP campaign that petitioned the UP administration to end the semester and give a passing grade to all students.
“Tibayan ang hanay para sa libre, abot-kaya, at makabayang edukasyon sa gitna ng pandemya at sakuna,” UP Baguio (UPB) USC called for in their unit report.
Mobilizations, dialogues, and unity statements were also done by UP students, so as to intensify the calls for academic freedom and government accountability. Donation drives, aimed at assisting victims of recent calamities, were also spearheaded by UP organizations.
“Habang abala ang [Duterte administration] sa pag-rered tag, nangunguna ang mga estudyante sa pagtulong sa [kapwa] estudyante at sa mga komunidad, [dulot ng] criminal negligence ng Duterte administration. These are examples of student leadership in the line of fire,” SR nominee Francesca Adrienne Kapunan asserted.
In order to answer the aforementioned issues that the university system had faced in the past semester, the student councils then proceeded with the formulation of resolutions, centered on campaigning for safe and accessible education, and on calling for government response during the pandemic.
To overcome academic difficulties
Responding to the issues of academic difficulties brought by remote learning, the student councils formulated Resolutions 2021-001 and 2021-003, respectively titled “A Resolution to Intensify the Campaign for the Safe Reopening of Schools and to Urge the UP Administration to Heed the Call of its Constituents for Gradual Resumption of Face-to-Face Classes”, and “A Resolution Urging the General Assembly of Student Councils to Demand Quality, Compassionate, and Relevant Education Amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic”.
“The GASC shall intensify the struggle for quality, compassionate, and relevant education, even amidst the pandemic, through various means and campaigns,” UPD College of Education Student Council (CESC) wrote in lines 84-86 of Resolution 2021-003.
UPV SCs, on the other hand, wrote in Resolution 2021-001 that in campaigning for the safe reopening of schools, necessary measures must be applied, combined with adequate funding to provide schools with proper facilities, medicine, and sanitation personnel.
“Mahirap ang setup sa estudyante [ng] modular learning, pati na rin sa professors. Timely na ang discussion [with regards to relaunching] face-to-face classes, dahil sa [pagkakaroon ng] vaccine,” UP Baguio (UPB) USC asserted.
In addition, UPD CESC said that GASC must urge the government to allot sufficient yearly funding for Special Education (SPED), comprehensively stated in Resolution 2021-004, titled “A Resolution Urging the General Assembly of Student Councils to Demand for the Yearly Instatement and Proper Distribution of the Special Education Fund.”
UPD CESC wrote that “education is a right in which all persons are entitled to.” However, they said that the education sector has suffered greatly due to an already lacking support that was worsened by the pandemic. In turn, UPD CESC claimed that GASC must fight for the rights of PWDs, who must clearly be included in the policies made in the context of the remote learning setup.
To defend the country and demand accountability
Other approved resolutions seek to solve a wider scale of problems, such as defending the country from issues of red-tagging and militarization, as well as holding the government accountable for its failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
These were comprehensively discussed in resolutions 2021-002 and 2021-005, respectively titled “A Resolution to Launch a Systemwide Action to Defend the University and the Filipino People Against Red-Tagging, Intensified Militarization, and Fascism of the Duterte Administration” and “A Resolution Calling for the Immediate Response to the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic and for Holding the Duterte Administration Accountable for its Criminal Negligence.”
“The Duterte administration has intensified its attacks against the Filipino people’s struggle through its anti-poor and anti-people agenda manifested in implementing its pseudo drug-war that victimized the poor, and of its war against dissenters/opposition, that exposed the culture of impunity legitimized by the state,” UP Cebu (UPC) and UP Mindanao (UPMin) wrote in Resolution 2021-005, manifesting the need of GASC to assert to the UP system for a steadfast legal action against these attacks.
Also related to responding to these issues is the Resolution 2021-008, titled “A Resolution To Amplify The People’s Movement For The Junking Of The Anti-Terrorism Act Of 2020.” Herein, GASC resolves to “militantly arouse, organize, and mobilize in the communities”, upholding its power of uniting the masses against a fascist regime.
In Resolution 2021-005, GASC resolved to “call for the immediate medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic and reject neoliberal policies that [have] undermined our healthcare system”, citing the devolution and state neglect during the health crisis.
In addition to these, Resolution 2021-006 (A Resolution to Ensure and Maintain Genuine and Democratic Student Representation in Student Councils Across the University of the Philippines Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Worsening Political Climate in the Country) focuses on upholding student representation amidst the pandemic and worsening political climate.
“Student leaders must rise, declare and pledge its commitment to defend the people’s rights to land, health, livelihood, and education,” UPB USC wrote in their authored Resolution 2021-006.
Finally, following the onslaught of natural calamities in the past year, beginning with the Taal Volcano eruption, a series of earthquakes, and strong typhoons, GASC vowed to be at the forefront of lobbying for proper reduction of and response to these disasters.
This plan was detailed in Resolution 2021-007 (A Resolution for the General Assembly of Student Councils to Campaign for Pro-People Disaster Risk Reduction, Management, and Response Programs) which aims to campaign for research and projects concerning disaster, reduction, and response management (DRRM) programs.
“Be it resolved that the GASC continue spearheading regular information drives, relief operation programs, and rehabilitation projects, in order to provide a community-led response and live up to our mandate of providing genuine and militant service for the people, even and especially in time of disaster,” UPLB SCs wrote. [P]
[P] File Photo by Kristine Paul Bautista