Words by Mark Angelo Fabreag
Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, this year’s UPLB February Fair, simply known as “Feb Fair” was celebrated virtually from February 24 to 26 through Facebook Live on the event’s page.
With the theme “BALIKWAS: Paglukso sa Landas ng Tunay na Kalayaan at Karapatan”, the three-day event focused on campus-wide campaigns such as academic freedom, democratic rights, and the national elections.
“Balikwas is a Tagalog word that means to turn suddenly to the opposite side or to suddenly rise from a lion position,” Gean Marie Celestial, convenor of Rise for Education Alliance – UPLB (R4E – UPLB) explained in her welcoming remarks. Balikwas would be a central theme for each day of the event.
Since September 1972, the Feb Fair has been hosted by the UPLB All Student Councils’ Assembly (ASCA). In their promotional letter, ASCA added that the event has been part of its mandate to develop social awareness and responsibility geared towards the development of a nationalistic spirit rooted in democratic principles within the university.
“The FebFair is composed of performances from local artists, booths of university organizations, and food concessionaires, which aims to provide entertainment to its attendees while giving light to social and political issues within and outside the university,” ASCA said.
Advocating for #LigtasNaBalikEskwela
The first day of Feb Fair last February 24 focused on the theme, “Bumalikwas para sa Ligtas na Balik Eskwela!: Ipaglaban ang libre, de-kalidad, at makamasang edukasyon para sa kabataan”, hosted by the University Freshman Council (UFC).
In the segment of sociocultural, sociopolitical organization Kapatirang Plebeians – UPLB Curia titled Razzmatazz XVIII, Student Regent (SR) Renee Co and Instructor Prof. Jethro Pugal of the UPLB Department of Humanities (DHum) tackled different perspectives and experiences of teachers and students amid the online learning setup.
SR Co pointed out that there is a need for every university and state college to campaign for #LigtasNaBalikEskwela to establish a “support system”.
“Kailangan na nating ma-establish ulit ang support system that gets us through education, ang mga kaibigan at mga organisasyon at iba’t-ibang miyembro ng academic community na sama-samang nagtutulungan para mapabuti ang isa’t isa at sa pangkalahatan,” Co expressed.
[“We must once again establish the support system that gets us through education, our friends, organization, and various members of the academic community that help each other for a better cause.”]
In exclusive interviews, UPLB students and faculty shared that they have been confronting the same challenges for the past two years of remote learning. They mentioned the difficulty of setting “boundaries” between studying and personal life amid the remote setup (READ: UPLB students, faculty confront persisting challenges 2 years into remote learning).
81 UPLB students have so far been approved for limited face-to-face (F2F) activities. These are students doing thesis work and laboratory experiments who need access to campus facilities (READ: 81 UPLB students approved for limited face-to-face activities).
Prof. Pugal emphasized that education is a “social event” that encourages mutual forms of learning.
“Ginawa natin ang edukasyon bilang isang social event. Ito ay hindi lamang isang tao na nagbabasa at natuto, ito ay isang taong natuto kasama ng kanyang komunidad dahil sa kanyang komunidad, at mas importante para sa atin sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas ang para sa ating komunidad,” Prof. Pugal added.
[“We made education a social event. It is not only limited to one person reading and learning, but it is a person learning with his community and because of his community, and more importantly for us in the University of the Philippines is to learn for our community”.]
Moreover, progressive rock band Plagpul was invited to perform. UP Guild of United Minds-UP Praefects also shared on the campaign of #LigtasNaBalikEskwela topic in their podcast called “Alpas”.
SAKBAYAN’s Show of Force, UP Jammers, Pordalab, and Kabataan Partylist were also invited to ignite the campaign for student rights.
“Ang nagpapanalo sa bawat laban natin para sa atin sa unti-unting pag-achieve sa isang tunay, libre, de-kalibre, at abot-kayang edukasyon ay ang masang estudyante,” said Jianred Faustino, fourth nominee of Kabataan Partylist.
[“The ones who champion our battles to achieve real, free, quality, and affordable education are the students.”]
Upholding democratic and human rights
The event’s second day last February 25 focused on the theme, “Bumalikwas laban sa diktadurya: Isabuhay ang mga Aral ng Batas Militar; Tutulan ang De-Facto Martial Law ng Pasistang Estado!”
The event was opened by Kyle Salgado, spokesperson of Karapatan Timog Katagalugan (TK), to commemorate February 25 for the modern human rights defenders.
