20 November 2008

Students' rights are human rights! Support the Magna Carta of Students Bill!

“The ratification of a “Magna Carta” for Students is long overdue, Congress has obviously neglected this issue over the years and this has resulted to several students’ rights violations and abuses in a number of universities across the country,” says Tina Langit, UP Manila Medicine Student Council President and Student Council Alliance of the Philippines Vice Chairperson for the National Capital Region.

The Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), a broad network of student councils and governments, together with Akbayan Youth and the Movement for the Advancement of Student Power (MASP), has filed the latest version of the bill September 17 last year. However, since two more versions already exist in the House of Representatives, the Committee on Higher and Technical Education (HoR-CHTE) has decided to create a substitute bill which will consolidate the three house versions.

“It’s actually quite disappointing that it has taken this long before the advocacy has taken another leap. We are hoping that the 14th Congress will take this seriously this time around,” adds Langit.

SCAP is currently a part of HoR-CHTE’s technical working group (TWG) for Magna Carta of Students. At present, the TWG was able to tackle several provisions of the substitute bill (i.e. Right to Admission, Non-Discrimination and Quality Education, Right to Organize, etc.) in its first TWO meetings but has not reconvened ever since. SCAP is growing wary of the very slow developments in the lower house and is at the same time appalled to learn that fellow youth groups have expressed their lack of support for the bill.

“Magna Carta is not in any way a one shot effort to reform the whole education system but it is a first step to at least mitigate the worsening predicament,” says Third Bagro, UP Diliman University Student Council President.

Basic issues, such as the students’ right to be admitted in schools without prior discrimination to their civil status, gender/political preference has been violated in the past by several academic institutions.

In St. Joseph’s College in Quezon City, for example, unmarried pregnant students are not allowed to continue their studies in the institution unless they “take a leave of absence until after they deliver their babies.” It’s either that or they’re asked to drop out. Saint Pedro Poveda College also discourages pregnancies outside of wedlock. San Beda College on the other hand is in fact conducting “masculinity tests” on its alleged gay students. (Bagas, 2008; Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Aside from these, a gay student from Philippine Normal University was reportedly prevented to run for Student Council Office unless he cuts his hair accordingly, to look manly enough for a university official.

Some violations go as far as detaining/prosecuting student leaders and activists who express dissent over certain school and State policies.

Furthermore, Student Councils/Governments, in a lot of schools nationwide, are merely allowed to act as “event’s organizers or program implementers” of school administrations. More often than not, SC’s, are not consulted on crucial matters such as tuition increase. Venues for student participation remain very limited to this date.

SCAP believes that Student Councils, just like the Youth Councils in communities, are potent arenas for political reforms. This is where good governance starts and this opportunity should not be wasted. Therefore, it is the inherent responsibility of this society to empower and strengthen this institution such that it can become a training ground for future leaders.

“Education knows no sex, religion, physical status or gender. On the contrary, it should encourage free and critical thinking which should help in molding and crafting new ideas and means that could later contribute to genuine national development.” says SCAP Secretary General Paula Bianca Lapuz.

Violating students’ rights is a poor sign of democracy. SCAP believes that a national policy on students’ rights and welfare is imperative in actually democratizing and liberating academic institutions.

SCAP has helped to form the Coalition for Students’ Rights and Welfare, to consolidate the efforts of all the Students’ Rights advocates. The coalition is comprised of different student councils and organizations mostly based in the NCR area. These youth leaders actively engage policy debates inside schools and inside the Congress. The coalition likewise, is actively lobbying for the bill’s immediate passage.

SCAP remains steadfast in its pursuit and encourages fellow youth groups to join the advocacy.

“The only way for us to move forward is for us to join hands and give this bill a fighting chance,” Lapuz concludes. 

06 March 2008

Student councils urge Congress to prioritize STRAW Bill instead of political bickering

The Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) pressed lawmakers to prioritize the Students’ Rights and Welfare Bill instead of quarreling over the leadership in the Lower House.

