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SCs approved 16 out of 19 resols in 54th GASC; tackles welfare of UP students, sociopolitical issues

With the participation of newly established UPOU USC, student councils campaign pro-student policies and oppose campus militarization in their resolution building

Words by Joshua Franklin Dula 

In three days, from February 2 to 4, student councils across the University of the Philippines (UP) System convened at UP Cebu for the 54th General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) to discuss University-wide concerns and national issues.

From the proposed 19 resolutions, 16 were adopted including two resolutions that were merged and one was tabled for the next GASC. The proposed resolutions aim to address concerns on the safety and welfare of UP students and nationwide concerns including human rights violations (HRV) among many others.

During the first day of the convention, Student Regent (SR) Siegfred Severino presented his report on pre-pandemic policies and campaigns for accessible education. This was followed by the report on the national situation by KABATAAN Partylist Executive Vice President and 38th UP SR Renee Co.

“We are [at] the forefront of the struggles for expanded social services and respect for student community rights and welfare. Patuloy ang ating pag-oorganisa at pag-aarouse para isulong ang free, quality, and accessible education… Education is not for sale, UP is not for sale, defend academic freedom”, Severino reiterates.

(We are [at] the forefront of the struggles for expanded social services and respect for student community rights and welfare. Continue to arouse and organize to campaign free, quality, and accessible education… Education is not for sale, UP is not for sale, defend academic freedom.)

Each UP campus delivered their unit reports, discussing various issues and campaigns specific to their respective campuses. Also, this year’s GASC acknowledged the first-time participation of UP Open University University Student Council (UPOU USC) with their calls for quality education among its constituents. 

The unit report of UP Los Baños with Chairperson Gean Celestial as the presenter, highlighted the local efforts made by student councils, their campaigns for the struggles of Southern Tagalog (ST) labor workers, and actions to denounce the nomination of former UPLB Chancellor Fernando Sanchez Jr. for UP Presidency.

In the middle of the national situation report, GASC delegates and student publications staged a protest to emphasize calls against the Mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (MROTC) and issues under Marcos Jr. ‘s administration. 

Last December 15, the House of Representatives passed House Bill No. 6687 or the National Citizen Service Training Program (NCST) Act during its third reading despite strong opposition from youth progressives.

(RELATED STORY: UPLB students mobilize to slam NCST Bill)

Towards a better University

Amid the current issues faced by the UP system, councils crafted various resolutions that aim to provide a quality and accessible education while ensuring the welfare of the students.

The calls for #LigtasNaBalikEskwela (LNBE) campaign were strongly forwarded during the 54th GASC. 

As the opening of classes for second semester is approaching, the board approved a resolution titled “A Resolution Urging the University of the Philippines Administration to Implement Full-Capacity Face-to-face Classes, Expand Basic Support Services, and Ensure a Humane, Accessible, and Appropriate Transition”.

This resolution urges the admin to implement full face-to-face (F2F) classes, in light of the release of the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA) Memorandum No. 2022-171, which states that all UP undergraduate courses will undergo Models 2 and 3 starting this February. 

From developments on the gradual resumption of F2F classes, an amendment was made which asserts to fight for 100% F2F classes. The fight for 100% F2F classes also includes the calls for implementation of academic ease policies, financial aids and grants, enough student spaces, among many others.

UPLB students faced struggles amid the blended learning mode implemented last semester. Many issues were left unresolved that need to be addressed for the upcoming semesters (READ: Upon return to campus, students raise concerns on Internet connection, limited spaces for blended learning). 

To further prioritize the welfare of students, two resolutions were approved by the board which calls for the prioritization of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences academic programs, and institutionalization of services for students with additional needs. 

These are Resolution 2023-004 titled “A Resolution on the Prioritization, Protection, and Additional Funding of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Academic Programs” and Resolution 2023-007 “A Resolution Calling for the Institutionalization of Services for Students with Additional Needs (SWANs) in Universities and in Other Educational Institutions”, respectively.

The former demands an additional budget to provide conducive learning spaces and equipment needed by the students under the said academic programs. As reiterated by UP Manila College of Medicine Student Council (UPM CMSC),  “We need to support the humanities and arts and social sciences in all aspects. The discriminative aspect ay dahil ayaw nila tayong manilbihan [sa masa] Dapat integrated ang ating kaalaman para sa pagbuild ng critical thinking skills”.

(We need to support the humanities and arts and social sciences in all aspects. The discriminative aspect is that they do not want us to serve [the masses]… Our knowledge should be integrated to establish critical thinking skills.)

Meanwhile, the resolution for SWANs promotes inclusivity and equal access for quality education to SWANs and urges the admin to create a safer University for disabled stakeholders by making all of the facilities PWD-compliant. 

The importance and lapses in mental health services were also discussed during the deliberation of the said resolution. Last June 2022, UPLB offered a student wellness subsidy program that offers a cash assistance of P7500 per semester for eligible and qualified students.

On the other hand, commercialization and privatization of UP land assets has been a persisting issue for years.  With this, Resolution 2023-001 titled “A Resolution to Intensify the Call Against the Commercialization and Privatization of the UP Land Assets” was adopted by the GASC.

