In the line of duty
(This article was first published in print in issue 7 of the Philippine Collegian on 2 August 2013.)
by Julian Anunciacion
Suspicious men in motorcycles—alleged military personnel—wait outside the house of one of a group of young student journalists from the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) convention.
Wrapped in fear, the young group of writers dreaded the unwelcome minutes as they wait within the temporary safety of their locked doors.
The members of the small group are national and regional leaders of CEGP, the oldest and broadest alliance of campus publications in the Philippines. They had to resort to text messaging and the use of social media for updates on their current situation.
Earlier that day, the group of men in motorcycles and pedicabs were aggressively asking for their whereabouts from residents of Catarman. They were then harassing the young group to get inside the tricycles as the group hurried to the house of a co-guilder near the Catarman terminal.
The group left in the morning, amid the ongoing threats of military terrorism against campus journalists.
The campus paper is essential to the students and has been integral in the dissemination of social issues. During the Martial law period, campus publications have served as mosquito press that continued to publish underground materials that blatantly exposed the ills of the Marcos dictatorship.
“[Sa campus press] nananatili ang aspirasyon para sa malayang pamamahayag habang marami sa ‘profesyonal’ na media ay nahatak na sa kapitalismo’t kita ng mga ito,” said UP College of Mass Communication Dean Roland Tolentino.
The campus press is the freedom from any form of administration intervention and censorship. A student publication is an autonomous student-managed institution, free from commercial and corporate interests. Since media ownership is a restraint to press freedom due to conflicting interests, campus press has always been the alternative media, according to a statement of CEGP.
“Unlike the mainstream media, the student pub is beholden not to any political or commercial interest, but the interest of the student body. The student body is not isolated from the society at large, and whatever faulty policy the government implements affects the students whether directly or indirectly,” CEGP National President Pauline Gidget Estella said.
Article III Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution states that no law shall be passed that would disable “freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” Press freedom is an essential element of a democracy for it to have a well-informed citizenry.
Although press freedom is contained in the Constitution, the campus press is still victim to many violations.
With the need to uphold campus press freedom (CPF), the government instead ignores the call to advocate CPF. CEGP documented 230 cases of campus press freedom violations (CPFV) since April 2013.
Some of the violations recorded were threats against student writers and editors, administration intervention with editorial policies and articles, censorship of articles, barring of publication funds and facilities, and suspension and filing of libel against student journalists.
Despite the presence of a bill to protect campus press, a libel case was charged against campus journalists from University of the East’s the Weekly Dawn whose former Managing Editor was banned from enrolment. The publication also suffered from loss of funding along with other publications such as Polytechnic University of the Philippines Taguig’s The Chronicler and Holy Angel University’s The Angelite. EARIST Technozette experiences a threat of abolition after it refused having an adviser.
Extreme measures such as red-tagging and use of military force to threaten student journalists were also recorded. In 2012, members of Palawan State University’s The Pioneer were red-tagged as “communist fronts” by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during a forum in Palawan.
The campus press is also a victim of the culture of impunity. Former CEGP Vice President for Mindanao Benjaline Hernandez of Ateneo de Davao University’s Atenews was killed by members of the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) in Northern Cotabato while doing field research ten years ago.
The number of CPFV excluding the undocumented ones is escalating at an alarming rate. The current administration failed to deliver a bill that protects the rights of the press. To end this cycle of injustice against student journalists, CEGP filed a complaint to Commission on Higher Education (CHED) last July 17 against the documented violations on campus press freedom.
However, the law has loopholes such as the allowing of non-mandatory establishment of publications and non-mandatory collection of publication fee—the main source of life of campus publications. This gives a leeway to school administrators to boycott collecting publication fees.
The law also gives exemptions to violators of the freedom and space of student journalists, and does not contain a penalty clause, allowing offence after offence among administrations.
“CJA paved way for school [administrations] to devise more creative schemes to silence the pub without violating the law,” Estella said.
One of the most known examples of the consequence of this law was the libel case filed against UP Baguio Outcrop then-Editor in Chief Jesusa Paquibot in 2011 by a UP Baguio professor after the publication of Outcrop’s satire issue. Trial would take place in October.
“Naniniwala ang Outcrop na hindi hiwalay ang kasong kinakaharap nito sa nararanasan ng iba pang mga publikasyon sa bansa. Sa tala pa lamang ng CEGP ng mga CPFVs noong nakaraang taon, makikitang hindi nabibigyan ng sapat na proteksyon ang mga pahayagang pangkampus,” current Outcrop Editor in Chief said.
Several student publications were shut down by the school administration such as the EARIST Technozette of Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology, The Dawn of University of the East,The Pedon of Mindanao State University-Marawi, Monthly Quest of Quezon City Polytechnic University, and the La Sallian of De La Salle University Manila.
Outside the frame
In an effort to end the many violations against campus journalists, House Bill 1493 or the “Campus Press Freedom Act of 2013” was re-filed by Kabataan Partylist (KPL) Rep. Terry Ridon.
Revisions present in HB 1493 are the required establishment and independence of publications in all levels, and the mandatory collection of publication fee to support the operations of the student paper which is an integral part not only of the student body, but of the national press.
The conflict of interest between the campus or national administration and the thrust of the student publication is the root cause of CPFV. With the violations against freedom of expression, and even the basic rights, it is evident that the current administration failed to prioritize the lives of the press and student journalists who chronicle reality in daily headlines.
As campus press freedom remains subjugated, the educational system is chafed with an uninformed student body. Full autonomy of student publications must be attained for journalism to serve its purpose of serving the common interest of the student body and the people. ●
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