“Iaalay natin ang araw na ito sa lahat ng mga nauna sa atin, na lumaban nang puspusan at hindi natinag ang paninindigan hanggang kamatayan – ang mga martir ng sambayanang Pilipino na ubos-lakas na nagsulong ng kapakanan at karapatan ng mga mamamayan,” Salgado emphasized.
[“We dedicate this day to those who came before us, who fought thoroughly and remained true to their principles until death – martyrs of the Filipino people who diligently fought for the welfare and rights of the people.”]
Salgado also manifested that February 25 is dedicated to all modern human rights defenders who continuously fight despite many repressions by the government.
Furthermore, gender equality and sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual characteristics (SOGIESC) campaigns were presented on the segment on UPLB Babaylan’s “Drag Den IV: Unite for Love.” The segment addressed the current issues experienced by the LGBTQIA+ community within and outside UP campuses. In relation to this, during the 52nd General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC), the body passed Resolution 2022-05 that campaigns for strengthening gender equality and individuality within and outside the university (READ: 52nd GASC intensifies calls for academic freedom, environmental protection).
Calling for democratic national elections
Odessa Garcia of Makabayan – Southern Tagalog (ST) opened the last day of the Feb Fair forwarding campaigns for nationalistic politics that represents the different sectors.
The last day of Feb Fair 2022 focused on the theme, ”Bumalikwas para sa patas at makabayang eleksyon! Isulong ang people’s agenda! Magkaisa laban sa dinastiya ng papet at pasistang Marcos-Duterte!”
“Ngayong panahon ng eleksyon, hamon sa atin na pumili ng mga makabayang lider na tiyak na magsisilbi sa mamamayang Pilipino. Sa tumitinding kagutuman, kawalan ng trabaho, kaibi-kabilang patayan, nararapat lamang na matamasa ng bawat Pilipino ang isang maayos na pamumuno na tiyak na mabilis na aaksyon sa kinakahaharap nating krisis pangkalusugan dulot ng COVID-19,” Garcia said.
[“Our challenge this election period is to vote for a patriotic leader who will surely serve the Filipino people. With the worsening hunger, unemployment, and killings, every Filipino must to have a good governance that will take action responsively specifically to the health crisis brought by COVID-19.”]
“Isko’t Iska 2022: Di lang bilog ang hugis ng pagbabago” tackled the importance of the upcoming national elections, and how it will manifest in the country’s current situation.
Moreover, the event also commemorates the sacrifices of slain human rights activists and educators Chad Booc and Kevin Castro, who both died at the hands of state forces.
Revolutionary and former student leader Castro was killed last February 21 by the 1st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Polillo, Quezon (READ: Students, rights groups honor slain revolutionary Kevin Castro).
Meanwhile, Lumad teacher Booc was among five individuals killed in New Bataan, Davao de Oro last February 24. While the 10th Infantry Division insisted that the victims were killed in an armed encounter, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Chief Information Officer Marco Valbuena said that the military’s claim is an “outright lie”. The local New People’s Army (NPA) unit in the area confirmed that no encounter happened in the area (READ: Lumad teacher Chad Booc killed by state forces).
In addition, Bayan Muna Partylist spokesperson Teddy Casiño tackled the country’s election issues that are usually reduced to choosing the “lesser evil”.
“The choice is between democracy and fascism; between good and bad, between going forward and going back. Ang tanong na lamang sa atin ay gusto na ba nating ibalik ang isinuka na natin 36 years ago at ipagpatuloy ang alam nating palpak at korap na pamamahala o baguhin ang lahat ng ito?” Casiño said.
[“The only question left for us is whether we want to bring back what we disgorged 36 years ago and continue the government that we know for its failure and corruption, or stand up to change all of these?”]
Furthermore, Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Teknolohiyang Panlipunan (STP- UPLB)’s “Oro Plata Porma” and UPLB’s Paglaum 2022 highlighted the calls of different sectors – from senatorial candidate Elmer “Ka Bong” Labog to various UPLB progressive organizations – to continuously campaign for human rights especially this upcoming elections.
The proceeds of the three-day long event will go to beneficiaries and contribute to the advocacies of Serve The People Brigade (STPB) – UPLB, which is the relief arm of the University Student Council (USC) that unites the UPLB community in extending its help to address the primary needs of various communities. [P]
Photo from UPLB February Fair / Facebook