Words by Mark Angelo Fabreag
Meanwhile, UP Solidaridad proposed a time-efficient deliberation, suggesting to merge the originally-crafted 28 resolutions.
Amidst the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, student councils from all UP campuses convened online to address university and national issues in the 51st General Assembly Student Council (GASC) from August 31 to September 1.
Composed of 54 UP student councils, GASC was formed when the Codified Rules for Student Regent Selection (CRSRS) was first established in 1997. It is chaired by the Student Regent (SR), the sole representative of around 60,000 UP students to the Board of Regents (BOR).
In the Office of the Student Regent (OSR)’s semestral report, 38th SR Renee Co highlighted how the previous GASC – during which student councils approved eight resolutions – amplified the calls for the safe reopening of classes, strengthened unity against the oppressive regime, and intensified the fight against the state’s red-tagging.
(RELATED STORIES: 8 resols approved; councils, SR share term reports in 50th GASC and Renee Co is new SR)
“We sought to defend academic freedom and the university came through the Joint Statement of Sectoral Regents and Unity Statement of UP Student Councils and Regents,” Co said during her report.
28 resolutions were originally crafted entering the 51st GASC. However, UP Solidaridad, the university’s systemwide alliance of student publications and writers’ organizations, sent a letter to the OSR and student council alliance KASAMA sa UP, suggesting to merge the proposed resolutions.
To respond to said time-efficiency concerns, the 28 originally-crafted resolutions were reduced to 15 standalone and five merged resolutions. The student councils then proceeded to formulate and approve the resolutions, centered on campaigning for safe and effective education, on fighting for democratic rights, and on intensifying calls for a more effective government response during the pandemic.
A state of medical emergency
UP Diliman (UPD) College of Home Economics Student Council (CHESC) highlighted in their proposed resolution that the implementation of a hard lockdown in the Philippines negatively impacted the economy.
Additionally, the council claimed that the financial assistance provided by the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act were merely “guised” as emergency reliefs, after a Department of Budget and Management (DBM) report revealed that P18.4 billion were unspent – a budget that could have funded more recovery programs.
Various student councils from UP Manila (UPM) expressed that instead of medical solutions, the Duterte administration has focused on militaristic approaches – choosing to appoint senior military officers on cabinet positions over scientists, public health professionals, and healthcare workers – not to mention that the very medical professionals are “overworked [and] underpaid”.
“Healthcare workers are overworked, underpaid, and subjected to unsafe working conditions; more specifically, they lack personal protective equipment (PPE), deal with hundreds of patients daily, work beyond the required hours, face delayed benefits, and receive insufficient hazard pay,” UPM student councils wrote.
In light of the said problematic responses and programs of the government, GASC passed Resolutions 2021-003 and 2021-020, respectively titled, “A Resolution Calling to Uphold the Economic Support & Relief”, and “Inclusive, Comprehensive, Responsive, Public Health Solutions against the Militaristic Approach of the Duterte Administration during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
(RELATED STORIES: ‘Pagod na kami’: Mga medical frontliners, hangad ang maayos na pagtugon sa pandemya, makatarungang benepisyo, at maagap na pagbabakuna and ‘Stop calling us modern heroes’: Health workers demand living wage, safer working conditions)
UPLB College of Arts and Science Student Council (CASSC) also urged the Duterte administration to pass a resolution focusing on economic welfare of Filipino families, instead of funding militaristic solutions during this pandemic.
“Sa UPLB, partikular ang Serve the People Brigade UPLB na talagang lumulubog sa mga masa, ay kitang-kita [ang] social economic distress ng mga Pilipino. It is high time that […] we pass a resolution for the Duterte administration to focus on relief for Filipino families, rather than focusing on militaristic solutions during the pandemic [In UPLB, particularly Serve the People Brigade UPLB that integrates with the masses, sees the social economic distress of Filipinos],” UPLB CASSC expressed during the assembly.
Condemning state attacks and harassment
Despite the persisting health and economic crises, UP Visayas (UPV) USC expressed that attacks on press freedom and the freedom of expression are also ramping up.
“The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and other state forces have continuously red-tagged several individuals, organizations, and institutions, which include journalists and campus publications who are critical in exposing the government’s atrocities,” UPD College of Mass Communication Student Council (CMCSC) wrote.
Intensifying the campaign for press freedom, GASC passed Resolution 2021-007 titled “A Resolution to Intensify the Campaign to Defend Press Freedom Against the All Out Attacks of the State to Suppress All Who Are Critical Of Its Administration”.
“It is only right to defend press freedom and be more militant in exposing the Duterte admin’s killings through the press, because the press is not there only to tell us stories [or] to inform people, but it’s there to let us remember [the atrocities]. They are there to help us remember the killings, the injustices, corruption, and the impunity that the Duterte administration has spread,” UP Cebu (UPC) USC added.
Meanwhile, CAS and College of Engineering and Agro-Technology (CEAT) SCs along with the UPLB USC authored a resolution focusing on the call to defend Southern Tagalog. Resolution 2021-004 was passed with the title “A Resolution for the General Assembly of Student Councils to Condemn the Attacks on the Democratic Rights and Intensify the Campaign to Defend Southern Tagalog”.
