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Panelo: Joining rallies alone not enough basis to revoke scholarships

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang rejected the proposal of National Youth Commission (NYC) Chairman Ronald Cardema to scrap scholarships for students in public schools just because they joined rallies against the government.

However, he said that if there is "evidence" to show that these students are working with the Left – the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People's Army, and National Democratic Front – specifically with the goal of ousting the government, they will be targeted through existing laws against inciting to sedition or rebellion.

"Kung sila'y sumasama lang sa mga rally (If they just joined rallies), that's their right, that's freedom of expression and freedom of assembly," said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Wednesday, February 20, in a Palace news briefing.

But using rallies "to foment violence, to incite sedition" is a "different story," said Panelo.

Asked if such actions merit the removal of a student's scholarship, Panelo said: "Definitely naman, bakit naman hindi? Unang-una, idedemanda ka, eh di nakakulong ka pa kapag nagkataon, paano ka pa makakapag-aral?"

(Definitely, why not? First of all, if you will be charged, then you would be sent to jail, so how will you study?)

How about membership in Left-leaning groups that President Rodrigo Duterte has called "legal fronts" of the communists, like Kabataan and Akbayan?

Panelo said "mere membership" won't be considered inciting to sedition or rebellion.

"Mere membership alone will not suffice. You have to show us evidence that, one, you did join because you want to fight the government. But if you joined for whatever reason, like for fraternities, in UP (University of the Philippines), people join it because it's a status symbol," said Panelo.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also rejected Cardema's proposal, saying universities "should be proud that they are producing young people who are socially aware."

Senators like Francis Escudero, Francis Pangilinan, and Panfilo Lacson had earlier slammed Cardema for his proposal.

Escudero said Cardema should be the one removed from office for his "unconstitutional" suggestion. Pangilinan said joining leftist groups or rallies should not be considered illegal. Lacson, meanwhile, said showing dissent is a "basic right" that students should not be penalized for. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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