Palace, lawmakers, groups gang up on NYC chair
Malacañang, lawmakers, the justice secretary and student groups on Wednesday rejected a proposal by the head of the National Youth Commission (NYC) to withdraw state scholarships from student activists with suspected links to communist rebels who join antigovernment protests, saying this would violate the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.
The officials and the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) reacted on Wednesday to statements made by NYC Chair Ronald Cardema who had urged President Rodrigo Duterte to issue an executive order to remove funding for all antigovernment scholars.
The President himself said on Tuesday that students wouldn’t lose their scholarships just for expressing dissent.
“I need (to see) more overt acts,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said it was unlikely that the President would issue such an order.
“If a scholarship for a student is removed on the basis of suspicion, I don’t think the President will sign that,” Panelo said, adding that revoking a scholarship should be based on legal and “reasonable grounds.”
The Duterte administration was a “government of laws and not of speculations,” he added.
Violation of Constitution
Sen. Francis Escudero said Cardema’s suggestion violated the Constitution and the people’s right to free speech, to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances, and to due process and equal protection of the laws.
“The sycophantic and obsequious suggestion of the NYC head shows his ignorance of the Constitution and, far from helping, is surely doing a disservice to PRRD and the government,” said Escudero.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said adopting the proposal “would effectively restrain the youth’s constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.”
“Our state universities and colleges, instead of taking it against militant students by dropping them from the roll, should be proud that they are producing young people who are socially aware and concerned not only about themselves but also about the nation,” he said.
Guevarra added that it was not illegal to support communism as an ideology, but expressing this through armed struggle against the government “is something else.”
NYC’s illegal move
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said it was not illegal for students to join leftist organizations or join protests and rallies.
“It’s the NYC that is making an illegal move if it would continue this illegal policy,” Pangilinan said.
Panelo said it was “common sense” for the government not to finance the schooling of a student who wanted “to kill the government.”
Cardema later clarified that his proposal was targeted specifically to students who are allied with the “terrorist” Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
He told reporters his proposed executive order would provide a system to identify these students, adding that the military has informed him that 23 government “scholars” have been killed in clashes with soldiers since last year.
But Escudero said rebellion was already a crime and the guilty would be imprisoned, so revoking any scholarship would be “moot and academic.”
Vice President Leni Robredo expressed alarm over Cardema’s statements, wondering whether the NYC wanted the youth to be “just blind followers.”
Robredo told reporters in Cebu City on Wednesday that Filipino youth activists have always been seen as agents of change, citing their resistance to the Marcos dictatorship leading to the Edsa People Power Revolution.
Escudero said Cardema should be fired from the government for making those statements while student groups and minority legislators in the House of Representatives demanded his resignation.
NUSP, the broadest alliance of student councils in the country, said Cardema should step down for making the proposal and for alleged politicking by using the NYC as a platform to endorse administration candidates in the May midterm elections.
Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago said both the right to protest and the right to education were fundamental rights that the state should uphold and protect.
“Only a fascist regime and its puppets like Cardema will hold these rights contrary to each other,” she said.
Cardema’s ouster backed
Akbayan Rep. Tomasito Villarin backed calls for Cardema’s ouster, saying the NYC chair’s statements “betray the qualifications of a public official who wants government to adopt and enforce his ideas no matter how idiotic they are.”
The spokesperson for Akbayan Youth, Cassie Deluria, told the Inquirer that Cardema’s statements were “unforgivable.”
“What Cardema is calling antigovernment and anticountry, we think is nation building,” Deluria said.
Bas Claudio, the convener of #YouthResist, an alliance of youth groups that includes Millennials Against Dictators and the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines, said Cardema was clearly “more interested in being a puppet for this government” than a youth advocate. —With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Christine O. AvendaÑO, Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Melvin Gascon, Matthew Reysio-Cruz, Krissy Aguilar and Dale Israel
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.