Words by Alex Delis
As part of the second lockdown anniversary, various progressive youth sectors from Laguna mobilized in Los Baños last March 17, to echo their calls of ending the persisting problems brought by remote learning and the rise in fuel prices.
The mobilization was joined by UPLB University Student Council (USC), Samahan ng Kabataan Para sa Bayan UPLB (SAKBAYAN-UPLB), National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) Southern Tagalog, Kabataan Partylist – Laguna, League of the Filipino Students (LFS) UPLB, and Anakbayan UPLB.
To amplify the call for Ligtas na Balik Eskwela, the student and youth organizations emphasized the struggles experienced by the students in the current remote learning setup, including the difficulty in learning, increase in tuition fee, anti-student policies, and the oppression faced by students due to the effects of neoliberal education.
“Dalawang taon na ang nakalipas mula noong ipinasara ang ating mga paaralan sa Pilipinas. Ngunit, ito ay nagbunsod lamang ng mga kapalpakan sa ating sistema ng edukasyon, kung saan patuloy na nahihirapan ang ating mga estudyante sa sistemang remote learning na hindi inklusibo para sa lahat,” student alliance SAKBAYAN-UPLB wrote in their Facebook statement.
[“Two years have passed since the closing of schools here in the Philippines. However, this only triggered the failure of our education system, where students are continuously struggling under the remote learning set-up that is not inclusive.”]
They also pointed out the government’s lack of comprehensive plans for the gradual opening of face-to-face classes.
In UPLB, at least 81 students have so far been approved for limited face-to-face activities, which include graduating students, students who need to conduct theses and experiments, and students who need access to campus facilities (READ: 81 UPLB students approved for limited face-to-face activities).
Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act of 1998, also known as Oil Deregulation Law, allows oil companies to adjust fuel prices that reflects the oil price movements in the world market. This law lifts government control in oil-related activities such as pricing and trading.
As a result, oil prices continue to rise without the intervention of the government.
The youth groups emphasized that the oil price hike that was effective starting last March 15 will only bring suffering to drivers and low-income earners, as well as students.
With a symbolic prop action representing the situation of the students in the two-year remote learning set-up, the mobilization ends with a strong call addressed to the current administration for Ligtas na Balik Eskwela.
“Ngayon, naiipit na ang mamamayang Pilipino sa oras. Naiipit na ang kabataang estudyante sa pahirap ng online set-up na ngayon pa lamang tinutugunan ng rehimeng Duterte… Ngayon, panahon na kinakailangan nang wakasan ang dalawang taong pagdurusa. Kinakailangan na nating wakasan ang pahirap ng rehimeng Duterte. Kinakailangan nang wakasan ang paghihirap ng mamamayang Pilipino… Panahon na! Wakasan na ang dalawang taong paghihirap,” a mobilization speaker concluded.
[“Now, Filipinos are caught in between the constraints of time. Students are suffering from the difficulty of online set-up, which the Duterte regime is only beginning to address now… Now is the time to end this two-year hardship. It is necessary to end the suffering inflicted by the Duterte regime. It is necessary to end the suffering of the Filipinos… Now is the time! Let our two-year suffering be completely put to an end.”]
Two years of academic struggles
Among the many problems experienced by the students in this current online set-up, the speakers highlighted the increasing number of drop-outs in schools and universities during the pandemic.
Data from the Department of Education (DepEd) shows that almost four million students were not able to enroll last academic year.
“Napakaraming estudyante ang mas piniling tumigil sa pag-aaral. Mas piniling magtrabaho na lang muna at sustentuhan ang kanilang pamilya […] kaysa magpakahirap sa isang bulok na sistema na mas pinapaboran lamang ang mayayaman,” UPLB USC Chairperson Siegfred Severino expressed.
[“Numerous students chose not to continue their studies. They chose to work to sustain the needs of their families […] rather than suffer in a failed education system that only favors the privileged.”]
He added the increasing number of UPLB students who filed leave of absence (LOA) last academic year due to the difficulty in keeping up with the demands of online classes (READ: UPLB colsec numbers show that LOA, dropped cases up between 2 sems of 1st online acad year).
Aside from this, the mobilization also tackled how the increase in tuition fee significantly drives drop-out cases. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) permitted 56 private higher education institutions (HEIs) to increase tuition fees and other school fees for Academic Year 2021-2022 amid the pandemic.
With this, the student sector demands the safe reopening of schools by providing a proper roadmap and plans to make sure that no students will be left behind.
“Oh my gas, ang taas!”
A day before the second anniversary of lockdown, oil companies set their highest increase in the oil price – amounting to P7.10 per liter increase for gasoline, P13.15 per liter increase for diesel, and P10.50 per liter increase in kerosene. This marks the 11th straight week of oil price increases for this year due to the continuous surge of fuel prices in the world market.
Many jeepney drivers are distressed over this continuous price hike, saying that no money is being left given that their small income was largely spent on gas.
“Hirap na hirap na ang mga tsuper, hirap na hirap na ang bawat isa sa atin sa pagtaas ng presyo…,” a member of LFS UPLB emphasized.
[“The drivers are suffering too much, everyone of us is suffering in this increase in prices…”]
“Kapag sinasabi sa inyo ng gobyerno, ‘Wala kaming magagawa diyan sa [pagtaas ng] langis, maghirap na lang kayo.’ Papayag ba kayo no’n?” another protester added.
[“When the government tells us, ‘We cannot do anything amid the increasing price of oil, you just suffer.’ Will you just let them say that?”]
Progressive organizations and some government officials continue to demand for the suspension of excise tax and the junking of the Oil Deregulation Law, to heed the calls of drivers amid the fuel price increase. However, compromises were only made by concerned government sectors.
The House Committee on Energy approved a bill that seeks to amend the Oil Deregulation Law, focusing on institutionalizing the minimum inventory requirements for petroleum products.
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte approved the P200 monthly subsidy per household to the bottom 50% of Filipino families, which Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III proposed as a “solution” to the continuous oil price hike.
This small subsidy trying to match the rising prices have sparked outrage among progressive sectors who insist on termination rather than modifications to the law.
“Pero ano ang sagot ng gobyerno natin dito? 200 pesos na ayuda para sa ating mga jeepney drivers? Ano ang magagawa ng 200 pesos na ito? […] Mababayaran ba nila ang boundary ng mga sasakyan nila? Makakabili ba sila [drivers] ng gas?,” Kabataan Partylist 4th nominee Jianred Faustino reiterated during the mobilization.
[“But what is the administration’s answer to this issue? 200 pesos aid for our jeepney drivers? What can these 200 pesos do? […] Can it pay the rate of boundary in jeepneys? Will drivers be able to buy gas?”]
During the mobilization, the youth sector expressed their condemnation of the incessant increase of oil prices, citing the massive effects it brings on Filipinos’ lives. [P]
Photo by Ja Fuentes / Polo Quintana
Layout by Arianne Paas