Cutting the shackles of state repression: Statement calling for the revival of the official student publication of PUP- Lopez

November 18, 2012
Press Statement

Jan Carlo Casupanan
Vice-chairperson for CALABARZON
CEGP Southern Tagalog

Cutting the shackles of state repression:   
Statement calling for the revival of theofficial student publication of PUP- Lopez

For more than four years, students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) – Lopez in Quezon province have been deprived of their right to expression and information. The struggle to re-establish their official student publication continues after it was forcibly closed due to military intervention.

Brief history of The Epitome

In September 2008, five students including the editor in chief of The Epitome, official student publication of PUP-Lopez, were charged with rebellion and harassed by the 76th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Force of the Philippines (AFP).

The students were accused of being sympathizers of the New People’s Army (NPA) simply because they criticized the education policies of then president Gloria Arroyo.  As the staffers articulated the legitimate concerns of the students, military surveillance intensified inside the school and soldiers started to camp out near the campus gate.

The military also conducted seminars in the school, identifying the five students as NPA supporters and discouraging the students to join the student publication and Quezon Youth Speak, a local youth organization. The Epitome had to stop its operations due to red-tagging activities and death threats that the students had been receiving.

In 2010, attempts to re-establish the student publication failed due to the “chilling effect” of the military intervention, as students feared for their lives in the simple act of joining a student institution.

Campus militarization ensured closure

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) – Southern Tagalog chapter calls for the revival of the official student publication of PUP-Lopez. We condemn the campus militarization in previous years and the ongoing militarization in Quezon.

The very existence of a student publication attests that freedom of expression is exercised inside an academic institution. However, instead of encouraging intelligent debate, which is crucial in the emergence of correct ideas, state forces tried to silence student journalists and everyone else who only wanted to practice a constitutionally guaranteed right.

Student journalists and youth leaders have the potential to empower the consciousness of their fellowmen. Out of fear for this, the government resorted to controlling student institutions via threats, intimidation and fabricated charges under its framework for campus militarization.

Unreported abuses: the need for a critical press

With more than two years in office of the Aquino government, human rights group Karapatan has already recorded 114 cases of political killings. This number is already a clear indication that the human rights situation will worsen further and not otherwise.

According to the Save Bondoc Peninsula Movement, since July of this year, 8 battalions of the AFP, are committing grave abuses of human rights against peasants defending their right to genuine land reform in South of Quezon province.

This intensive military occupation of Quezon’s Bondoc Peninsula forced thousands of residents to evacuate their homes all for the greed of local landlords and foreign corporations eyeing to plunder the area’s natural resources. We cannot dismiss President Aquino’s accountability to this matter as he is the commander-in-chief of the AFP.

It is therefore the role of student journalists to expose such crucial issues that concern the youth and Filipino citizens that are not usually reported by the corporate mainstream media. As pillars of the alternative press, student publications become a necessary part of the people’s struggle for progress.

This condition of violence and unrest further justifies the need for our right to freedom of expression to be exercised. But how then can this be achieved when a school’s publication is non-existent, when basic rights are stripped from a generation?

Unmasking the veil of “yellow democracy”

The administration of President Noynoy Aquino only adopted similar plans from the past Arroyo regime with the implementation of the Oplan Bayanihan program under the dictates of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.

With this in mind, the youth have only to expect more cases of human rights violations among its ranks such as the killing of youth cultural worker Lester Barrientos of the Southern Tagalog Cultural Network on December 2010.

The Oplan Bayanihan further intensifies cases of campus militarization throughout the country as what is happening in Samar province where military intimidations and harassment are experienced by members of The Pillar, official student publication of the University of Eastern Philippines.

This is also the very reason why Reserved Officers Training Corps in campuses are long sought to be disbanded. The military uses it as intelligence networks to post to keep watch in the student activities, and suppress any possible student’s participation who which to participate in democratic movements.

Historically, the government has a penchant of employing the armed forces in suppressing legal dissent. According to the reports of Karapatan, there are 1,206 extra-judicial killings under Arroyo’s term and most of these killings were perpetrated by military elements.

These cases, which include the killing of CEGP Mindanao Vice President Beng Hernandez in 2002 and League of Filipino Students leader in Bicol Ambo Guran in 2006, remain unresolved.

Who can forget the tragedy of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre as one of the bleakest history of press freedom in our country, with the killing of 58 individuals including 32 media practitioners?

These proofs of human rights abuse from state forces show that this is not only an isolated case for PUP-Lopez but rather a nationwide systematic program to pacify critics of government policies.

Defending press freedom and people’s rights

The College Editor’s Guild of the Philippines- Southern Tagalog therefore affirms its stand to uphold students’ freedom of expression and right to organization. We may be threatened, but we are not frightened to fight for our freedom.

We therefore encourage students to be part of our campaign to re-establish the student publication of PUP-Lopez and, in the long-run, to establish student publications in all schools.We urge school administrations, if they are truly sincere in their motives to serve as avenues to develop well-rounded individuals, to help the students in attaining campus press freedom and protecting their democratic rights as part of the Filipino youth struggling for genuine change.

As student journalists, we uphold not only our belief of press freedomas a human right butalso call to defend the people’s rights in times when what we write, say and do ultimately need to serve as a conscience for today’s social ills.