By Abigail Zara
Progressive groups from University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman staged a protest at Palma Hall, Tuesday, condemning all fascist attacks under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
The groups also decried the University Council’s decision to reduce UP Diliman’s General Education units from 45 to 21 starting 2018.
Expressing their rage, the students slammed repressive government actions such as counter-insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan, the recent bombing operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Abra, and the eviction of urban poor groups from housing projects in Pandi, Bulacan.
“Daan-daan na mga mamamayan ang dini-displace sa kani-kanilang mga komunidad at ilan-ilan ding mga lehitimong aktibista at mga progresibong organisasyon ang kinukulong at dinadakip,” said League of Filipino Students (LFS) member Renz Pasigpasigan on Oplan Kapayapaan.
Also known as Development Support and Security Plan Kapayapaan, Oplan Kapayapaan is the AFP’s security strategy to supposedly reduce terrorist groups to a “minimal strength” within six months, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
In the same interview, AFP Chief General Eduardo Año said 51 battalions were deployed in Western Mindanao and parts of Central Mindanao to fight terrorist groups such as Abu Sayyaf, Maute Group, and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Contrary to its purpose, Oplan Kapayapaan is being used to spread fear among communities where communist groups express their dissent, said Pasigpasigan during the protest.
According to the LFS member, the program is intended to suppress those in the countryside who oppose the government and to breed terror within civilians as well to discourage them from joining the fight.
“Malinaw kung ano ang isinusulong ng ating administrasyon at rehimeng Duterte sa kasalukuyan,” Pasigpasigan said.
“Naghahasik siya ng takot sa hanay ng mga mamamayan para tayo ay tumigil sa ating paglaban, para tayo ay magpasupil,” he added.
The protesters also denounced AFP’s bombing operations in Malibcong, Abra , following a firefight between members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and the AFP on March 15.
A day after, Imelda Tabiando of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) confirmed that the AFP dropped 14 bombs over the town, causing a forest fire and the suspension of elementary and high school classes in the area.
A take over for rights
Student groups also condemned the recent eviction of urban poor groups from idle housing projects in Pandi, Bulacan.
Led by urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), thousands of homeless individuals from Taguig, Navotas, and Malabon cities occupied more than 5,000 unused units in Villa Elise, Pandi Village 2, Villa Louise, and Padre Pio housing projects in a campaign known as Occupy Bulacan on March 8.
Kadamay member Elizabeth Aguirre said in an Inquirer interview that the movement was done because of NHA’s refusal to provide them with “decent homes,” despite many dialogs.
“We were willing to pay [for government housing which] we could afford, yet, we were always told that there were no vacant houses. But based on our inspection, all these houses were unoccupied,” Aguirre added.
The National Housing Authority (NHA) issued eviction notices for the informal settlers on March 20.
According to NHA data, the 52,341 idle houses nationwide were intended for members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and AFP, but only 13 percent or 8,327 of these were being used.
The eviction efforts are further proof of the government’s continuous deprivation of rights to basic social services like shelter, according to Anakbayan CSSP member Kiko Caramat.
“Sapilitan silang pinapadaan sa mga burukuratikong proseso gaya ng napaka-mahal na mga fees, kaya sa pinaka-matagal na panahon din ay wala silang sariling pabahay,” Caramat said during the protest.
Caramat said that because of this deprivation, Filipinos all over the country are asserting their rights through collective action.
“Kaya naman sila na ang mapagpasyang kumilos para angkinin ang higit limang libong tiwangwang na pabahay sa iba’t ibang relocation sites sa Pandi, Bulacan,” he added.
Call for critical, holistic general education
Further worsening the issue of these fascist state attacks is the implementation of the General Education (GE) Reform within UP Diliman, according to the student groups.
With votes of 302 for, 31 against, and 41 abstain from members of the UP Diliman University Council in the GE Reform Conference on Monday, the minimum number of GE units was lowered from 45 to 21 beginning 2018.
Supporters of the GE Reform insisted during the conference that the reduction of GEs will alleviate the academic burden of students by lessening tuition fees and the number of years of certain degree programs, like Engineering courses, which would go down from five years to four.
Institute of Mathematics instructor Ma. Cristina Bargo said in a Facebook post that the curriculum of Engineering and Science majors requires taking service courses before major subjects, allowing for too little room for students to take GEs.
The professor refused to be interviewed further on the issue, as of press time.
However, student groups acknowledged the reform as a scheme to produce graduates in a shorter time in order to further fuel the cheap labor pool demanded by the global market.
“Ang reporma sa GE na ito ay magsisilbing daluyan, magsisilbing balon, magsisilbing poso ng murang lakas paggawa ng mga kabataan,” Anakbayan CAL member Alix Matute said during the rally.
Moreover, LFS Engineering said in a Facebook statement that reform would further expose graduates to unfair and abusive labor policies.
“The influx of fresh graduates would only limit the number of jobs available for them, creating conditions that would make them more vulnerable to low wages, contractualization, and poor working conditions,” LFS Engineering said in a Facebook statement.
UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan joined the protest to express his opposition of the GE Reform.
“A true UP product is not for the existing distorted job market. A true UP student will question the job market,” the chancellor said in his solidarity message during the rally.
Tan, who served as chair in the conference, expressed his dismay because the discussion in the event failed to tackle the wider issues surrounding the reduction of GEs, like its connection to neoliberalism and struggles under the Duterte regime.
“We tried to get things discussed. Umaasa pa ako na magkakaroon ng kompromiso dito, pero mainit na ang ulo ng mga tao dito,” the UPD chancellor said.
“Basta nahirapan na ako mag-ano dito ng malayang talakayan. And I’m very disappointed,” he added.
Student groups agreed that limiting GE subjects will also lead to the lessening of the holistic quality of UP education and reducing subjects that teach students to think critically and act in the face of these issues under the Duterte Administration.
“Yung edukasyon natin ay nagsisilbi hindi para paunlarin yung kakayahan ng mga kabataan, kundi para supilin ang ating kakayahan upang mag-isip nang kritikal, upang gamitin ang ating abilidad upang baguhin ang lipunan,” Matute added during the protest.
Because of these ill effects, Chancellor Tan urged for a stronger campaign to oppose the GE Reform.
“We will create new niches that serve the country, not serve the interest of others,” Tan said.
The chancellor also called for the students to exhaust more actions and venues to counter the GE reduction aside from the existing protests.
“Kailangan din may discussions na kung bakit may posisyon kayo, tayo, tungkol sa GE, at ano ang implications nito para sa buhay ng mga estudyante afterwards… Pwede pa tayong mag-meeting para ma-plano kung ano ang pwedeng content dito,” Tan added.
The chancellor agreed with the students’ call to seek accountability from the Duterte Administration and its fascist attacks.
“Ang hamon sa atin ay patuloy na ipanawagan ang paniningil sa rehimeng Duterte at ipagpatuloy ang pakikipag-kaisa natin sa iba’t ibang mga organisasyon sa ating pamantasan,” Pasigpasigan said. #