MANILA, Philippines – In an act of solidarity with the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community, campus newspaper TomasinoWeb uploaded a Facebook profile picture last June 27 that had the colors of the rainbow in the background – only for them to revert back to their original logo hours later following a heated online debate.
The TomasinoWeb is an online student publication of the University of Santo Tomas (UST). It was founded in 2007 by student volunteers and gained recognition as an organization and a publication by the UST’s Office for Student Affairs (OSA) in 2008. It is independent of The Varsitarian, the official student publication of UST.
The publication changed its profile picture to one with a rainbow – a symbol of the LGBT community – to celebrate the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. The profile picture gained immediate attention and drew both praise and flack from the UST community. The Facebook Page administrators took down the photo and reverted to the official logo on Sunday, June 29.
According to a July 2 account by The Varsitarian, many criticized the post for going against Thomasian values and running contrary to Church doctrine on marriage and family. The article cited an unnamed commenter who pointed out that the post held no disclaimer that TomasinoWeb’s position did not reflect that of the university.
The decision to take down the photo was equally met with criticism, with many viewing it as a university’s move towards censorship. In a thread of Facebook comments following The Varsitarian’s account of the incident, Denise Paglinawan stated, “This is student journalism. Not Catholic journalism. Students, whether or not Catholic, should have the freedom to express.” (READ: 7 out of 10 Filipinos oppose same-sex marriage)
Lawrence C. Bautista also commented on the black and yellow profile picture of the organization saying, “Your previous dp was better, worthy of promoting students’ rights and freedom.”
Another commenter named U.g. Naguit attacked the publication for yielding to the pressure of criticism.
The College Editor’s Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) released an official statement last June 29, one day after the profile picture was taken down. The statement said, “While the Guild respects the views of UST as the Catholic university of Asia, we are concerned by OSA’s blatant disregard to TomasinoWeb’s editorial autonomy by keeping the publication from voicing its support to our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community. This is a clear violation of the publication’s right to freedom of the press and of expression.”
However, an official statement from TomasinoWeb released last July 4 clarifies that the initiative to both post the rainbow-filtered logo and revert to the original logo came from the Core group of officers. According to the organization, “We understand that some people were offended by the [rainbow] profile picture and we humbly apologize to them, as it was not our intention to do so nor was it our intention to go against the teachings of the Catholic Church. As a student publication, we respect and consider everyone’s opinions, as it is necessary for a functioning democracy.”
The Varsitarian article also claims that while the post received negative feedback from both University officials and netizens, the profile picture change was not mandated by the UST administration. The article quoted the university’s secretary-general, Fr. Winston Cabading’s comment on a another Facebook page saying, “changing the profile [picture] was not the decision of the [organization],” referring to TomasinoWeb, but by “one of their members who was a [Facebook page] administrator.”
The University of Santo Tomas, the Pontifical and Catholic university of the Philippines is run by the Dominican Order. TomasinoWeb falls directly under the supervision of the university’s OSA because of its status as a social media organization, according to Katrina Guzman, Executive Coordinator of the Chief of Staff in the UST council. In contrast, The Varsitarian and other UST and college publications do not fall under the OSA and need not comply with set requirements from authorities.
Guzman said that while the University respects press freedom, it is not without its limitations. “As a Catholic University, there are boundaries regarding the controversies to be published that may cause harm or violence to the Thomasian community itself,” added Guzman.
The Catholic Church is opposed to same-sex marriage, arguing that the sacrament of marriage must be between a man and a woman. However, the Church has rallied against the discrimination of homosexuals, advising Catholics that homosexuals must always be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” – with Zebediah Cañero and Katrina Guzman/Rappler.com
Mayelle Nisperos, Zebediah Cañero and Katrina Guzman are Rappler interns.