MANILA, Philippines – Unfazed by the threat made by President Rodrigo Duterte that he will let Lumad take the slots of protesting students from the University of the Philippines (UP), several progressive youth groups in the state university promised more protests against the government in the coming days.
“Tagaan ‘ta mo ug privilege: one year ayaw mo pag-iskwela. Kanang mga Lumad nga bright pasudlon tamo ug UP,” Duterte said on Thursday, February 1, during a gathering of leaders of indigenous communities in Mindanao at the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command headquarters. (I’ll give you a privilege: don’t come to school for a year. I’ll let the bright Lumad enter UP.)
While Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque has clarified that UP students can protest all they want so long as it is done after class, UP students have made their message clear: they won’t be silenced.
“If there is anyone who needs to give up his slot, it is none but Rodrigo Duterte himself. He and his allies can only expect bigger and bigger protests,” Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights (STAND UP), a political party in UP, said in a statement.
‘We are one with Lumads’
Student groups also pointed out the supposed irony in Duterte’s statement.
“Duterte has the gall to say that he will provide university slots to Lumads, yet only months prior he has unabashedly threatened to bomb Lumad schools in Mindanao, along with sending military troops to their communities, harassing them and causing them to evacuate from their ancestral lands,” STAND UP added in their statement.
In the past, displaced Lumad people have repeatedly sought refuge at the Diliman campus of the state university for the annual Lakbayan, a caravan of indigenous peoples, Moro, and peasants from different parts of the country. The goal of the annual caravan is highlight their call to stop human rights violations in various Lumad communities. (READ: ‘Bakwit school’ for Lumad children opens in UP)
On the contrary, Duterte, in his 2017 State of the Nation Address, has threatened to bomb Lumad schools, claiming that these were teaching children communist ideology.
On Thursday, Duterte changed course, promising to provide temporary shelters and monthly stipends to the displaced community.
Youth groups like the Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (Spark), together with KAISA UP, challenged the president to stay true to his word by addressing the loopholes in the Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Tertiary Quality Education Act that supposedly hinders marginal communities from accessing free education.
“The mere existence of the Student Loan Program (SLP) in the law attests that tertiary education remains to be not free, even profiting from students with long-term loans to be collected by the government through SSS and GSIS contributions,” Jane Mata from Spark said in a statement.
According to them, without major amendments to the law, Duterte’s statement to Lumad parents “remains to be empty words meant to simulate his administration is reform-oriented and sincere.”
Bigger protest on February 23
“The Duterte administration has never stopped terrorizing the people ever since he came into power,” STAND UP said in a statement.
Citing the government’s war on drugs, martial law in Mindanao, harassment against the press and activists, the jeepney phaseout, and the new tax law, STAND UP promised to mobilize thousands of students on Friday, February 23 to protest against the government’s supposed “attacks against the people.”
“As long as he continues terrorizing the people and driving the country further into poverty and crisis, the people’s suffering will turn into organized cries for justice,” the group added.
Netizens were also quick to comment on the President’s remark on school performance and participating in protests.
According to them, there is no direct correlation between low grades or poor school performance and being an activist. (READ: Youth activism: More than organized action)
Below are some comments made by netizens on Twitter about the issue: