By ANGELA MARIE HINLO & DANIEL SEBASTIANNE DAIZ
Days before the National Campus Press Freedom Day, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) has petitioned the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to look into the numerous attacks against student publications and journalists around the country.
In a 13-paged petition filed before the CHED today, the group reminded CHED of its duty to “protect and uphold” campus press freedom, in accordance with the Campus Journalism Act (CJA) and its implementing rules and regulations.
The guild, consisting of over 750 student publications around the country, has recorded over a thousand violations since 2010. These violations range from harassment, withholding of funds, filing of libel cases versus writers, to administrative intervention.
“At this time, student publications are becoming a subject of repression and suppression, especially in the form of school administration’s manipulation that was intensified by no less than the Duterte regime through the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act,” read part of the complaint.
Over a year since the start of lockdowns and the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law, the campus press was not spared from state-backed crackdown, particularly red-tagging and online harassment.
- June 10, 2020: The Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Valenzuela administration threatened to withhold the Certificates of Good Moral Character of the students who signed an open letter to Mayor Rex Gatchalian about the labor malpractices and student repression in their university.
- August 15, 2020: The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and a Surigao del Sur indigenous peoples mandatory representative called Sinag, the official student publication of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, a “front” of the New People’s Army (NPA).
- November 20, 2020: CEGP Deputy Secretary-General Regina Tolentino received a death threat from a Facebook user named Alex Brooks.
- January 29, 2021: The Alyansa ng Kabataang Mamamahayag ng PUP (AKM-PUP) was red-tagged by the NTF-ELCAC-backed group SAMBAYANAN and called them recruiters for the NPA.
- February 9, 2021: A Facebook page accused Himati, the official student publication of the UP Mindanao, of collaborating with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran Center in teaching terrorism to the Lumad and other various youth groups.
- March 1, 2021: Editors from campus publications of UP Diliman, including its widest alliance UP Solidaridad, received death threats from a suspected troll account who branded them as “terrorists.”
- March 8, 2021: CEGP-Bicol spokesperson and editor of The PILLARS, the official student publication of Ateneo de Naga University, was among the protesters who were poured with a bucket of urine in Plaza Oragon, Naga City during an International Working Women’s Day event.
- May 1, 2021: Castillejos police arrested 11 activists and campus journalists, including a writer of the Manila Collegian, while they were on their way to a Mayo Uno mobilization in Angeles City, Pampanga.
- May 2, 2021: Around 40 elements of Criminal Investigation and Detection Group raided the house of Justine Mesias, a senior editor of the college publication Cassipi Online of Bicol University and spokesperson of Youth Act Now Against Tyranny Bicol, in Daraga, Albay.
- June 11, 2021: De La Salle University’s Ang Pahayagang Plaridel national section writer Kai Reyes was red-tagged by the Alyansa dagiti Agkaykaysa nga Mannalon-Cagayan Valley. Reyes’s face appeared in a tarpaulin, along with other members of mass organizations, branding them as members of so-called communist terrorist groups.
- June 12, 2021: A member of CEGP National Office also received a death threat from a troll account similar to the one sent to Tolentino.
- June 28, 2021: A Los Baños police threatened to confiscate the camera of UPLB Perspective photojournalist James Jericho Bajar while covering a protest action.
- July 4, 2021: The Facebook page of White & Blue, the official student publication of the Saint Louis University in Baguio City, received a notification restricting the administrators to access some features of their page, stating that this could be due to the activities of the page that did not comply with Facebook’s policies.
Various student publications also experienced having their funds withheld or, worse, completely defunded. In the case of UP Baguio’s Outcrop and UP Tacloban’s Vista, university administrations declined to collect publication fees in light of the supposed restrictions brought by the Free Tuition Policy.
In addition to an investigation, CEGP also called on CHED to support the repeal of the “toothless and powerless” CJA and support its proposed replacement, House Bill 319 or the Campus Press Freedom Bill.
Unlike the CJA, the proposed measure would penalize campus press freedom violations and strengthen the publications’ fiscal autonomy. The bill remains pending at the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education as of writing.
The CEGP also lodged a similar complaint last year to the Commission on Human Rights. The agency, however, has yet to respond to the group’s petition.
Student publications have been vital not only in disseminating information on the events on campus, but also on the relevant issues in the larger community where leaders must be held accountable and wrongdoings must be exposed, said Regina Tolentino, CEGP deputy secretary-general, in a statement.
“To perform these important services, publications should be autonomous and free from editorial interference or censorship by administrators,” Tolentino added. ●
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