Deputy Minority Leader and Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros filed today the Students' Rights and Welfare (STRAW) Bill , a proposed measure that would hopefully reinvigorate a movement that has always been crucial to Philippine democracy. "From Rizal to Lean Alejandro, the student movement has played an important role in nation-building and democracy. The passion and imagination of students have always fueled struggles for equality and justice, and ironically, the State has been remiss in protecting and promoting their rights and welfare," Rep. Hontiveros said.
Several student leaders from various colleges and universities in NCR accompanied Rep. Hontiveros for the filing of the bill, which essentially affirms the rights and freedoms accorded to students by the Constitution and other international human rights agreements. "Unfortunately, these constitutional guarantees and international human rights protection have not yet found expression in our laws and in the government's programs. The STRAW bill hopes to correct this anomaly by advancing students' rights and welfare through concrete mechanisms and penalties and through the strengthening of our education agencies," Rep. Hontiveros said.
Student leaders welcomed the filing of the measure. "Violations of students' rights and welfare remain rampant, and this is the time for Congress to do its duty to act on a problem that has long been neglected by the government and our legislators," according to Jeff Crisostomo, Chairperson of Akbayan Youth - UP Diliman and a Councilor of the UP Diliman University Student Council.
The bill covers a wide range of protection for students' rights and welfare, including innovative mechanisms that address various issues. "For instance, the bill introduces minimum standards on consultation of students and parents for tuition and school fee increases. Furthermore, it expands the regulatory powers of CHED, Dep Ed, and TESDA to ensure that in private and public schools and universities, the rights and welfare of students are protected," Rep. Hontiveros said.
Meanwhile, Bianca Lapuz of the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) said that the penalties imposed under the bill would guarantee that school authorities would respect students' rights and welfare. "School administrators and also students who will violate to the provisions of this Bill will be accordingly sanctioned to make sure that every student would be able to enjoy and exercise the rights and freedoms accorded to him or her by the Constitution," Lapuz said.
The bill likewise recognizes that even students may be penalized for violating students' rights and welfare. "Under the bill, student organizations that impose stiff membership fees or unnecessary membership requirements like hazing may be penalized," Rep. Hontiveros said.
"We urge Congress to act on the bill with due haste. After failing to approve the Magna Carta for Students for several years, Congress has the obligation to pass the STRAW bill immediately," Crisostomo and Lapuz added, saying that student councils worked closely with Akbayan for the crafting of the bill. ●