“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. ●