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University students call for academic ease, blast government calamity response as ‘neglectful’

By PINKY S. ICAMEN Published Nov 18, 2020 3:27 am

University students are making their voices heard as they organize academic strikes to call out the government’s response to recent calamities that pummeled the country, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and demanded an academic ease following the effects of the typhoon and the pandemic.

On Nov. 14, students from the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), through its student body, released a petition to call for a mass student strike against the national government’s “criminally neglectful response to the recent Typhoon Ulysses, Typhoon Rolly, Typhoon Quinta and the COVID-19 pandemic as a whole.”

The students’ call for strike was also to stand with their fellow students who are victims of the calamities and COVID-19 who will not be able to catch up with their studies within three to five working days.

Student-activists at the youth strike on Katipunan Ave. on Nov. 17. Photo by Paulina Singh

In a memo issued the next day, vice president for the Loyola Schools Maria Luz Vilches granted a one-week class suspension for both students and faculty to recover from the aftermath of the typhoon.

On Nov. 16, the ADMU student body revised its petition “to best represent the totality of the student body,” which included their intended action to withhold submission of any school requirements starting Nov. 23 “until the national government heeds the people’s demands for proper calamity aid and response.” Its Sanggunian Central Assembly voted against the petition yesterday.

Meanwhile, the University of the Philippines Office of the Student Regent on Nov. 15 posted on social media its call for a university-wide online protest to call for “genuine academic ease” and the university administration to heed their demands for their safety and well-being.

The UP university student councils and regional student councils also released a unity statement that followed the same call and held President Duterte accountable for the “state’s negligence on the pandemic, calamity, and education.”

At least 134 UP Diliman faculty members also called for the UP administration to immediately end the semester due to the challenges brought about by the recent calamities and distance learning.

On the same day, the UP office of the vice president for academic affairs issued a memo that declared Nov. 16 to 21 as a “period of recovery for affected members of the community in the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses.”

Other universities suspended their classes including the De La Salle University (Nov. 17 to 21), University of Santo Tomas and University of the East (Nov. 16 to 21) and Polytechnic University of the Philippines (Nov. 16 to 27) to help their students and faculty recover from the calamities.

Student-activists from different universities took to the streets to air their concerns at the youth strike. Photo by Jim Dasal

On Nov. 17, student-activists from different universities took to the streets and gathered at ADMU’s Gate 2.5 on Katipunan Ave. for a #YouthStrike. The Guidon reported on its Twitter account that students from different universities present at the rally include Polytechnic University of the Philippines, UP Diliman, UP Los Baños and Far Eastern University. Members of organizations Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, Kabataan party list and Anakbayan were also reportedly present at the youth strike.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, Commission on Higher Education chairperson Prospero de Vera III said no to the mass student strike and leaves the colleges and universities to decide if they will implement academic breaks.

“No to both. Especially, for the nationwide academic break because the impact of the typhoon and the disasters are different across different parts of the country,” he said.

Duterte threatened to defund UP, addressed students

In his public address late night Tuesday, President Duterte, upon learning from Spokesperson Harry Roque about the academic strike, said, “You are taking the cudgels of the poor ahead of your time. That is not your worry. That is the worry of government. Kami, sabi ko, nagttrabaho kami (I said, we are working).”

President Duterte during his late night address Tuesday. Screenshot from RVTM

’Yung mga eskwelahan, UP? Maghinto kayo ng aral. I will stop the funding. Wala nang ginawa itong mga ano kung di magrecruit ng mga komunista diyan. Tapos nag-aaral kayo, gusto niyo bira-birahin ang gobyerno. Masyado naman naka-swerte kayo. Huwag talaga kayong matakot. Manakot, rather, because I will oblige you," said Duterte.

(UP? Fine. Stop studying. I will stop the funding. You don't do anything but recruit communists. Then you study, and you criticize the government. You are getting so lucky. Don't threaten me, because I will oblige you.)

Amid calls for an academic freeze by groups after the recent typhoons and the continuous effect of COVID-19 pandemic, Education Undersecretary for legislative affairs Tonisito Umali said in an interview with ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo that it is unlikely to happen because no country has suspended its reopening of classes due to COVID-19.

During a press briefing in Alcala, Cagayan on Nov. 17, Harry Roque claimed that since schools are currently in blended learning, they are minimally affected because there are no face-to-face classes.

However, Education Undersecretary for curriculum and instruction Diosdado San Antonio said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel that there are thousands of schools that are affected in parts of the country because of the recent typhoons.

“I don’t have the exact number but there are thousands. There are thousands in Bicol and Region II, and certain areas in Region IV-A, Rizal particularly and Quezon, and Region III, and Marikina of course in NCR, we have schools affected there.”

Photos by Paulina Singh and Jim Dasal courtesy of The Guidon