“Replacing Jose de Venecia with Prospero Nograles is like choosing a lesser evil, if the latter should even prove to be a lesser “trapo” than his predecessor. There isn’t much of a change, at least not a change for the better,” Mark Boado, SCAP Chairperson said.

SCAP points out that the change of leadership in the House of Representatives will not make any difference at all. The coup attempt on de Venecia has but proven the unholy allegiance of Congress and Malacañang. Perhaps the palace simply doesn’t see de Venecia fit for the job anymore, since he cannot silence his own son, Joey de Venecia, during the Senate probe on ZTE. Apparently, de Venecia is only getting a dose of his own medicine. The rule of majority indeed is painful for the losing party. But what is terribly ill in this predicament is that the whole nation is once again drawn into a political squabble of the traditional politicos.

“As I see it though, knowing Nograles, it won’t be a surprise if we see another impeachment complaint quelled by July, or a resurfacing of Charter Change in no time. The minority should not waste their time in this loathsome discord and instead help the youth to push for the STRAW Bill in the most immediate time possible,” Tina Langit, SCAP Vice-Chairperson for NCR said in a statement.

The legislators should focus on substantial measures like the STRAW bill, which can help resolve the perpetual issues confronted by the youth.

“Congress people are playing a much bigger version of the boat is sinking, which, by the way, is really obnoxious. This is the concrete manifestation of a decaying institution. Whether it’d be Nograles or de Venecia, it would still be the same. What Congress is facing right now is the perennial challenge to its leadership to uphold what little integrity is left of it,” Langit added.

The quality of education in our country is continuously declining, and this dreadful political retribution is the only thing that keeps the majority in the Lower House active these days. They should be ashamed of themselves.

“There is no better time to unite, but now. The youth, especially those who are in schools, should come together and call on all legislators to give more time in acting on bills that will benefit our sector and the rest of society as well,” concluded Boado.

SCAP fervently condemns the incredulous collision of political dynasties inside HoR and urge all the members of the parliament to give STRAW bill their committed time and effort. ●

22 January 2008

Students continue to campaign for student rights' and welfare

The Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) spearheaded a series of student dialogues in different universities in the National Capital Region to increase awareness about the Student Rights and Welfare (STRAW) Bill.

“The bill which aims to uphold and protect the students’ rights and welfare, was filed last September 18, 2007, and we hope to get the support of the students,” said SCAP’s National Chairperson Mark Roy Boado.

Student councils and political parties in different universities in the National Capital Region (NCR) have conducted fora, round table discussions, and symposia to inform the students of the basic principles of the bill.

“We have already done discussions in De La Salle University Manila, San Juan de Letran University, University of the Philippines, and Rizal Technological University in Mandaluyong. We are aiming to invite the majority of schools nationwide to participate in this campaign,” Boado mentioned.

The struggle to pass the Magna Carta of Students has proven to be an arduous task. Hence, the STRAW Bill is another way to sustain the struggle.

“Right now, we are having a difficulty in raising the awareness and appreciation of the bill in Congress, since the priority of the House is the passage of the Cheaper Medicines Bill now that the budget deliberations are over. However, we will remain insistent on pushing for the bill,” asserts Tina Langit, SCAP NCR Vice Chairperson.

“What is genuinely unique about this bill is that it contains penalty clauses which the other versions of the Magna Carta of Students lack. Aside from that, the STRAW Bill is the only legislative effort of its kind which was created with the help of students themselves. We were very careful as well not to override existing laws which pertain to somehow similar provisions in the STRAW Bill like the Anti-Hazing Act,” Langit added.

The STRAW bill aims to encourage students to practice their rights conscientiously with due consideration and respect for the rights of the other stakeholders within the university. It will protect students from discrimination, harassment, and the curtailment of their rights.

The bill has been receiving a positive response as far as the student sector is concerned. Dialogues with school administrators are also being arranged by the alliance to ensure a participatory process in pursuit of the passage of the bill. 
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