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Silencing small voices

July 25, 2007

 Let’s drink free speech…

A Newsweek report on the global death toll due to guns was quite amusing, although Filipinos are not laughing. The report said that the United States has the highest death toll at over 29,000 a year simply because the superpower nation sells more guns.
In contrast, the number of gun casualties in the Philippines cannot be determined simply because on the point of view of the international magazine, the country is a war zone.
The categorization looks fairly good, a good riddance to an irredeemable disgrace on the part of the Arroyo government, because in the eye of the global community, killings here are not that alarming because of the ongoing armed conflict.
For mainstream journalists, life is too precious to be taken instantly. Last week, another media man, Carmelo Palacios, 41, a field reporter of government-owned Radyo ng Bayan and resident of Guimba, Cabanatuan City, was tortured and then killed by his murderers. He was the 51st journalists murdered during the Arroyo regime.
In these parts, death becomes stubborn and outspoken journalists. But this is the larger part of the picture, the more distressing section of the full-blown story. But there is a horrible story untold by the media; a story unknown to many.

Death of students’ right
It happens in almost all campuses in the country. Death here is not of the physical body, but of the democratic right of the students – the right dutifully protected by our constitution; the right of the press.
A lot of colleges and universities do not have campus publication independently managed by their respective students for some reasons. One reason is that school officials do not really intend to organize campus publications. Another reason is that school organs no longer in operation were intentionally abolished by school officials, perhaps to prevent the breeding of campus activism.
Every year, these democratic vanguards of the students are slowly being gotten rid of by school authorities for the purpose of preserving the good image of the school or of thwarting the possible proliferation of campus activism.

The Philippine Collegian, the official school publication of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, was never spared by this academic apathy, as the state university’s board of regents decided to close it down last year. The autonomy of the Collegian was again under siege due to an absurd law – the Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act. The UP administration claimed that under the law, all fees collected by the university are government funds—including the Collegian funds, and that the publication is also subject to bidding and selection process. The dispute led to an almost a year suspension of the Collegian’s presswork operations because of the UP administration’s withholding of the publication funds.
“We call on the administration to recognize fully the independence of the Collegian as a student publication. We demand that the administration uphold the Collegian’s fiscal autonomy, specifically its right to facilitate the bidding process,” Collegian’s editorial board says in a strongly-worded statement.
State colleges and universities are expected to be more observant of and responsive to the democratic rights of their students. Collegian’s editorial board believed that the school’s crackdown on campus press, including some other critical organizations, was just the BOR’s systematic prelude to its imposition of about 300 percent tuition fee increase come next school year under the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP). Under the new policy, tuitions are to be determined according to the students’ financial capacity. This was strongly opposed by Collegian and a number of militant organizations of the state university.

Ang Pamantasan
An even worse campus repression was done to Ang Pamantasan, the official student publication of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, when the publication office was padlocked and some of its editors were either expelled or suspended. Not content with the punishment, PLM administration led by President Benjamin Tayabas also disallowed Ang Pamantasan’s graduating staff to graduate and even forfeited the degree of one staff.
The College Editors of the Philippines (CEGP) reacted by saying: “The PLM (Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila) admin has committed almost all forms of campus presss freedom violations one could commit against the said publication.” The case, which was confined within the four corners of an educational institution, was shocking to the conscience of an academic man.
“Martial Law ang nararanasan ng mga mag- aaral sa Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM). Sa pamumuno ni Dr. Benjamin Tayabas, pinapatikom ang lahat ng bibig ng sinumang magtangkang ilabas ang katotohanan sa likod ng mga natatagong anomalya sa nasabing pamantasan. Nanguna ang ‘Ang Pamantasan’ sa pagsiwalat ng katotohanan- ang kapalit, ang nangangalit na bagang ng PLM admin,” said the CEGP.
Such an ignominious case happened three years ago, however, the new batch of AP staff are again crying the same plaint now that Tayabas is back to PLM following an appointment made by Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, who is believed to be close to the former.
An AP staff member said that Tayabas is treating PLM like his personal fiefdom because of his strong ties to Atienza. PLM is being subsidized by the city of Manila and high-ranking appointments are determined by the city mayor.
This academic apathy did not also spare publications from Catholic schools run by the priests. For coming out with an issue critical of the school administration, Adamson Chronicle ceased publication after its office was padlocked by the Adamson University administration a year ago.

