MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippines may already have a Reproductive Health law but some critics are still not over the debate.
The University of Santo Tomas on Thursday, January 10, cancelled a senatorial candidates’ forum on health, population and development a day before it was supposed to be held at the university’s College of Medicine Auditorium.
Organizers said this was due to the expected presence of pro-Reproductive Health Law candidates at the forum, which was organized as an election advocacy for the May 2013 polls.
In a statement, the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), one of the organizers, said the university’s Office of the Secretary General decided to stop the event for “fear” that the Reproductive Health Law will be discussed during the forum.
Chi Vallido, advocacy specialist of the Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc. — one of the groups that staunchly advocated for the passage of the RH Bill — said the event would have been a “breakthrough” event after the signing of the RH Bill into law.
“It would have been a breakthrough for UST. But we have also been clear that the topic would be about young people’s health, not reproductive health but they cancelled on us at the last minute, We have also always been transparent. Our name has always been in the letters, invitations,” Vallido told Rappler.
Series of debates
The forum is part of a series of debates organized by the First Time Voters’ Network, in partnership with SCAP, the San Beda College-Alabang Student Council, SMART Communications, Interaksyon, and UST’s own Student Council.
Stressing that the forum was about “young people’s health in its entirety, and not on reproductive health alone,” SCAP’s chairperson for NCR, Heart Diño, cried foul over the “blatant disregard of “students’ academic freedom”
Argee Gonzales, vice president of UST’s Central Student Council, said in a statement sent to media that the organizers ensured balance in the scheduled debate by including anti-RH Ang Kapatiran Bet Lito David in the line-up along with pro-RH senatorial candidate Risa Hontiveros.
Interaksyon however reported that UST merely “reset” the forum. Quoting Gonzales, Interaksyon said that as early as Wednesday, January 9, the UST administration already had misgivings about the forum.
It eventually cancelled Friday’s event until such time that they were “comfortable” with the format of the forum and the candidates to be invited, Interaksyon quoted Gonzales as saying. “UST, as a Catholic institution, made a stand against the RH bill, and we are very firm about it, even if it has already been approved into law. It’s something we will hold on to,” Interaksyon quoted Gonzales as saying.
Aside from Hontiveros and David, other senatorial candidates who confirmed their attendance include Aurora Rep Sonny Angara, Bayan Muna Rep Teddy Casiño, Grace Poe Llamanzares, Richard Gordon and Jamby Madrigal.
Angara and Casiño both voted in favor of the RH bill.
Netizens, participants express disappointment
Just learned that”administration of UST has cancelled senatorial forum set tomorrow because of presence of some pro-RH senatoriables.”Shame!— risa hontiveros (@risahontiveros) January 10, 2013
“Not only is this a violation of academic freedom but an abridgment of our freedom of speech. We hope the UST administration reconsiders its decision,” Casiño said in a statement. He also took to Twitter to express his disappointment.
UST admin has cancelled tomorrow’s senatorial forum due to the presence of pro-RH candidates. There goes academic freedom…— Teddy Casiño (@teddycasino) January 10, 2013
Disappointed that UST cancelled this due to attendance of pro-RH candidates. Would’ve been good to hear various views. via.me/-8nqweuo— Teddy Casiño (@teddycasino) January 10, 2013
Netizens also slammed UST’s decision to cancel the event.
Kung buhay lang si Rizal, masidhing pagtutol ang kanyang ipaparamdam sa UST admin sa pagCancel nito sa isang makabuluhang #YouthVote2013— edz ayson (@edz_ayson) January 10, 2013
To think UST’s an authority in health & med, what the admin did was a clear disrespect to students’ right to informed choice #YouthVote2013— Leslie Dela Cruz (@leslielouisedc) January 10, 2013
The UST Admin had tomorrow’s— Jeff Crisostomo (@jeffcrisostomo) January 10, 2013
#YouthVote2013 senatorial forum cancelled because of the presence of PRO-#RHLaw candidates! This is outrageous!
iinvite na lang mga students ng UST sa ibang venue outside the school for #YouthVote2013— ruevin dc serrano (@ruevinserrano) January 10, 2013