Youth group asks: Why aren’t students, faculty in UP execs’ talks with gov’t?
MANILA, Philippines — A group of youth activists has asked why students and faculty members of the University of the Philippines (UP) are not represented in the school officials’ meetings with the government about academic freedom issues.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (Spark) claimed that the military sector’s inclusion — and the lack of representation from UP’s student and faculty bodies — in discussing the abrogated UP-Department of National Defense (DND) agreement would only do more harm than good.
Spark national spokesperson John Lazaro said that it is perplexing why students, whom they believe are most impacted by the UP-DND accord’s termination, do not have a voice in the closed-door meetings initiated by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).
“We have once again been left out of the discussion about upholding our rights and protecting our own lives,” Lazaro said in a statement.
“CHEd [has] allowed the discussion about our freedom to commence without us, and because of that millions of lives are now in danger for it and the integrity of academic institutions compromised,” he added.
CHEd chairperson Prospero de Vera III, who is also the chair of UP’s Board of Regents, facilitated a breakfast meeting between UP president Danilo Concepcion and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
In a joint statement issued afterward, the three officials said they all agreed to hold further talks on the abrogated deal, which effectively disallows the illegal presence of police and military within UP campuses.
“The dialogue afforded the key leaders the opportunity to discuss the way forward and possible areas of cooperation on how both institutions can promote their mutual aspirations to ensure a safe and secure environment conducive to learning,” the joint statement read.
De Vera, who thought the UP-DND accord was likely to be problematic due to unclear provisions, hoped that the first meeting would lead to constructive negotiations between the parties concerned.
The DND and UP agreement was canceled, Lorenzana said, because of recent developments that have shown recruitment of UP students into the communist armed struggle. Although Lorenzana was criticized for his acts by the UP community, the Defense Chief maintained that they were only out to defend the university from state enemies.
But Spark believed that CHEd’s actions disenfranchised students by ignoring their opinions and not including them in meetings.
“Time and time again, this agency has been a scene of the crime of disenfranchising and ignoring millions upon millions of students, the pandemic only worsened it,” Lazaro explained.
Spark and CHEd have long been at odds; this is not the first time it has asked CHEd to invite academics and students to the discussions. Last January 27, Spark said that the commission should not leave education experts behind.
Spark also called for an academic freeze during the height of the COVID-19 because, in the absence of face-to-face learning due to quarantine constraints, students might not be able to withstand the demands and expenses needed for online classes.
Before primary and secondary classes began, when calls for such steps were made in September, De Vera said that supporters should first send a feasibility report that would detail why an academic freeze is required.
Spark countered by noting that they have been raising concerns about this problem since July, only to be ignored by CHEd and De Vera.
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