In removing senior high school student Datu Zaldy Ampatuan Jr. from the student council and refusing him college admission next academic year because he’s a member of Anakbayan, a leftist organization “not recognized” by UST, the UST Senior High School (SHS) under principal Erika Bolaños has outdone the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the latter’s dangerous “red-tagging” campaign; it has taken the step farther of witch-hunting and denying him his constitutional rights of free speech and association. Indeed, it has denied him his right to college education.

To be sure, a UST student can be a member of any association, whether or not “recognized” by UST: we’re pretty sure even the SHS administrative personnel or faculty like Bolaños are members of organizations not recognized by UST, such as knitting and bingo clubs.

Even if Anakbayan is tagged by the AFP as a leftist organization, there’s no law against the left. Leftists are allowed to take part in the socio-political dynamics of a democracy like the Philippines.  Leftist groups are not illegal; what is outlawed is armed rebellion. Which is as it should be since democratic dialogue and discussion cannot take place through the barrel of a gun.

Ampatuan is a student council officer taking part in the country’s democratic dynamics. Definitely, he’s not done any violent act or instigated one. He simply could not have done so on campus: there have been no face-to-face classes since March because of the pandemic.

By dismissing him from the student council, the SHS administration in fact has done the anti-democratic act—student union-busting. It has done violence to Ampatuan’s democratic rights. The SHS is a disgrace to Philippine democracy. It’s a disgrace to UST.

Smelling blood, the SHS now has sent out “show-cause” letters to other students, its foreplay to its Kangaroo-court trial to which Ampatuan has earlier been subjected. UST SHS is even worse than the AFP. Perhaps the AFP should learn from the SHS’s “best practices” textbook in quashing human rights.

SHS has refused to make a public explanation of its actions, insisting on “confidentiality.” The “confidentiality” is apparently its legal cover for its abuses and its evil silence. Certainly, the higher UST administration should make the overlords and overmistresses of SHS explain. After all, SHS is smearing the name of UST as a Catholic institution by its “unchristian” red-tagging and witch-hunt. After all, SHS is violating its own commitment to its students to guide them through senior high school, a commitment enunciated since the start by SHS inaugural principal Pilar Romero and her successor Bolaños. That avowed commitment has now been unmasked as vacuous rhetoric.

SHS has also shamelessly and blatantly defied the call of UST Rector Fr. Richard Ang, O.P. to the Thomasian community to unite and help UST brave through the Covid-19 pandemic via “a renewed sense of competence, commitment and compassion.”

An embarrassment

SHS is an embarrassment to UST. It must be remembered that its anti-democratic sanctions of Ampatuan came together with the news that UST leadership, along with those of other prestigious schools has signed a statement, dated Jan. 24, 2021, objecting to renewed and unsubstantiated allegations by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, that UST and 17 other schools are “recruitment havens” of the New People’s Army.

Perhaps because Philippine students are at the bottom of an Asia-Pacific survey of reading comprehension and other basic indicators, Bolaños and the SHS educators may not have comprehended well the statement that UST Acting Rector Fr. Isaias Tiongco, O.P. and the other schools’ heads have signed, so we cite here important excerpts:

“We assert that … as Philippine schools, we value the Filipinos’ basic Constitutional rights to free speech, thought, assembly, and organization. As universities with high aspirations for the country, we seek to direct our students to engage in acts that contribute to the strengthening of social conditions, defend the country’s democratic institutions, and promote nation-building. And as institutions of higher learning that are stewards of the repositories and producers of knowledge, and builders of communities, we must retain our independence and autonomy from the State and other institutions.

“We therefore object to General Parlade’s statement and emphasize that our institutions neither promote nor condone activities of the New People’s Army and, indeed, of any movement that aims to violently overthrow the government.

“We take as sacred trust our primary responsibilities to promote learning and safeguard the rights of the young who are entrusted to our care. We are committed to this mission and have always held ourselves accountable to our primary constituents, the learners, and by extension, their parents.”

We have italicized key parts of the statement in order to guide Bolaños and the SHS in their examination of conscience, if any.

Arrogant bureaucratic overreach

Not only have Bolaños and the SHS administration committed student-union busting. It has even barred Ampatuan from “readmission” next academic year, which means he cannot enter college in UST. This is arrogant bureaucratic overreach because the SHS has no power over the UST Office for Admissions. Definitely it has no power to deny Ampatuan his right to have a college education.

But bloodthirsty and drunk with power, SHS even told Ampatuan he would not be given a certificate of good moral character, a requisite in college admissions, the better to ensure he’s denied his human right to higher education. What the SHS has done is vicious and inhumane.

We call on Bolaños and the SHS administration to rescind their order sanctioning Ampatuan and their show-cause letters to other students. We call on them to stop the witch-hunt. Their anti-democratic and unchristian actions are anathema to UST, especially in light of the University’s responsibility to “promote learning and safeguard the rights of the young,” as the Jan. 24 statement declares. The bureaucratic overreach is not only an infringement on Ampatuan’s “Constitutional rights of speech, thought, assembly and organization,” but is also a step away from the “sacred trust” that UST and the other signatory-schools have upheld.

Peaceful assemblies of a political character have always been permitted on campus—some even supported by the Central Student Council itself—and protest actions online. It’s unfair and disgraceful, especially in the middle of a pandemic, to raise the communist bogey and make students suffer the red-baiting of the military and become the scapegoats of the AFP’s failure to quell any insurgency in the country—communist or Muslim secessionist—failures that should be really attributed more to the AFP’s historic incompetence, mismanagement and corruption. UST simply cannot close the door on somebody who could as well be just looking for a place to belong and be relevant. At the least SHS has a moral and academic responsibility to its students drawn to activism. That responsibility is part of UST’s avowed “sacred trust.”

It doesn’t help that the engagements by and between government agencies and academic institutions—including UST—have to happen in the media as if publicity and sensationalism can replace real dialogue. It won’t hurt academic independence and autonomy and institutional egos if military and police and school heads communicate with each other and sit down together to hold a dialogue. What’s wrong with working together? There has got to be trust, no matter what, or nothing can move forward.

Even as there should be a sincere and proactive involvement among various sectors in promoting peace and order, efforts along this path must manifest fairness and respect for human rights. There’s simply no room for shortcuts or witch-hunts.



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