“E.O. 70 empowered the NTF-ELCAC to blatantly attack progressive organizations and individuals, which include baseless red-tagging, thereby endangering their lives and sending a chilling effect to other activists and student leaders, their friends, and families,” the author UPLB student councils wrote.
GASC passed more resolutions calling out the Duterte administration’s questionable programs. Approved Resolutions 2021-005 and 2021-006 were respectively titled “Resolution to Oppose and Expose the Adverse Effects of Duterte’s Build! Build! Build! Program and its Manifestations in UP”, and “A Resolution for the General Assembly of Student Councils to Demand Transparency and Accountability from the Duterte Admin for its Failure to Provide Accessible, Accurate, and Authentic Data and Info to the Filipino People.” (READ: What the Build! Build! Build! Program truly destroys).
Also in line with these advocacies is Resolution 2021-009, titled “A Resolution for the GASC to Launch a Campaign Urging the Government to Uphold Financial Transparency and Accountability and to Protect State Auditors.”
“Duterte’s declaration of a clean and transparent government and his promise to prioritize the passage and implementation of the freedom of information act are nothing but a vague bravado,” UPV USC condemned.
GASC also passed Resolution 2021-016, titled “A Resolution Urging the General Assembly of Student Councils for an Extensive Campaign to Prevent the Electoral Bid of Rodrigo Duterte and Allies by Promoting Critical Youth Participation in the 2022 National and Local Elections.”
“We have to justify na it is a fundamental right for students. It’s easier for students to fight and assert their rights,” UPD College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Student Council (CSSPSC) and UPD Law Student Government (LSG) explained.
Against academic adversities
More than a year after the Philippines recorded its first case of COVID-19, students continue to intensify calls for the safe and gradual reopening of classes.
In support of #LigtasNaBalikEskwela, UPC USC stated, “It is now time for us to return to our own schools to maximize facilities and resources [for us] to become more competent and effective individuals.”
GASC passed Resolution 2021-013 titled “A Resolution to Amplify the Campaigns for the Safe and Gradual Reopening of Classes and the Institutionalization of Academic Ease Amidst Pandemic,” which centers on protecting the academic rights of students.
“Students across different levels are experiencing difficulties in the remote learning setup such as failing to attend classes because of lack of sufficient gadgets and other resources,” the author UPD student councils wrote.
In line with the said resolution, GASC resolved to “establish a systemwide consultative and coordinating body to streamline its campaigns for safe, quality, and democratic education amidst the pandemic.”
(RELATED STORIES: UPLB USC reiterates demand for #LigtasNaBalikEskwela, calls for class postponement, vaccine plans; UPLB asserts that they are ready for physical classes, but CHED, IATF say no to F2F and Students petition for academic ease after a month of remote learning)
GASC also passed Resolution 2021-018, titled “A Resolution to Continuously Demand for the Adequate Allocation of Funds for the Education Sector and to Intensify The Campaigns In Forwarding The Emergency Student Aid And Relief Bill”.
In relation to this, UPC USC Councilor Ed Catium emphasized that “education is not a priority in the [proposed] 2021 budget.”
“[Mayroong] malaking budget cut sa UP, despite that PGH [Philippine General Hospital] relies on UP budget. Napupunta ang budget sa NTF-ELCAC, sa militar […] Education faced a chronic problem in budget shortage due to cuts in specific programs and items [There is a big budget cut in UP, despite how PGH relies on the UP budget. Instead, the budget goes to NTF-ELCAC, to the military],” Catium expressed during the assembly.
Last August 23, a P1.3-billion cut on UP’s budget was proposed by DBM, leaving only P20.1-billion to the university – P18.5-billion short of its proposal.
Meanwhile, recognizing the mental health challenges that students face during the pandemic, GASC passed Resolution 2021-014, titled “A Resolution Urging the University of the Philippines Administration to Institutionalize PsychServ and Establish Similar Initiatives across the UP System and Address the Underlying Social Issues of the Ongoing Mental Health Crisis in the University”.
In addition, Resolutions 2021-015 and 2021-019, respectively titled “A Resolution for the Institutionalization of Students’ Rights in the University of the Philippines” and “A Resolution to Intensify System-wide Efforts Against State Fascism and Establishment of UP Campuses as Safe Havens of Free and Critical Thinking” were also passed.
“UP campuses should remain a “zone of peace” where individuals can exchange ideas, discuss, and investigate social issues without the fear of political persecution and retaliation from the government,” UPLB SCs wrote (READ: ‘Hindi mali ang pakikibaka’: UPLB students push to keep campus a safe haven after alarming police presence in Brgy. Batong Malake, Los Baños).
Finally, Resolution 2021-001 was also passed. It is titled “Resolusyon na Naglalayong Pagtibayin ang Paggamit ng Wikang Filipino sa Panahon ng Pandemya at Pagbasura sa CHED Memo 20, s. 2013 [A Resolution aiming to strengthen the use of the Filipino language during the pandemic and the junking of CHED Memo 20, s. 2013]”. CHED Memorandum No. 20 removes Filipino from core subjects in college.
