When the 300% Tuition & Other Fee Increase was first proposed in the University of the Philippines in November 2006, student councils and orgs from all UP units called for a class walkout in protest. In Diliman, I remember that several colleges, such as the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, became deserted that day. In response, the UP Administration dismissed the protest and said classes were not disrupted. Yes, the protest was so insignificant that even a Diliman professor writing for the Phil. Daily Inquirer had to devote an entire column to dismiss the walkout.
At the same time, the Diliman University Student Council decided to organize a series of forum-dialogues between the students and the Admin regarding the increase. The first was held at the College of Education Theater: the venue was jampacked (it was like being in the UP Fair Friday Night), and only one out of the hundreds of students there supported the Admin assertion that the increase was necessary.
Afterwards, the Administration refused to take part in any following fora.
With the Admin’s refusal to listen to the growing clamor of the students and their sympathizers among the faculty and employees, the USC and the STAND UP (the campus party in Diliman) called for a Barricade of the Quezon Hall on Dec. 15 of that year to pressure the Admin into considering the anti-TOFI position.
In response, the Admin cancelled the annual UP Lantern Parade, the first time it happened since Martial Law. They claimed there was a bomb threat against the Quezon Hall. Yet, they surrounded the place with about fifty security guards. The College of Fine Arts administration also threatened to punish/penalize students who would join the said protest.
Despite that, around two thousand protesters from Diliman, Manila, and LB surrounded the Quezon Hall. To highlight the demand for a fair dialogue and a transparent Regents’ Meeting, a table with enough seats for all the Regents was placed in the middle of the Quezon Hall Lobby and the sea of rallyists. The Student and Faculty Regents sat at the said table, waiting for their colleagues. But the others, led by President Roman, continued their Meeting in secret at the College of Law. When we got wind of the change in venue, half of our ranks marched to Malcolm Hall. But it was too late. Some said it was a record-breaker: fifteen minutes.
Since then, the monthly Board of Regents meeting would be picketed by protesting students, faculty, and employees. No matter where the venue was, even in UP Pampanga which is smack in the middle of a military base, there would be protests. Sometimes we would accompany the protests with the submission of position papers by student councils, student groups, and even concerned UP alumnus. Sometimes we would submit petitions signed by thousands, even tens of thousands of members of the UP Community.
Yet, the reaction of the UP Admin never varied. One such example was the July 2008 BOR meeting at the UP Manila PGH complex. Roman only agreed to come out after we blocked the venue’s sole entrance. In the impromptu dialogue, a student named Tanya Domingo tearfully said that the TOFI was a burden for her family and countless other families. The UP president simply responded by telling her to “move on”.
As the months went by, the UP Administration would take an increasingly draconian approach towards protests.
During the 2007 Lantern Parade, the UP Repertory Company was prevented from doing its customary performance in front of the crowd assembled at the Amphitheater because they were part of the protest contingent with lanterns symbolizing the problems caused by the UP Admin.
During the 2008 UP Centennial celebration in Diliman, several student leaders attempted to unfurl a red streamer with the words “SERVE THE PEOPLE” during the lighting of the Centennial Torch. Para-security guards responded by roughing up and shoving the students. I had to grab a UPM USC councilor, Kamz Deligente, to prevent her from toppling into the huge drums of the UP Pep Squad.
During the 2008 UPD graduation ceremony, two former student regents were among those manhandled by para-security guards when they dispersed an attempted lightning rally.
During the 2009 student council elections in UPLB, military agents were allowed to enter the campus and distribute pamphlets claiming that one of the student parties was a “communist front”. Afterwards, they would also release a list of 100 students which they claimed to be “communist leaders” in the campus. In the same year, the UPLB admin went on a suspension spree against student council members which were known Admin critics. UP’s incumbent student regent, herself among the student leaders persecuted, would be prevented from re-enrolling, thus paving the way for her forced removal from the Board of Regents.
Meanwhile, in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, the Administration announced a 1700% tuition hike last March 15. It did not make the announcement towards the students or any of the sectors of the PUP Community: it was only announced in a tiny part of the school website.
By March 18, several student activists started the throwing of chairs, forming a symbolic barricade. The next day, thousands walked out of their classes and threw out more armchairs, tables, even their examination papers, and even a door or two. In a fit of rage, the pile was set on fire. Only then did the PUP Admin agree to hold a dialogue on March 22. And in the dialogue itself, the only thing the Admin said about the TFI was that it would discuss the issue at the next BOR meeting.
And then came March 24. Students from PUP, UP Diliman, UP Manila, and UPLB stormed the office of the Commission on Higher Education. Finding the office gates locked and barred (as was the case in every other CHED rally this year), we pushed and rocked one of the gates until it collapsed. After about a minute or so in front of the CHED’s glass facade, the security guards unleashed blasts from fire extinguishers at us. It may not be tear gas or pepper spray, but the foam from the extinguishers are thick and making breathing hard (it also gets into one’s hair and skin and clothes like some hard powder). In response, some UP students threw paint bombs.
After that, for what may be either the first or second time in his entire career as CHED commissioner, Angeles went out to have a dialogue with student rallyists. There, he promised to oppose the PUP TFI. And within a few hours, the PUP Admin also released a statement saying it would obey the CHED order.
The two chronologies are a study in contrasts. One showcases actions one would associate with the terms “lobbying” and “dialogue”. The other features those associated with “confrontation” and “militancy”. One is associated with “civil society”, the other is associated with “agitators”.
But the two also combine to form a logical process or order. A before and after. One assumes that there are equal power relations between Admin and student, the other has realized that it does not exist. One gives the benefit of the doubt, the other has no doubt left in its participants.
In a time when rights, including the right to education, are under attack, it is important that we differentiate between exhausting all legal means and flogging a dead horse.
It is better to be violent when there is violence in our hearts, than to use non-violence to mask impotence
This is my contribution for March 29: Blog Action Day for Education. In a few hours, I will also be joining the protests in the streets. I hope to see you people there.