Respect the students’ right to press freedom! Statement calling for an end to campus press freedom violations committed against UPHL Gazette

February 1, 2013 

Press Statement

Reference Person: Michael Alegre

Secretary General

CEGP Southern Tagalog

Respect the students’ right to press freedom!

Statement calling for an end to campus press freedom violations committed against UPHL Gazette

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines – Southern Tagalog chapter expresses strong support to the ongoing campaign of the UPHL Gazette, the official student publication of the University of Perpetual Help – Biñan, Laguna, in their struggle against recent cases of campus press freedom violations committed primarily by their School Director, Dr. Ferdinand Somido.

Under our independent investigation on the matter, we have found the School Director, and other administrative officials involved, in violation of the students’ right to campus press freedom, namely: withholding and non-collection of publication fees, meddling with the editorial board selection process, threats of expulsion and suspension of student editors and writers, and threat of outright closure of the publication.

These cases violate provisions stipulated under the Republic Act 7079 or the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 and goes against the principles expressed in House Bill 4287 or the Campus Press Freedom Bill filed by Kabataan Partylist in the 15th Congress.

Publication lifeblood: Fuel for critical thought

Upon enrolment last June 2012, members of the UPHL Gazette were surprised by the directives from Dr. Somido to implement the non-collection of Publication Fee (P200), which serves as the student paper’s source of fund.

It is the sole duty of school officials, as support to campus journalists, to collect and immediately turn over the funds. This withholding of funds effectively paralyzed the UPHL Gazette’s capability to publish in print articles that tackle genuine student concerns and issues.

The publications fund is the lifeblood that fuels the operations of student journalists. By withholding or refusing to collect these, not only are students deprived of their right to information about local and national issues but are also stripped off of opportunities to come up with critical opinions essential to alternative learning and active participation in shaping our nation’s future.

Selection of Editorial board: Internal liberty of campus press

The School Director’s sole basis for withholding the funds was that there was “no legitimate line up” in the selection of UPHL Gazette’s editorial board.

We pose an inquiry to the School Director’s meddling with the selection process of UPHL Gazette’s editorial board, and are alarmed with the myriad of technicalities that was imposed which include: mandatorily requiring of another set of  “revalidation examination” last July 29, 2012 for the editors, thereby changing the editorial line-up outside the publication’s formal process; conducting an investigation on the alleged erroneous line up of editors published in their tabloid issue last October; and requiring editors to issue an explanatory letter for the alleged mistake, among others.

The UPHL Gazette’s constitution and by-laws, which were founded by previous members of the publication and recognized by the students, were clearly violated by the said process. The selection of editors should be a process that members of the publications, the editorial board at the very least, have the liberty to decide. In no way shall any administrative official declare that a selection process is “illegal”.

In fact, the administration should not be involved in the selection process other than recognizing the new set of editorial board. But this recognition should only be in the form of courtesy or “only ceremonial” and should hold the administration powerless in actual selection of editors. This is to ensure that no political or personal issue is imbued in the process since student publications are watchdogs of their school administration’s policies.

Threats of expulsion and closure: Grave abuses

Worst of all, current editors were imposed with disciplinary sanctions because of their alleged “usurpation of authority,” which means that they might face expulsion for their actions. Added to these threats were instigations that the publication can be “abolished” because of the alleged invalidity of documents for the selection process.

With this, we also pose a question to the School Director and other administrative officials involved: Why is the student journalist’s performance inside the publication being used as a condition for the student journalist’s academic status? We also now question the real motive behind this vicious attack on the student’s press freedom as well as academic freedom?

In the same way, CEGP-ST believes that such threats and intimidations of any form to close down the publication should not be tolerated. May we remind them of the historic role of alternative publications in attaining our democratic rights during the Spanish-colonial era, Marcos dictatorship and today’s continuing task for genuine democracy?

Threatening to abolish an established student institution is a downright disrespect to the life and blood that journalists and activists sacrificed for freedom. And with the UPHL Gazette established since 1986, isn’t decades of selfless service to the students already parallel to the academic institution itself with similar ideals?

State’s blatant disregard of freedom of expression

These incidents highlight how the current Philippine education system disregards the role of campus journalists and other youth organizations in effectively spurring societal change beneficial to the Filipino people.

In the previous months, other student publications in Southern Tagalog have been battling campus press freedom violations including continued closure of The Epitome of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Lopez, Quezon due to campus militarization prevalent up to now, the libel case filed against writers of The Harrow of Romblon State University last October, the red-tagging of progressive youth groups in Palawan State University in a forum conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines last November.

These further prove the inutile character of the Republic Act 7079 or Campus Journalism Act of 1991 in holding administrators and other groups accountable to campus press freedom violations. This is why CEGP, as a founding organization of Kabataan Partylist, is a primary author of the Campus Press Freedom Bill.

But the root causes of these incidents still remain because of the Aquino government’s blatant disregard of its responsibility to protect the people’s right to freedom of expression. Until now, journalists go about their profession with the prevailing culture of impunity and political persecution as manifested by the persistent injustices in the Maguindanao Massacre and the killing of Palawan broadcaster and environmental-activist Dr. Gerry Ortega.

In addition, legal activists are targeted by the state as enemies under the Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency program which yielded 20 cases of extrajudicial killings, 3 enforced disappearances, 43 illegal arrests and 33 illegal detentions since December, according to human rights group Karapatan Southern Tagalog.

State repression of freedom of expression is intensified with the recent passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 which restricts Filipino netizens from expressing legitimate dissent online, coupled by threats of punishment with penalties graver than real-world crimes. More than our medium to express dissent, the state literally kills its dissenters.

Campus press as forefront of the students’ struggle

With these in mind, we laud the efforts of the UPHL Gazette in leading the students, learning from them and ultimately challenging them to take part in moulding the minds of the academic community to initiate involvement not only in education issues but in people’s issues as well.

As of press time, members of the UPHL Gazette are conducting a campus-wide campaign through massive information dissemination, room-to-room discussions and signature drive to persuade the students and faculties’ support and in ensuring their awareness and participation. We call on other student publications to follow UPHL Gazette’s example in fighting for genuine campus press freedom and encourage everyone to express support to their campaign in any form.

The struggle of the campus press is the struggle of our generation’s youth and students. In the same way, the campus press, as a pillar of alternative media, must inevitably become a driving force and agent for the concretization of the youth and students’ aspirations.

Through our collective voices in print and other means, the campus press has the potential to become a conscience to a nation battling its societal cancers and a Filipino people struggling for genuine national democracy.

END THE CAMPUS PRESS VIOLATIONS TO UPHL GAZETTE!

UPHOLD FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND CRITICAL THOUGHT!

FIGHT FOR A NATIONALIST, MASS ORIENTED AND SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION!

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