By Joseph B.A. Marzan
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the country’s darkest period in history, student councils and organizations called for the rejection of the Commission on Higher Education-Region 6’s (CHED-6) recent memorandum enjoining higher education institutions (HEI) to take part in military-initiated activities.
The Western Visayas Youth and Students Alliance (WVYSA) posted a unity statement on their Facebook page against CHED-6 Memorandum Order No. 205.
The memorandum enjoins HEIs to take part in programs led by the national government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines under Executive Order No. 70, series of 2018.
EO 70 created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which has been accused of red-tagging activists, lawmakers, and even journalists at the height of the Duterte administration.
In a statement, the organizations asserted their academic freedom, part of which is to have their spaces free from military intrusion, whether within their campuses or online.
The statement called on four main actions, which the signatory groups hoped for more individual youths and students, as well as youth and student organizations, to join in:
- Condemn the intervention of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) in student councils and academic affairs by assimilating them into a Supreme Student Council Society of the Philippines (SSCSCP) created by the PAF;
- Denounce the CHED-6’s call to enjoin HEIs in the region, in support of the NTF-ELCAC, to support the establishment of SSCSP-Western Visayas;
- Urge student councils not to take part in the election of officers and the launching of the SSCSP – Western Visayas Chapter; and
- Demand that the university and school administrations of HEIs and other academic institutions resist giving the NTF-ELCAC and the military any more platform to further harass and threaten students and student organizations.
The organizations said CHED and military bodies have no authority to impose such obligations on student councils to join the SSCSP, much less to orient and elect officers.
“Taking part in the SSCSP will worsen the climate of fear already being experienced by students and student organizations who have to contend with the presence of police and military officials in their campuses. It is common practice by the military to give ‘orientations’ and hold ‘discussions’ in schools where they red-tag and threaten student groups whose members merely exercise their rights,” they said in their statement.
“Doing otherwise would contradict the people’s Constitutionally guaranteed academic freedom and freedom of thought and, ultimately, would further narrow civic spaces and undermine our democracy,” they added.
They reiterated the position of some of the signatory organizations against the NTF-ELCAC, noting its history of red-tagging academic institutions and student-led organizations.
The government task force in 2020 red-tagged the Aklan State University (ASU), Capiz State University (CapSU), Central Philippine University (CPU), Filamer Christian University (FCU), West Visayas State University (WVSU), and University of the Philippines-Visayas (UPV), by alleging them as “havens of communist recruitment”.
Current National Youth Commission chairperson Ronald Gian Carlo Cardema, who previously expressed support for the NTF-ELCAC’s retention, also red-tagged WVSU Student Regent Hershey Sumpay last August 9, after the latter issued a statement against the hiring of First Lady Lousie Marcos as a faculty member in the WVSU College of Law.
“Since the creation of the NTF-ELCAC, red-tagging, harassment, and other forms of attacks not limited to academic freedom and freedom of expression have been happening nonstop,” the statement read.
“We call on Student Councils, student organizations, student unions, the students, teachers, parents, and other academic stakeholders to stand in solidarity against all forms of attacks to our freedom and democracy,” it added.
The statement was signed onto by the WVYSA, as well as Defend Philippine Science High School (Defend Pisay), University of the Philippines Visayas-University Student Council (UPV-USC), UPV Pangkat Lingkod Bayan (UPV PALABAN), Sandigan ng Mag-aaral para sa Sambayanan-UPV (SAMASA-UPV), West Visayas State University-University Student Council (WVSU-USC), Panay Alliance for Academic Freedom, National Union of Students of the Philippines Iloilo (NUSP-Iloilo), Partido sang Mainuswagon nga Bumulutho-UPV (PMB-UPV), SAMASA-WVSU), and Iloilo Pride Team.