UPLB Feb Fair back on-ground; binds up calls for education, democratic rights

This year’s protest fair highlights the strength of ‘bigkisan’ in collective sectoral movements opposing anti-democratic policies.

Words by Saulo Paul Bautista

After two years of strict lockdown protocols, UPLB February Fair 2023 is now back at the D.L. Umali Freedom Park (FPark) after being held online due to COVID-19 pandemic.

(RELATED STORY: Due to pandemic, UPLB Feb Fair goes online

For its 51st edition held last February 14-18, February Fair remained true to its roots, focusing on the central theme of “BIGKISAN: Pagkakaisa para sa Tunay na Kalayaan, Kapayapaan, at Katarungan”. This year’s theme highlights calls and campaigns for inclusive education, democratic, and human rights.

In a Facebook post, the 5-day event organized by UPLB All Student Councils’ Assembly (ASCA)  “aims to reclaim genuine unity, emphasizing the strength of bigkisan or human chain in mobilizations against police barricades.”

Each day served as an avenue to register calls and advocacies on issues faced by students, farmers, workers, women, LGBTQIA+ community, and other sectors.

Marking the return of the so-called ‘shawarma avenue,’ over a hundred booths and food stalls, in partnership with concessionaires and organizations, were installed along FPark. Meanwhile, a handful of carnival rides and attractions are also situated along the Mariano M. Mondoñedo Ave. 

Feb Fair attendees gathered in booths situated along the FPark grounds
Photo from Jeaver Aoanan

The event was also headlined by Filipino mainstream and indie artists and bands. These include UP Silakbo, who composed and performed the official theme song of UPLB Feb Fair 2023 “Bigkisan,” Any Name’s Okay, Bita and the Botflies, Cup of Joe, HEY JUNE!, Martti Franca, Pordalab, Syd Hartha, and The Ridleys. Meanwhile, Moonstar88, Ang Bandang Shirley, Plagpul, and Autotelic made their comeback as they also performed in the event.

On championing academic freedom

Faced with challenges of transition from distance learning to in-person learning, UP budget cuts, urgent passing of National Civil Service Training Program (NCSTP) bill in Congress, campus militarization and massive red-tagging, #FirstDayFight marked the beginning of the first day of Feb Fair. 

(READ: Students, faculty register last semester’s struggles, oppose MROTC)

Held during the first week of classes of every semester, #FirstDayFight aims to register calls  for a safe, free, affordable and quality education, as well as efficient student services. Last February 14, students, faculty, and various sectors gathered at the Carabao Park and marched through Freedom Park during the protest. 

UPLB students and different sectors continued the First Day Fight protest at the Freedom Park
Photo from Archie Bergosa

Present in the event is UP Student Regent (SR) Siegfred Severino, who stressed that UPLB February Fair maintains its essence as a platform for protest to register calls of every sector in the country.

With the first day theme, “RIGHT TO EDUCATION: Bigkisan ng Kabataang Lumalaban para sa Inklusibong Edukasyon!”, SR Severino underscored the need to advocate education free from commercialized and anti-democratic education system.

This was further elaborated in an educational discussion regarding the education situation in the country during the R4E – UPLB-led ULAYAW: Iyong Kasangga para sa Ingklusibong Edukasyon [ULAYAW: Your Companion for an Inclusive Education] program.

Kayang gawing libre ang edukasyon. Kapag sinabi nating “free education”, dapat ito ay malaya at nakapagpapalaya. Ang gusto nating edukasyon ay makapagpapamulat sa mga mamamayan, makapagpapakilos, at makapagbabago sa opresibang sistema ng edukasyon,” Severino said.

(Education can be free. When we say “free education”, it should be liberated and liberating. The education we want should raise the consciousness of the people, allowing them to take action and to improve the oppressive education system).

Kabataan Partylist (KPL) Secretary-General Jianred Faustino also demanded to reassess the root cause of the students’ negative actions towards learning. These include the common narrative of complying requirements, instead of aiming for genuine learning, and the government’s misprioritization through budget cuts in SUCs. 