“Nararapat na ang mga kaalaman na pinapalaganap sa mamamayang Pilipino ay makamasa upang magampanan nito ang tunay na layuning bigyang-impormasyon ang mamamayan [It is just right that the knowledge being imparted to Filipino citizens must be for the masses, so that it can fulfill the real objective of informing the citizens],” UPD College of Arts and Letters Student Council (CALSC) wrote, expressing that the Filipino language can unite Filipinos amidst the worsening crisis.
Advocating for environmental welfare and agricultural sector’s rights
Besides being severely affected by the pandemic, Filipino workers have long been suffering under the “semi-feudal characteristic of Philippine society,” as expressed by UPLB College of Agriculture and Food Science Student Council (CAFSSC).
“The peasant class represent the majority of Philippine society, yet nine in ten peasant farmers are landless as a result of land grabbing, monopoly, and conversion, among other manifestations of present-day feudalism,” UPLB CAFSSC explained.
Responding to the local labor issues injected by feudalism, GASC seeks to support socio-economic initiatives of communities, to call for regularisation of contractual workers, and to demand genuine land reforms, passing Resolution 2021-012 titled “A Resolution to Amplify the Call Against Feudalism.”
In addition to this, GASC also passed Resolution 2021-017, titled “A Resolution Urging the General Assembly of Student Councils to Amplify and Mobilize for the Campaigns of the National Minorities for their Rights to Land, Life, and Self-Determination.”
“Under the fascist and oppressive Duterte regime, the plight of the national minorities is continuously suppressed under its dictatorship, and there exists an extensive history of abuse and oppression towards our national minorities,” UPD student councils wrote (READ: Panawagan ng mga Tagbanua, ibinasura ng DOT; operasyon ng mga Ayala sa lupain, kanselado and Indigenous to the land, second-class to the state)
Moreover, GASC also directed its calls for the protection of environmental welfare, passing Resolution 2021-002 titled “A Resolution for the 51st GASC to Intensify Campaigns For the Preservation, Maintenance, and Protection of the University of the Philippines Arboretum.”
The UP Arboretum is a 22-hectare botanical garden in UPD campus that has been cultivated since the 1950s, according to UPD student councils. The said arboretum is under Priority Protection Zone (PPZ) and Protected Forest Area, thus ensuring its preservation.
Being the “last urban rainforest in Metro Manila,” UPD student councils called for the cessation of harassment and intimidation from armed men in the said area. The construction of UP-PGH inside the arboretum threatens the loss of shelter and livelihood of nearly 600 community members due to demolition and forced eviction.
“The GASC will actively demand the UP Administration in preventing the commercialization of spaces in UP Diliman to further uphold their mandate of protecting the biodiversity and resources in the university, given that sustainable community cannot be attained by placing commercial establishments to urban spaces, which can only intensify unequal advantage of societies and only centralizes the aid to a limited number of citizens,” UPD student councils wrote.
Protecting the welfare of environmental defenders, GASC also passed Resolution 2021-011, titled “A Resolution Urging All Student Councils to Strengthen the Calls and Demand for the Security of the Environmental Defenders in the Country Under the Duterte Administration.”
“Land and environmental defenders have faced multiple threats and attacks for human rights violations, harassment, illegal arrests, and have been victims of red-tagging incidents, even before Duterte’s term,” UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources Student Council (CFNRSC) wrote, expressing that Duterte’s “fascist and macho-feudal” administration has worsened the welfare of environmental defenders.
Calling for government support on workers
Diving deeper into the workers’ situation, GASC passed Resolution 2021-008, titled “A Resolution for the General Assembly of Student Councils to Advocate for Entrepreneurship and Innovation by Supporting Local and Sustainable Businesses.”
UPD School of Economics Student Council (SESC) says that GASC should call on the government to continue to support small businesses that struggle because of the repeated lockdowns and inadequacy for a proper pandemic response.
Locally, the student councils advocated to answer the calls of UP’s contractual workers by passing Resolution 2021-010 titled “A Resolution Calling for the UP System to Regularize Contractual Workers and to Compensate them in a Just and Timely Manner”.
“The University of the Philippines has about 13,500 regular and contractual workers, including the 5,000 health workers at the UP Philippine General Hospital (PGH), the country’s largest COVID-19 treatment facility,” UP Diliman Business Administration Council wrote, emphasizing that the said contractual workers have been more financially challenged during the pandemic (READ: Hundreds of Jollibee subsidiary employees lose jobs amid pandemic and Nine Coca-Cola workers face harassment amid pandemic; workers alliance criticizes state forces’ intimidation).
“Dahil din sa budget cut na proposed sa UP, nangangambang hindi matutuloy ang pagre-regular sa mga trabahador na may tinatayang pangangailangan na budget na two billion… Makatwiran na palakasin ang panawagang #WalangIwanan dahil ito ay inclusive [Because of the proposed budget cut on UP, there will be a high chance that the regularization of workers will be cancelled for it will be needing a budget of 2 billion… It is a must to strengthen It is a must to strengthen the advocacy #WalangIwanan because it is inclusive],” UPB USC pointed out. [P]
Layout by Dayniele Loren