This was written for Philippine Online Chronicles.
While Pope Francis is condemning the evils of capitalist exploitation and encouraging the youth to act in solidarity with the poor, four student leaders in Cebu City are threatened to be kicked out of a Catholic university for supporting protesting workers of the same institution.
The irony is pointed out by supporters of the four University of San Carlos (USC) students threatened by the school administration with expulsion after joining protests against the termination of employees of the school’s General Services Office (GSO) before the opening of classes last May.
More than 70 employees of the GSO were retrenched by the university administration supposedly in preparation for an anticipated drop in student enrollments in relation to the full implementation of the K-12 basic education program by 2016.
Supreme Student Council (SSC) vice president Ken Ecarma, Student Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy (STAND-USC) member Justin Gular, Kabataan Party-list member Alem Garcia, and Anakbayan-USC member Katleen Abugan joined the workers on the sixth day of their picket on May 27.
The students are now undergoing disciplinary proceedings for allegedly violating university rules and regulations, namely the staging of rallies, pickets, strikes, and demonstrations without a valid permit. According to the university administration, this offense is a ground for expulsion.
“This is an attempt to silence the students and eliminate opposition to tuition and other fees hike and other unreasonable school policies,” said STAND-USC. The progressive student party also condemned the charges as “a threat to the democratic rights of the students” and an “encroachment of academic freedom.”
Ecarma said that they were also unable to enroll during the official registration period but were unblocked a week after. Fr. Emmanuel Sarabia, SVD, Director for Student Services is the complainant against the four students.
USC-SSC president Nicole Ann Ponce meanwhile called for the dismissal of the case against the four, saying that members of San Carlos as an academic community should be free to express their views on school issues and other matters of general interest to the student body.
“The USC-SSC calls for the strict adherence of the constitutional mandate that no person shall be deprived of his or her freedom of speech, of expression, and the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition,” she said.
This is not the first time that the Catholic university threw out students for involvement in protest actions. In 1988, USC-SSC officers Emmanuel S. Licup, Noel F. Tabasa and Joel Marc Cairo were kicked out for leading mass protests against tuition and other fees increases.
The USC is one of the oldest universities in Asia with its roots traceable to the Colegio de San Ildefonso founded by Spanish Jesuits in 1595. The university is presently run by priests of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) and has over 20,000 students spread out in 5 campuses all over Metro Cebu.
Anakbayan-Cebu said that the case of “the USC 4” is a manifestation of a commercialized, colonial, and fascist educational system wherein criticisms from students are met with repression by school administrators who use an iron hand to suppress students’ basic rights.
As of the moment, the four students and their legal team are waiting for an official pronouncement from the university.
“We will intensify our campaign in informing the students about the case which is a classic example of student repression typical to our educational system,” said Ecarma.
They remain unbowed and stand by the conviction that there is nothing wrong with exercising one’s democratic rights and freedom of expression.