Meanwhile, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs (VCSA) Janette Silva expressed her office’s support for the calls made by organizations for #UPLBFebFair2023 and that her office is open for concerns. 

For Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, the University of the Philippines (UP) System faces a budget cut of P128.4M. This budget cut affects the capital outlays allotted for UP-PGH projects and services infrastructure projects across UP system, including the UP Los Baños Microbial Bank. Despite an increase in personnel services, calls for regularization of contractual workers in UP was rejected as plantilla items remained at 14,378

(RELATED STORY: UP budget increased by P2.89 billion, but Hospital Services Program suffers cut in 2022 national budget).

Aside from student concerns, UPLB faculty and staff alike share struggles in the current education system. ALL U.P. Academic Employees Union – Los Baños (AUPAEU-LB) Vice President Laurence Castillo called for an increase to the inadequate compensation of teachers and faculty amidst high inflation rate. It can be noted that they had been long experiencing delayed benefits and unsettled demands (READ: UP acad union discloses details on delayed benefits, unsettled demands of faculty, REPS). 

Calls for the rejection of MROTC amplified throughout the duration of the program, demanding for more pro-student initiatives.

During UPLB Jock’s “Rock United 2023” program, National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) Coordinator Joy Ann Caldo gave a situationer on State University and Colleges (SUCs) in Southern Tagalog, joining the calls of Day 1 Speakers in condemning the continuous budget cuts and the pressing of the NCSTP bill.

Giving way to campus militarization, NCSTP Bill aims to replace the National Service Training Program (NSTP) that includes “citizen’s soldier training” in the first two years of college as a requirement to graduate. The bill, regarded as “ROTC in disguise”, has received opposition due to supposed violations of academic freedom.

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

On defending democratic and human rights

Day 2 of Feb Fair centered on the theme, “LGBTQIA+ AND WOMEN: Bigkisan ng Kababaihan at Komunidad ng LGBTQIA+ para sa Patas na Karapatan!”

The second day of the fair kicked off with UPLB Babaylan-led Pride March in the lower campus participated by progressive groups and individuals. Included in the calls they uphold are their advocacies on the urgent passage of SOGIESC Bill, strong opposition to MROTC, asserting peasants and farmers’ rights, justice to illegally arrested members of LGBTQIA+ community illegally, and calls for the church to support their fight against gender discrimination.

Southern Tagalog Pride, Gabriela Youth – UPLB (GY – UPLB), Youth Advocates for Peace and Justice – UPLB (YAPJUST – UPLB), Lakapati-Laguna, KPL, PANTAY, and Irish Magtibay are in consonance with LGBTQIA+ community in supporting for their rights and condemning the injustices and human rights violations to their community.

Audiences’ attention were drawn by the drag queens in the “Drag On! Resist and Transcend” program, spearheaded by the LGBTQ+ support group organization UPLB Babaylan. Bahaghari Chair Reyna Valmores expressed sentiments on the integration of politics into drag, encouraging people to strengthen their calls for the urgent passage of SOGIESC Bill.

SOGIESC Equality Bill aims to advocate inclusion, non-discrimination, and non-violence with regard to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC).

SOGIESC bill principal author and sponsor Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who also graced the program, maintained and renewed her support on the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill.

“Let’s keep on fighting this together in as many spaces as we can. Mabuhay kayo, mabuhay ang Pilipinas,” Hontiveros said in a video message.

LGBTQIA+ community aside, the women’s sector was also featured through Women Against Repression (WAR) Show 2023 organized by GY – UPLB. Addressed by women-led progressive groups zeroing in on labor discrimination and prejudicial treatment, the WAR Show discussed the inequality in the women sector.

Gabriela Youth – UPLB took centerstage for the WAR Show 2023
Photo from Michael Ian Bartido

With the theme, “PEASANT AND WORKERS: Bigkisan ng mga Magsasaka’t Manggagawang Umaalpas sa Sistemang Mapagsamantala!”, Feb Fair Day 3 lies at the heart of peasant and workers’ struggles.

Systemic issues on economic, transportation, environment, massive red-tagging and human rights violations on all fronts were given a limelight, as they were spieled off by Southern Tagalog (ST) mass organizations. 

