CRACKDOWN ON CAMPUS? | Removal of PUP student regent, student paper ‘takeover’ spark row

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PUP students have been active in anti-government protests, such as this one in Mendiola on Sept. 21, showing 'Rudy's Cube,' an effigy with the faces of President Rodrigo Duterte, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and a puppy (File photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)

MANILA – (UPDATED, 7:40 PM) Student activists and organizations at the state-run Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Manila are reporting a “wave of attacks” on democratic rights, which they describe as “tyrannical” and “Marcosian,” but the school president has refuted the allegations point by point.

Among the alleged administration actions they are raising alarm over:

• Removal of the student regent,replaced by an “admin-appointed representative”

• The shuttering of student offices and “tambayans” and the takeover of campus publications

• Suspension of student council elections

• Imposition of new fees, and a mandatory uniform policy

• Deployment of police forces on campus

They are pinning the blame on PUP President Emmanuel De Guzman, according to the youth alliance Anakbayan, which claims a membership of 20,000.

Anakbayan noted that PUP students had led the recent youth protests vs the “US-Duterte regime” which called for an end to Martial Law in Mindanao and a stop to extrajudicial killings.

Leaders suspect they are being targeted by Malacanang, through the PUP administration, in an attempt to frustrate the growing protests against Duterte, according to Anakbayan.

Student regent’s case

On the first accusation, PUP President de Guzman said categorically, “We didn’t remove [the student] regent,” Karl Paulie Anareta, who it turned out had not been enrolled for one year, and was therefore disqualified from holding on to that post. RA 8292, the law creating the Commission on High Education (CHED), provides that when a regent loses his/her status as student, he loses the regent’s post, de Guzman pointed out.

“They hid the fact he wasn’t enrolled,” said de Guzman in a telephone interview with InterAksyon. Besides, Anareta’s term as regent had ended last March 2017, he added.

He denied that the administration had installed the new regent who replaced Anareta.

The Anakbayan had claimed that the administration had “removed the elected student representative to the board of regents, Karl Paulie Anareta. A few weeks ago, Anareta was banned from attending a committee meeting and instead was replaced by administration-appointed student representative Elijah San Fernando.”

Last weekend, the PUP administration allegedly funded some student groups to convene what Anakbayan described as a “bogus student federation congress to pre-empt the congress being called by the ANAK-PUP executive committtee.”

ANAK-PUP is the student body mandated to select the student regent in its congress. The administration is barred from intervening in the selection process.

De Guzman said that the administration did not interfere in the selection of Anareta’s successor. He said the new regent brought results of the election to their board (the student council), and 25 out of 35 members of the council voted for the new regent.

Anak-PUP, he said, apparently didn’t call for elections and “were delaying the process (six months late)” because “they knew they would lose.”

Student facilities renovated

On Tuesday, Anakbayan claimed, the administration closed the Gabriela Silang Hall, a building intended for student activities, and the student offices in various colleges, despite the opposition of various groups. Security officers allegedly forcibly removed students from the offices. Activists have likewise been banned from campus, said Anakbayan.

“The campus security personnel nailed the doors shut, forcibly removed the students and threatened that they will be arrested and brought to the police if they try to assert their rights. Activists are being threatened of expulsion,” said Rejhon Modesto, president of Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Konseho ng Polyteknikong Unibersidad ng Pilipinas (ANAK-PUP).

De Guzman refuted the “padlocking” allegation. “We ordered the renovation of the Unyon ng Mag-aaral to expand space; it was finished 3 months ago and we laid down a process for who can occupy these spaces. Temporarily, umalis muna lahat, hindi lang ang SAMASA [Everyone, not just SAMASA, had to leave the place temporarily].”.

He said SAMASA is welcome to use the renovated student union building as long as it complies with the same processes as everyone else.

In fact, de Guzman pointed out, Anareta’s group had, for the longest time, been actually staying in another building – the Gabriela building, which is quite far from where most students gather and attend classes.

The building was reportedly built with funds from the then Gabriela party-list representative, but should not be limited to Samasa or Gabriela members, de Guzman said.

Anareta was staying for days at the Gabriela building, with “outsiders” except for one person, and several senior high students who were no longer enrolled.

Parents of the senior HS students had complained (17 yrs old) their children didn’t want to go home anymore, he added.

No policeman on campus; no student touched

When the students went to Mendiola for the Sept. 21 rally, authorities padlocked the Gabriela building; but by nightfall, they forced open the doors and refused to vacate the place, according to de Guzman.

Tuesday night, the security guards went to the Gabriela building, found one girl and two boys, and asked them to leave the area. The students moved to the Main Building, left their stuff there, and said “hindi rin sila aalis dun” [they’re not leaving the place].

Not a hair of the students was touched, de Guzman stressed, and swore, “no policeman was called in. Kahit isang pulis walang pumasok sa campus”.

What school paper takeover?

The PUP administration had also ordered the takeover of campus student publications through an administration office called Student Publication Section, which will control the funds, printing, distribution, administration and editorial policies of the newspapers, Anakbayan claimed.

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) assailed this move as an attack on campus press freedom and democratic rights.

On the allegation that the administration “took over” the student paper, De Guzman said the administration simply revived the Student Publication Office (SPO), to process the selection of writers. The idea was to get more qualified writers, and lift what he described as a cliquish nature of selection that had gone on for the longest time, thus putting the paper – The Catalyst – in decline, unable to come out with issues, and publishing mostly political stuff and not the usual well-rounded content of a typical campus paper.

De Guzman said the move was “not to suppress rights,” adding that he was editor in chief of The Catalyst from 1989-1990)and has been defending the paper’s independence.

However, he rued, the SAMASA had controlled the paper purely for political and “ideological” and no longer called for examinations to select qualified students writers. “They just picked from their own.”

“Wala nang tumutula, wala nang space for investigative journalists, sportswriters ….nawala yung tutoong essence ng paper.”

No new fees, no uniform imposition

Student groups said the administration wants to continue fee collection schemes in campus despite the passage of the free tertiary education policy.

“They have collected tuition fees and other school fees despite the prohibition. They collect dubious fees like energy fees, exam fees, and facility rental fees. The administration wants to implement a mandatory uniform policy for senior high students which will cost about P800 per set. They also want to implement mandatory drug testing ang ROTC. To implement these and other rackets, they attack student organizations opposing these,” he said.

Groups had previously questioned the PUP administration’s alleged keeping of some P300 million collected from students.

De Guzman took issue with the accusation his administration had imposed new fees and made wearing of uniforms mandatory.

“Since i became president, I did not invent any fees. I even brought down the Student Information System fee— from P250 to P225. “Lahat ng uniforms ginawa kong voluntary.”

Students see a grander political angle in the alleged crackdown at the PUP’s Manila campus. They say the move “is a desperate effort to frustrate campus protests and terrorize students fighting the US-Duterte fascist regime.”

Students note that last August, as multisectoral groups launched the Movement Against Tyranny, truckloads of anti-riot police were deployed in PUP in anticipation of mass protests. This was unusual, they said, because no activity was being held in PUP at that time.

“We believe Malacañang and its agents are behind these attacks aimed at terrorizing Iskolars ng Bayan. They are terrified by the growing youth movement calling for an end to tyranny, dictatorship and fascist rule. If the Duterte and minions think they can scare us, they are dead wrong,” Anareta’s group and Anakbayan said.

PUP students are calling for big nationwide campus protests this week against “repression and fascism.”