This resolution calls for transparency of the UP administration plans for UP land assets, as documented in the Master Development Plan (MDP), and urges the newly selected UP President Angelo Jimenez to fight against the commercialization of UP lands.

In UPLB, Agro-Industrial Park (AIP) and Information Technology Park (ITP) are currently in the works, which are commercialized technology parks inside the campus. This raises concerns on student leaders due to the potential commercialization of the parks, instead of using them for the development of research in agriculture and food security. 

Hands off Students

Over the years, continuous campus militarization and red-tagging threats are being experienced by constituents across UP campuses.

Both resolutions adopted by GASC are under one umbrella. The first one is the Resolution 2023-002 titled “A Resolution to Oppose Intensified Campus Militarization and Collectively Defend Academic Freedom in the Country” to oppose all forms of campus militarization and to actively support demilitarizing campuses and defending academic freedom. 

In line with the abrogation of the Department of National Defense (DND) to the 1989 UP-DND Accord, there has been an increase in cases of state surveillance inside campuses.

(RELATED STORY: UP-DND Accord is unilaterally ‘terminated’: UP community strikes back with an indignation protest the next day). 

Police sightings near UPLB campus were also reported over the past years. Last December 2022, Los Baños police attempted to take the megaphone and halt the protest against Maharlika Wealth Fund. 

House Bill 6398 or Maharlika Investments Fund is a “sustainable national investment fund” that aims to strengthen investment activities for economic growth and sustainable development. Basically, the funds will be sourced from different government agencies, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) remittances, among many others. Progressives fear that this investment fund may be prone to corruption. 

In relation to this, the board also approved the proposed resolution by UPLB USC, titled “A Resolution on Urging the University of the Philippines Administration to Institutionalize the Safe Haven Resolution”. This resolution was crafted to push for the safety of progressives and human rights defenders on rampant attacks under the current regime. 

UPLB students continue to fight to keep the campus a safe haven, despite numerous threats and red-tagging schemes they experienced. An example of this is the red-tagging incident during an National Service Training Program (NSTP) webinar last April 2022 (READ: UPLB progressives condemn red-tagging in NSTP webinar; USC calls for ‘thorough review’ of lecture materials). 

UPLB Perspective, the official student publication of UPLB, was also red-tagged by 201st Infantry Brigade after releasing a news regarding the military disruption on a medical mission in Quezon province.

(RELATED STORY: Mga progresibong grupo, pahayagan, kinondena ang pag-red-tag, pagbulabog ng militar sa medical mission sa Quezon). 

The passing of House Bill 6687 or the National Citizens Service Training (NCST) Bill at the House of Representatives led to the adoption of Resolution 2023-006  named “A Resolution Calling to Oppose the National Citizens Training Program and Intensify Efforts Against the Threat of Mandatory ROTC in the University”.

With the anxiety brought by the opening of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Office inside UPB Campus, UPB USC mentioned the lack of Literacy Training Service (LTS ) and Civic Welfare Training Service (CWTS) in NSTP components, leaving students with no choice but to choose ROTC.

As of now, the SOGIE Equality Bill has yet to be passed. With that, a resolution entitled “A Resolution for the General Assembly of Student Councils to Strengthen the Call for a Gender-Inclusive University of the Philippines” was approved.

With the existing guidelines of the University in promoting gender equality, the purpose of the authors in crafting the resolution is to create a systemwide council that discussed GBV-related cases and strengthen the role of the university in empowering women and members of LGBTQIA+ community.

On sectors outside the University

The lack of concrete actions in resolving concerns about environmental degradation paved way for the adopted Resolution 2023-005 titled “A Resolution to Maximize System-wide Alliances and Efforts in Opposing Various Developmental Aggression in the Philippines”, which discusses how insufficient scientific consultations on developed projects lead to environment destruction. 

With this, the resolution aims to oppose all forms of developmental aggressions in the Philippines, as well as advocating for Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and environmental defenders rights who experience persistent attacks from state forces.

The construction of the Kaliwa Dam in Quezon Province has long been opposed by Dumagats due to environmental and cultural concerns. Environmental defender Vertudez “Daisy” Macapanpan was also illegally arrested last June 2022 with trumped-up charges. She is a staunch critic of the Ahunan Pumped-Storage Hydropower Project that is a potential threat to the environment and residents in Pakil, Laguna 

(RELATED STORIES: Government agencies rush negotiations on Kaliwa Dam construction; Mga progresibo at makakalikasang grupo, patuloy na nananawagan sa paglaya ng inarestong environmental defender).

“A Resolution for the General Assembly of Student Councils to Amplify Joint Efforts with the Labor Sector in Pushing for a National Minimum Wage, Decent Work, and their Right to Unionize” was also approved by the board. 

Two arrested development workers Dyan Gumabao and Armand Dayoha shared the struggles of labor workers and emphasized the importance of amplifying calls of the labor sector during their sponsorship speech.