Catholic watch
But unlike the Adamson Chronicle, some publications under the watch of Catholic priests like The Varsitarian (University of Santo Tomas, which is run by the Dominicans), The Guidon (Ateneo De Manila University by the Jesuits), La Sallian (De La Salle University by the Franciscans), and The Bedan (San Beda College) are lucky enough to continue with their presswork operations. The only hitch is that they are subject to prior restraint done by campus paper advisers. Some staffers of these publications admit that there are stories that they cannot put out for fear of touching the sensitivities of the priests.
In 1991, the case of campus journalists from Miriam College reached the high court after the school administration decided to expel and suspend some of the erring publication staff. For publishing a magazine called Magasing Pampanitikan ng Chi-Ro whose contents had been described as “obscene,” “vulgar,” “indecent,” “gross,” “sexually explicit,” “injurious to young readers,” and devoid of all moral values,” the school administration decided to expel the publication’s three staff members, dismissed two, and suspended four others.

Kaskas
The magazine contained a story titled Kaskas, written in Filipino, which is about the experience of a group of young, male, combo players who, one evening, after their performance went to see a bold show in a place called “Flirtation.”
A poem entitled “Malas ang Tatlo” by an unknown author also wrote these lines: “Na picture mo na ba / no’ng magkatabi tayong dalawa / sa pantatluhang sofa— / ikaw, the legitimate asawa / at ako, biro mo, ang kerida? / tapos, tumabi siya, shit! / kumpleto na: / ikaw, ako at siya / kulang na lang, kamera.”
Shocked by the contents of the magazine, Justice Santiago Kapunan, the ponente of the case, said: “It must be borne in mind that universities are established, not merely to develop the intellect and skills of the studentry, but to inculcate lofty values, ideals and attitudes; may, the development, or flowering if you will, of the total man.”
The court upheld the Academic Freedom of Miriam College to discipline the students. It said that since the school determines who may be admitted to study, logically it may also determine who may not be admitted to study.
On the issue of the students’ right to free speech, the court ruled that such is not absolute. Thus the court said: “The right to free speech must always be applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment. Thus, while we upheld the right of the students to free expression in these cases, we did not rule out disciplinary action by the school for “conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason – whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior – which materially disrupts class work or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others.”

Misconception of Academic Freedom
Outside the campus, professional journalists’ right to freedom of expression is being challenged by the doctrine of national interest or the doctrine of “state’s compelling interest.” But inside the campus, campus writers’ right to press is being met with the school’s academic freedom. Academic freedom is defined as the freedom of teachers, students, and academic institutions to pursue knowledge wherever it may lead, without undue or unreasonable interference.
In the Philippines, there is a misconception that this kind of freedom is solely enjoyed by an educational institution and that professors and students are not entitled to its protection.
In a decision that became a universal doctrine, the Supreme Court of the United States said that academic freedom means a university can “determine for itself on academic grounds: (1) who may teach, (2) what may be taught, (3) how it should be taught, and (4) who may be admitted to study.”

Tayabas method
There are many ways that can be employed by some school authorities to kill campus press. The easiest yet the most un-academic and utterly barbaric way is the “Tayabas method,” that which PLM Pres. Benjamin Tayabas is popularly known for. This is a complex method that uses all possible ways to ensure the death of campus press, like the expulsion of staff members, the closing down of the publication office, the filing of libel cases, the withholding of a degree, etc. Such an inhumane and undemocratic method is very similar to anti-media crackdown being implemented in authoritarian and fascistic states like China and Russia.
Another scheme is the “catholic method” being used in Catholic schools. This includes suspension of publication staff, imposition of disciplinary actions, and strict censorship.
One common method is the “extralegal method,” which may be defined as the distortion and gross misinterpretation of the laws governing campus press freedom. This method had been tested in UP when the BOR used an absurd law to dissipate the Collegian. Really, press repression is now commonplace in schools whose administrators cannot fully imbibe the significance of press freedom.
Sixteen years ago, Campus Journalism Act of 1991 (Republic Act 7079) came to fore to once and for all ensure a protective blanket to campus press. The Congress enacted the law because it is the declared policy of the state “to uphold and protect the freedom of the press even at the campus level and to promote the development and growth of campus journalism as a means of strengthening ethical values, encouraging critical and creative thinking, and developing moral character and personal discipline of the Filipino youth. In furtherance of this policy, the State shall undertake various programs and projects aimed at improving the journalistic skills of students concerned and promoting responsible and free journalism.”