Vertudez “Daisy” Macapanpan took to the stage to call on #StopKaliwaDam, highlighting threats on Sierra Madre and nearest river systems, after she was illegally arrested by state forces last June 2022. 

(RELATED STORY: Mga progresibo at makakalikasang grupo, patuloy na nananawagan sa paglaya ng inarestong environmental defender

The threat of destruction of the environment remains present as the railroading of the Kaliwa Dam project takes place. This led to more than 300 farmers and indigenous people from Gen. Nakar, Quezon to march their way to Malacañang to show their strong opposition against the project. Meanwhile after a strong opposition by the locals, Sibuyan residents won against Altai Philippines Mining Corporation (APMC) following DENR’s suspension of their illegal mining ops through a Cease-and-Desist Order.

Tributes also poured in for John Carlo “Ka Yugo” Alberto who was brutally murdered by the state on February 14, 2019. 

Pivoting on campaigns against tyranny and injustices, Day 4 of Feb Fair laid emphasis on the theme, “PEACE AND HUMAN RIGHTS: Bigkisan Laban sa Tiraniya’t Inhustisya para sa Kapayapaan batay sa Katarungan!”, with Atty. Luke Espiritu and Kabataan Partylist Representative Raoul Manuel who lambasted the developments on MROTC Bill.

“Ang pagmamahal sa bayan ay ‘hindi dapat nadidiktahan.’ [Maraming tumututol sa] isinusulong ngayon na MROTC dahil hindi lamang sa pamamagitan ng bulag na pagsunod ang pagpapakita ng pagmamahal sa bayan,” Hon. Manuel added.

Hon. Raoul Manuel forwarded calls against tyranny and injustices during Day 4 of Feb Fair
Photo from Michael Ian Bartido

(Love for the country is ‘not dictated.’ Many opposed the MROTC because love for the country is not only shown through blind obedience).

Sharing the same sentiment on MROTC Bill, Lorraine Garcia of Youth Movement Against Tyranny – Southern Tagalog (YMAT – ST) also shared that the conduct of February Fair 2023 is a historic feat in light of a Marcos-Duterte Administration.

On advocating good governance 

In the face of a Marcos-Duterte tandem, renewed calls on good governance were amplified by Southern Tagalog progressive groups urging people to join forces for a militant action on the last day of Feb Fair focusing on the theme, “ANTI-MAD: Bigkisan ng mga Mamamayan sa Pagtindig Laban sa Tambalang Marcos at Duterte!”

Martial Law survivor Boni Ilagan of Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) took part in the event refuting the Marcos legacy, through a recorded video message,  that he then described as “one pure legacy of greed and tyranny” kept alive through disinformation and historical distortion. 

Kyle Salgado of BAYAN – ST reminded the attendees that no one took responsibility for the plunging economy.

“Kailangang pag-usapan na ang kasaysayan ng Pilipinas ay kasaysayan ng iba’t ibang pagaaklas,” the student leader said.

[We need to elaborate that the history of the Philippines is a history of revolts.]

YAPJUST – UPLB launched a prop-action on the stage rejecting the illegitimate Marcos-Duterte regime.

Progressives from different sectors linked arms as a manifestation of this year’s theme “Bigkisan”
Photo from Aubrey Beatrice Carnaje

KARAPATAN – ST Interim Chairperson Edwin Egar reflected on the violence in Southern Tagalog due to absence of peace during the Marcos-Duterte regime.

“Ang pagiging militante ang dudurog sa mga demonyo sa ating bayan gaya ni Marcos at Duterte,” Egar shared.

[A militant action will put down the villain in our society in the likes of Marcos and Duterte.]

Amidst the heavy rains at the latter part of the event, UPLB USC Chairperson Gean Celestial concluded the 5-day protest fair reiterating the advocacies forwarded through the entirety of the event.
Began as a protest fair in 1972 against the Marcos Sr. dictatorship, Feb Fair serves as a platform to register calls for struggles of every sector in Southern Tagalog and as an avenue to urge people to collectively oppose anti-democratic policies of the government. [P]

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