In Southern Tagalog, labor unionists experience continuous harassment and surveillance from police and elements of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) ever since Anti-Terror Law was implemented in the country. 

In light of the campaign in upholding independent foreign policy and protecting the territorial rights of the Philippines, GASC adopted the resolution titled “A Resolution to Intensify the Campaign to Reject Imperialist Forces and to Hold the National Government Accountable in its Constitutional Mandate to Uphold an Independent Foreign Policy and Protect the Country’s Territorial Integrity and Sovereignty”.

Student councils also tackled the economic crisis faced by the country under the current administration. With this, the board approved Resolution 2023-011 named “A Resolution Calling to Expose and Oppose the Adverse Effects of the Proposed Maharlika Investment Fund”.

With the proposed House Bill 6398 or the Maharlika Investment Fund, councils cited the adverse effects of the bill to different sectors, as it might lead to tax burden and lowering peso value and power.

Ang kapal ng mukha nila para gamitin ang pera ng taong bayan.” a representative from UPB USC quoted.

Moreover, councils condemned the privatization of the transportation system and “profit-driven” urban planning that led to the transportation crisis in the country. With the adoption of resolution titled  “A Resolution for the General Assembly of Student Councils to Intensify its Campaigns on the Continued Oil Price Hike and the Occuring Transportation Crisis by Amplifying the Call for Pro-People Transportation Services and by Opposing Neoliberal Policies”, this urges the government to craft projects that favor the masses, backed with scientific consultations. 

Defending human rights 

One of the key resolutions in the 54th GASC is the resolution entitled, ““A Resolution to Call for the Immediate Junking of the SIM Card Registration Act and to Advocate for Greater Protection of Digital Rights and Data Privacy”.

The recently passed SIM Card Registration Law, which was vetoed by the past administration due to its “privacy concerns”, happened to be the first law passed under Marcos Jr. admin. This violates citizens’ rights to privacy data due to risk in data breaches and unauthorized access. Furthermore, the process with the registration is said to be exclusionary and anti-poor.

The said law might be used as a basis for red-tagging and censorship. This can then endanger the safety and security of progressive students, as highlighted with the closing manifestation of UPB USC.

UP Internet Freedom Network (UP INTERNET) is a UPLB-based organization that advocates free Internet and defends freedom of expression of students. 

(RELATED STORIES: Looming Martial Law; In search of a free internet). 

With the rampant red-tagging experienced by human rights defenders, the resolution titled “A Resolution Intensifying the Call Against Human Rights Violations and the Resumption of Peace Talks” was adopted, citing the incompetence of the current administration of plans for genuine peace talks.

The adopted resolution aims to tackle the importance of addressing the origin of armed struggle, instead of resorting to any forms of counterinsurgency.

In addition, the resolution pointed out certain individuals such as the current Department of Justice Secretary Boying Remulla and Lorraine Badoy for their blatant red-tagging, as it puts human right defenders and progressive groups in danger.

In line with the mentioned resolution, a resolution titled “A Resolution to Intensify Systemwide Efforts to Continue the Call to Free All Political Prisoners”, as proposed, and later on approved,  to address the continuous harassment and censorship towards journalists, progressives, and even political prisoners during Duterte and Marcos Jr. administration.

UPD USC’s manifestation challenges the board to amplify the campaigns of human rights defenders and show support to the families and friends of the political prisoners.

In celebration for International Human Rights Day last December 9, 2022, human rights worker and a political prisoner during the Bloody Sunday Massacre (BSM) Nimfa Lanzanas filed countercharges at the Office of the Ombudsman against the state for her illegal arrest during the said massacre.

(RELATED STORY: Hustisya at kalayaan, panawagang bitbit ng human rights defenders sa caravan para sa karapatang pantao).

Tabled resolutions

Meanwhile, a resolution titled “A Resolution Amending Resolution No. 2019-020 Entitled “A Resolution to Stop and Review the Return Service Agreement in the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM) and UPM School of Health Services” was tabled for the next year’s 55th GASC. This was proposed by UPM USC and other UPM SCs from “white” colleges, excluding College of Medicine SC. 

The proposed resolution petitions for a comprehensive review of the Return Service Agreement (RSA) and immediate halting of its implementation in UPM and its School of Health Sciences (SHS) units. RSA is an established contract wherein students taking programs related to health sciences are required to give service after graduating. The said contract was met with opposition due to its nature from being commercialized and coercive. 

However, UPM SHS Tarlac SC explained that terminating RSA will lead to the halting of operations in SHS units. They also noted the lack of consultation from UPM upon writing the said resolution. 

“We are offended with how this resolution is structured. This resolution has provided no provisional clauses,” UPM SHS Tarlac SC emotionally expressed.

In the end, the body approved the resolution to be further discussed in the next GASC. UPM SCs also assured that UPM SHS councils will be included in the consultation process of the resolution.

Regarding the funding for both debate teams and varsity athletes of the University, the board decided to merge the two different resolutions into one since both discuss the lack of moral and monetary support for both teams. This merged resolution was also tabled for the next convention. [P]

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