IT HAS been a month since the much-criticized censorship of TomasinoWeb by the Office for Student Affairs (OSA), which began after the digital media organization posted an innocuous photo on social media.

OSA’s directive to take down the photo sparked a controversy that could lead to a congressional investigation.

On March 14, UST addressed the issue for the first time and announced that OSA Director Maria Cecilia Tio Cuison would go on medical leave.

Here is a timeline of the TomasinoWeb censorship issue. 

Feb. 15 – TomasinoWeb, an online student media organization, posts a photo album of Thomasians wearing their “Type B” uniforms for the first time this academic year. 

The album includes a photo of two College of Information and Computing Sciences (CICS) students donning their red and beige polo shirts and entering a 7-Eleven store in front of the Fr. Roque Ruano Building.

The photo goes viral due to the resemblance of the CICS Type B uniforms to those of the 7-Eleven crew, an old joke in the college.

Feb. 17 – The Office for Student Affairs (OSA) orders TomasinoWeb to take down the photo, saying it had caused “public ridicule.” OSA also directs the organization to issue a public apology.

TomasinoWeb adheres to OSA, and in its statement, says:

“While we believe being a convenience store worker is honest work, we acknowledge that the photograph still caused a stir online, and for that we sincerely apologize.” 

READ MORE: OSA orders student org to take down ‘7-Eleven’ photo, issue public apology 

TomasinoWeb president Jan Carlo Zamora says that while he believes the deletion is “not justified,” the organization took the photo down to avoid repercussions. 

Feb. 19 – TomasinoWeb adviser Leo Laparan II, a journalism instructor at the Faculty of Arts and Letters, files his resignation letter at 8:57 a.m.

Laparan, a desk editor at The Philippine Star, says the controversy was an insult to him as a journalist and a form of censorship by the OSA.

“For self-preservation ‘yung ginawa ko–to keep my dignity and pride as a journalist na natapakan, I decided to resign…I don’t want to work in a setting like that,” he says. 

TomasinoWeb announces later on the day it would halt all social media operations in light of Laparan’s resignation. The OSA prohibits recognized student organizations without an adviser from publishing content.

TomasinoWeb’s break on social media immediately sparks national controversy, prompting the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines to release a statement criticizing OSA’s takedown order as elitist and a violation of press freedom and independence.

Members of the Central Student Council (CSC) Executive Board also start posting statements on their personal X (formerly Twitter) accounts, calling the OSA directive a “hasty act of censorship” that is “not an isolated incident.”

Feb. 22 – UST alumni launch a website throwing support behind TomasinoWeb and slamming the OSA for the “blatant case of campus repression.”

“Let us call a spade a spade. The University of Santo Tomas, through its (OSA), clearly censored TomasinoWeb over a benign photo of students. Its order to take down the image and its threat to dissolve the organization is definitely an encroachment on the constitutionally-enshrined rights of students,” the statement reads.

Almost 1,000 graduates have signed the petition as of writing. 

Feb. 25 –  Student Organizations Coordinating Council (SOCC) President Raphael Gabuat apologizes for the council’s “silence” amid the TomasinoWeb issue. 

Gabuat says in a Facebook post that the SOCC “[did] not want to act hastily without a proper plan of action.”

Gabuat says the controversy can become the council’s “negotiating chip” to propose revisions to the accreditation process of student organizations.

RELATED STORY: SOCC eyes changes to student org accreditation system after TomasinoWeb issue 

March 4 – TomasinoWeb nominates an adviser to the OSA in an attempt to end the online media organization’s prolonged social media absence.

March 6 – Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raoul Manuel, in a privilege speech at the Batasang Pambansa, calls out OSA heads and vows to file a resolution to investigate the TomasinoWeb censorship issue and other instances of “democratic violations” in the University.

Manuel says Tio Cuison and OSA Asst. Director Maria Regina Arriero could be nsummoned to appear before the House as resource persons, citing that they should be held accountable for their “rampant violation of democratic rights.”

READ MORE: UST OSA heads called out in Congress; House probe into TomasinoWeb censorship sought 

“Hindi po natin papalampasin ang insidenteng ito, pati ang iba pang lumilitaw na kaso ng paglabag sa democratic rights ng mga estudyante,” he says.

“Wala na tayo sa dark ages, wala na tayo sa era ng mga prayle noong Spanish colonization. Ang nangyayari ay paglabag sa batayang karapatan sa pamamahayag at pati na rin sa kalayaang pang-akademiko,” Manuel added.

March 8 – Journalism instructor Nathaniel Melican receives his appointment as interim adviser of TomasinoWeb.

March 11 – TomasinoWeb resumes its social media operations after making public Melican’s appointment as interim adviser.

READ MORE: TomasinoWeb gets new adviser; resumes socmed operations 

On the same day, lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc file House Resolution 1633, which seeks to investigate the “repressive actions” by OSA and “other violations of students’ rights” in the University and hold Tio Cuison and Arriero accountable.

Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas, ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro, and Manuel authored the resolution.

“The reported media censorship and violations of democratic rights of student councils, organizations and individuals inside the University of Santo Tomas demands urgent investigation and action as it compromises the life and security of students,” the resolution reads.

March 12 – Thomasian student leaders, activists, and media organizations call for the termination of Office for Student Affairs (OSA) Director Ma. Cecilia Tio Cuison and Assistant Director Maria Regina Arriero.

In an open letter on March 12 addressed to UST Rector Fr. Richard Ang, O.P. posted on the Facebook page of Rise for Education – España, students call out the “heavy-handed responses” of the OSA and its “unnecessary bureaucratic and repressive culture.” 

“We have endured repression and the neglect of democratic rights at the hands of the institution, instead of guiding us with sociopolitical consciousness and honing our capabilities and character,” it reads. 

“We have persevered and persisted to come this far; But enough is enough, the abuse of power must come to an end.”

The open letter to the Rector was signed by the UST Senior High School Student Council, UST Artlets Student Council, media organizations TomasinoWeb and Education Courier, and progressive groups Constitution Revision Alliance, Anakbayan UST, Panday Sining UST, League of Filipino Students UST, Kabataan Partylist UST, Tindig UST Senior High School, and Tindig-UST AB.

March 14 – Tio Cuison goes on medical leave.

UST student affairs head goes on medical leave

With Tio Cuison on leave, OSA will now be led by Asst. Prof. Jaezamie Ong, a faculty member at the Department of Literature and a member of the UST Senior High School council, as officer in charge.

According to the University, Ong will initiate a dialogue with representatives from recognized student organizations and assess student-related policies and guidelines, including those specified in the Campus Journalism Act.

“[UST] assures all student leaders that the University listens to its stakeholders,” UST says in a statement.

“The University shall continue to uphold the rights of students balanced by a strong commitment to foster an environment conducive to learning and responsible development.” Ernest Martin G. Tuazon


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