Loopholes in CJA
However, over a decade after its implementation, some school officials with vested interest started using this supposedly protective mantle of campus press to muzzle and silence the same. This is because they have seen a number of loopholes in the Act that they can use to demonize the very right that it seeks to protect. One of the most common weaknesses of the Act is the stipulation on the publication adviser. The law, however, used the word “may” (directory and not mandatory), which means that a publication may or may not have an adviser.
One of the most ridiculous attempts in circumventing the Act was the deliberate misinterpretation of the term “student body” under Section 4 to be referring to the university “student council.” Said section states: “A student publication is published by the student body through an editorial board and publication staff composed of students selected but fair and competitive examinations.”
It is not the intention of the legislature to subordinate the independence and ends of campus press to a campus political body. The words “independence” and “freedom” in the Act should mean freedom from academic interference and prior restraint, and freedom after the speech. It is not the intention of the lawmakers to put campus press under the mercy of a campus political body.

How to kill campus press?
But the interesting yet bleak question is: How to kill a publication the extralegal way? Easy. Stop the collection of publication funds. This strategy was done to the Collegian, to the student publication of Trinity College, and to most school organs no longer operating today.
But there’s more to R.A. 7079 – its implementing rules and regulations issued by the then Department of Education Culture and Sports (now Department of Education). The IRR’s most absurd provision can be seen under Rule VII subtitled The Selection of Staff Members.
It says: “The selection of the chief editor and other members of the staff of tertiary student publications shall be through competitive examinations prepared, conducted and supervised by a committee composed of a representative of the school administration, one faculty member, one mass media practitioner who is acceptable to both (school administrator and editorial board) and two past editors to be chosen by the outgoing editorial board.”
This contravenes its mother law, the CJA of 1991, which states under the second paragraph of Section 4 that, “Once the publication is established, its editorial board shall freely determine its editorial policies and manage the publication’s funds.” It simply and categorically means that “once the publication is established,” a publication can then determine its editorial policies and, speaking of editorial policies, they form part of the principles, styles, organization and rules and regulation of the publication. It means that that particular provision of the IRR is only applicable to non-established publications. More than (mis)applying the contents of both the Act and its IRR, one should deeply understand first the nitty-gritty involved in editorial tasks.
That particular rule of the IRR may be applicable only to new staffers, sometimes called probationary staffers, but not to the selection of the editor in chief. The work of an editor in chief involves a so broad aspect and concept that a new staffer could hardly understand. It takes a year or two before one can totally embrace the meaning of editorial job.

They don’t understand
Most school publications do not really follow the over breath and impractical rule on the selection of the editor in chief found in that IRR because the tasks intrinsic in the highest position of a publication is so broad and complex that a newcomer can barely grasp. The DAWN, for example, reserves the slot to senior staffers of proven integrity, competence and resilience to pressure and who have shown loyalty to the publication.
A former adviser-of-the-DAWN-turned-critic even admitted that a proposal that seeks to call for a campus-wide editorial examination can be damaging to the over half a century tradition of the DAWN that only its former and present members are fully aware of.
Some officials at the University, including the Chairman himself, already know about this tradition, a practice that still remains intact up to these days.
Most campus writers from other schools keep on wondering why the DAWN still exists notwithstanding its uncompromising stand on campus issues. The Weekly DAWN did not grow into a dazzling, fortified DAWN overnight. Also, it did not survive many trials in the past alone. Behind those challenges, there was a guiding wisdom that saw the opportunity to marry the two uncongenial worlds.

Climate of damnation
Many of the so-called intellectuals who do have the logical eyes to see and bright minds to perceive turned blind and close-minded. This is because intellect does not exactly mean wisdom. The second is always superior to the first because it has emotions and that it cannot be measured. The first usually refers to academic life of a person; the second refers to a broader and deeper sense that even a highly intellectual man cannot see.
Today, Filipinos are appalled at the continued disregard of press freedom in the country. Alas, the ways of the criminals in silencing the press is by killing the body, by tormenting the soul. In schools, the trend is by killing the right.
If young pen pushers continue to feel the chilling crackdown on campus press at school, the more professional journalists suffer violence and even the pain of death in these parts in their everyday lives. No wonder why our country is now being hounded by a climate of killings.
Soon, the Filipinos will call it a climate of damnation since the superstructure, the academia that is supposed to show a broader understanding and respect, is now turning blind and unfeeling.

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