University of Santo Tomas

UST student council candidates quit amid university censorship issues

Patricia Kahanap

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UST student council candidates quit amid university censorship issues

Paolo Cootauco/MovePH

(1st UPDATE) The student leaders in UST abandon their bids to become university-wide council officers, in protest of a 'system resistant to reform'

MANILA, Philippines – Seven student leaders in the University of Santo Tomas withdrew their candidacies for the upcoming central student council (CSC) elections, as the campus administration continues to draw flak for supposed suppression of academic freedom.

In a statement released on Wednesday, March 20, six of the seven CSC candidates said that they felt compelled to “take a principled stand against participating in a system resistant to reform.”

“We call on our fellow students and student leaders to no longer compromise their principles, and to no longer give up their dreams and vision of a better student experience by refusing to participate in a dysfunctional and oppressive system,” they said.

The remaining candidate withdrew his candidacy on Friday, March 22, saying that he echoed the call for students to “unite, stand up against repressive policies, speak up on university issues, and continue to work with integrity whilst never sacrificing their principles.”

The move is the latest blow against campus officials of Asia’s oldest existing university, which is grappling with allegations of student censorship, reignited by the Office for Student Affairs’ (OSA) forced takedown of a photo uploaded by student-led media organization TomasinoWeb in February.

OSA wanted a photo of some students entering a convenience store inside the campus deleted for supposedly causing the university “public ridicule.”

In that same week, philosophy student Raven Racelis received a show-cause notice from university officials, asking her to explain why she should not be disciplined for being the chairperson of Panday Sining UST, a national democratic mass organization that is not recognized by the university.

The former CSC candidates urged the university to “address these issues with utmost urgency” by initiating discussions with student representatives, with hopes of creating “genuine reform where the values of the University are truly upheld.”

During an open conversation with students and media on Wednesday, Racelis said that while she respects the student leaders’ decision to withdraw their candidacy, such an action could mean a lack of student representation inside the campus.

“It will be easier for the administration to interfere with our council and oppress us. Let us be clear though that our number one target shouldn’t be the candidates who withdrew their candidacy, but the administration who caused fear and anger to every student in our university,” Racelis said in Filipino.

On March 14, UST said a technical group led by OSA will review its student-related policies with the help of recognized student organizations.

It also designated UST senior high school (SHS) assistant principal Jaezamie Ong as the officer-in-charge of OSA, after director Maria Cecilia Tio Cuison, who received criticism over the TomasinoWeb photo takedown, availed of medical leave.

UST student council candidates quit amid university censorship issues

Discussions on UST’s supposed student repression have spread beyond campus grounds and reached Congress, with Kabataan Representative Raoul Manuel filing a resolution seeking a House probe into “violations of students’ rights” in the university. – with reports from Paolo Cootauco/MovePH

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Patricia Kahanap

Patricia Kahanap is a digital communications specialist at Rappler.