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The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) filed a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday, July 24, citing almost 1,000 violations against campus press freedom since 2010.
CEGP deputy secretary-general Regina Tolentino said campus publications have been subjected to attacks and suppression, even by their very own school administrations.
“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 through the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act or the free higher education law,” Tolentino said in an interview.
Violation of the law
The complaint has categorized the attacks received by campus publications. These are, but not limited to:
- Harassment and/or killings of student writers and editors
- Meddling with editorial policies
- Actual censorship of editorial content
- Withholding and looting publication funds
- Non-collection or non-mandatory collection of publication fee
- Administrative intervention
- Suspension and expulsion of student editors and writers
- Filing of libel charges against student journalists
According to CEGP, these attacks are violations of Republic Act (RA) No. 7079, also known as the Campus Journalism Act of 1991.
Section Four of the law stipulates that a student publication’s editorial board shall freely determine its editorial policies as well as the management of its funds.
Tolentino also said that the process for publishing stories has been “very bureaucratic” and with “strict censorship,” going as far as barring publications from producing articles concerning the school and national issues.
Meanwhile, Section 5 of the law states that funding of the student publications may come from the school’s appropriation savings, student subscriptions, and donations, among other sources. Neither the school nor the Department of Education can withhold the funding that is meant for the publication.
“Hindi mandatory ‘yung collection ng funds kaya paralisado ‘yung operations ng ating mga publications (The collection of funds for the publication is not mandatory so its operations have become paralyzed),” she added.
Toothless, spineless law
CEGP, however, pointed out that violations still happen because RA 7079 is “toothless.”
“Violators think these transgressions are fine because of the toothlessness of the Republic Act 7079… The spinelessness of RA 7079 encourages transgressions because perpetrators know they will never be accountable for said crimes,” the organization said.
There are pending bills at the House of Representatives to amend RA 7079, but these have yet to be tackled.
Tolentino stressed that a free press is important for society as it allows citizens to be fully aware of what is happening around them.
“Press freedom is important in a society as it becomes the avenue for information as well as it exposes all the errors in the society without any intervention from anyone who wants to silence it,” she said.
“The awareness of the entire Filipino nation towards these issues will push their civic and social consciousness to change and correct all anomalies that they can see,” Tolentino added.
Further violations expected
Tolentino also warned that the distance learning setup that will soon be implemented by schools and universities nationwide would give way to more violations and attacks against press freedom.
“Repression, censorship on social media, and disciplinary actions imposed by university officials will be more rampant,” Tolentino said.
However, campus journalists’ resistance would only be stronger should they face more repression, she said.
The organization said it will file another complaint before the Commission on Higher Education on Tuesday, July 28, after President Duterte’s SONA.– Rappler.com