BREAKING THE SILENCE: Probing the plight of the campus press
■ Daniel Boone
Journalism aims to report on issues sparking public interest while taking the side of the marginalized. Even at their young age, campus journalists have been up to this challenge–most notably during the 1970s when the majority of the press were forcibly closed.
The Philippine Collegian has been one such publication—its subversive stances and content at the time of forced censorship earned it the label of “mosquito press”. Today, during the digital age, it continues this tradition: fearless reportage to uphold the public’s right to know.
But while campus journalists strive hard to perform their mandate of promoting students’ rights and welfare, school administrators, on the other hand, pose hindrances to this. Laws have been bent to withhold funds from campus publications and halt their operations, thus suppressing not only the rights of the campus press but also of those students which the latter defends.
Kill the messenger
These kinds of campus press repression perhaps are glaringly manifested in UP Diliman (UPD), before the eyes of students of the premier state university. Amid grave issues like the Socialized Tuition System (STS) and the Electronic UP (eUP) project, the Collegian was not allowed to publish its news on print in the absence of a new contract, despite the previous contract not having been exhausted.
The administration cited provisions of the Government Procurement Act in defense of their side. Signed into law in 2003 during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Republic Act (RA) 9184 was implemented in UP in 2006. Among its purposes was to promote transparency and accountability in the government through competitive bidding.
The law authorized government owned corporations, state universities, and other public offices to establish their own Bids and Awards Committee, forcing them to undergo a tedious, bureaucratic process of “procurement” to acquire goods and services, as what clearly stated in Section 5, Article I.
In 2006 under the term of former editor-in-chief (EIC) Karl Castro, the Collegian was unable to release regular issues as the money was inaccessible to the editorial board and cannot be used to pay for publication expenses.
“The timing was very suspect because this was the year that top University officials conspired to unleash anti-student and anti-people policies, like the 300 percent tuition increase, the restructuring of Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP), and the dubious partnerships innocuously called ‘Science and Technology Parks,’” Castro said.
Before the law was implemented, the editorial board had more freedom managing the publication’s funds and was independent from the administration, he added. But now, the Collegian staff had to undergo tedious bureaucratic processes to reimburse expenses spent for the publication’s operation.
The Collegian’s case, however, is not isolated in UP Diliman as other publications suffer the same. The College Editor’s Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), largest alliance of student publications in the country, in fact has recorded roughly half of their 750 member publications to have similar situation as the Collegian.
For the longest time, The Catalyst of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) had no access to their funds. It forced them to accumulate debts from their printing press, which now amounts to more than a million pesos.
The publication may be privileged now to have their own bank account, yet they still had to undergo through the tedious liquidation processes to get their funds, News Editor Pia Ramirez said. More so, the funds from the previous terms amounting to P4 million cannot be used to pay for their debts because these funds cannot be carried over the next term.
Since the publication is the rightful owners of the funds, they should have access to it regardless of the year it was collected, said Jose Mari Callueng, CEGP National President.
Withholding of funds like what is currently done to the Collegian and Catalyst is among the most alarming forms of abridgement of the campus press freedom as dubbed by CEGP. But it is just one of the many modes of action done by the administration to instill power and suppress campus press.
Since 2010 to 2014 alone, the organization has recorded more than 800 campus press freedom violations by school administrations including looting of funds apart from withholding, intervening in the publication’s regular works, and filing cases like libel in the most extreme cases.
A UP Baguio professor filed a libel case against Jesusa Paquibot, former EIC of Outcrop which is the official student publication of the campus. The professor was offended by a satire article in a lampoon issue even despite the lack of any name mentioned in the said article, according to a CEGP report.
The University of Eastern Philippines’ The Pillar also faced alleged military harassment back in 2012 in time for the commemoration of the Maguindanao Massacre. Before and during the event, an unidentified man kept surveilling outside the Pillar’s office, once in a while taking photos and videos.
CEGP considers these cases rather appalling, saying that “most often, the easiest way to silence student publications that are valiant enough to air pro-student opinions and reports is to paralyze their operations.” On top of these are constant red-tagging of campus journalists and publication imposing surefire danger to their lives.
Breaking the silence
It is ironic that these problems persist despite the Constitution’s guaranteed freedom of the press and existing laws like the Campus Journalism Act (CJA), which was enacted in 1991 following the enforced shutting down of media outlets during Martial Law.
The law is supposed to uphold press freedom in the campus level. It even clearly states in Article IV that “the editorial board shall freely manage its funds…” but the contrast happens.
Assessments from CEGP show several provisions in the law only legalize repression of the campus press. Aside from other terms, the law does not even penalize school administrators that violate their press freedom (see sidebar).
“Talagang pinipilit ng admin na supilin ang campus press. Sa pamamagitan ng capitalist educators and administrators, nagagamit ang CJA to suppress campus press freedom. [Pero dapat] nating i-assert ang inherent right [sa] loob ng campus na makapagbalita nang malaya,” said former CEGP Chair Marc Abila.
The administration’s unjust actions perhaps only manifest what they try to achieve–silenced campus publications that fear them. And a way to counter this fear and uphold the task of giving voice to the voiceless is to amend the existing law and pass an act that genuinely promotes campus press freedom.
For the third time on July 25, Kabataan Partylist submitted the Campus Press Freedom Bill (CPFB) in the House of Representatives. It aims to iron out the flaws of the existing law by fostering a free and more democratic atmosphere, essential for campus publications to perform their duties.
“[Panawagan natin] na maipasa ang CPFB [dahil] mahalaga ang papel na ginagampanan ng campus press para ipanawagan ang democratic interests ng mamamayang Pilipino,” added Abila.
Now that the mainstream media has been merely the apparatus to preserve the status quo and protect nothing else but the interests of the ruling elite, strengthening the rights of campus publications has never been as timely. Despite glaring circumstances, campus journalists should not falter, especially in upholding their mandate–to promote the welfare of students and provide space for the marginalized. ■
Short URL: http://www.philippinecollegian.org/?p=12052