The struggle to widen democratic spaces in academic institutions has been the longest running advocacy of the student movement ever since time immemorial. Schools have failed time and again to become more than instructional sites or reproduction centers of labor force. Astoundingly, more and more restraints are placed in the academic environment which limits the full potential of the students. This, coupled with problems on accessibility, relevance and quality of education has caused the competence of our Filipino students to lag behind our neighboring countries dramatically.
One of the apparent realities that we have is that, the education system is highly deregulated, and this problem arises from the lack of a national policy which could place, at the very least, minimum standards on how to mitigate the worsening gaps in the education system.
By this, we realize that education institutions are also political and cultural centers which ideally develop critical thinking, that is, for all intents and purposes, vital in social development and nation building. Education should be holistic and should challenge the students to explore greater heights that could inspire national progress.
But if other political rights are curtailed, it is impossible for our students to fully develop their skills and intelligence for the benefit of the society in general.
More and more cases on students’ rights violations have been recorded even after the restoration of our democracy in 1986 EDSA revolution. This presents a disturbing image of our political maturity as a nation. Student leaders have been suspended, expelled or even arrested for staging protests against certain school policies. Student journalists have likewise experienced the same fate, also being sued for libel for exposing issues inside their respective universities. School papers have been shut down or taken over by university administrations for purposes of censorship. These cases only show how vulnerable the student sector is in terms of protecting itself against unfair proceedings within universities.
What is the Students' Rights and Welfare Bill?
The Students' Rights and Welfare (STRAW) Bill (House Bill No. 2190), as the title implies, is a document which guarantees the political and civil liberties of the Filipino students. Students’ rights violations have happened time and again over the past years, and students have almost always fallen on the losing end.
This bill is introduced by Rep. Kaka Bag-ao and Rep. Walden Bello of Akbayan in the House of Representatives. In this 15th Congress, the bill was referred to the House Committee of Higher and Technical Education.
House Bill No. 2190 has gone through in-depth consultations nationwide among different student councils/governments and youth organizations. The STRAW Bill is a product of thorough discourse among student and youth leaders.
What are our guaranteed rights as Filipino students?
Consistent with the 1987 constitution, Magna Carta of Students ensures the basic and fundamental rights of students as Filipino citizens. Specifically, it guarantees the students, their right 1. to admission, non-discrimination and quality education; 2. to organize and establish their own student councils and/or organizations; 3. to participate in policy-making processes; 4. to free expression and information; 5. to exercise their academic freedom; 6. to due process in disciplinary proceedings; 7. to privacy; and other rights such as their right against unreasonable searches and seizures and; 8. their right to be secured within school premises.
Why do we need to guarantee these rights?
The lack of a national policy to promote and protect the rights and welfare of our students has paved the way for numerous oppressive and repressive school policies that have continuously marginalized our students in the whole process of democracy. From deregulated fee increases to media censorship to lack of an independent student government and as far as to campus militarization, no policy currently exists that can sufficiently and satisfactorily guard our students from possible exploitations.
First, we argue that when we talk about power relation, the students are almost always defenseless if not helpless, when it comes to policy-making processes within academic institutions. Only state universities are mandated to establish their student governments at the tertiary level, from which the student representative of the highest policy making body of the university will be selected. The students’ lack of representation in policy-making bodies in private universities and in most locally-funded colleges and universities (LGU colleges and universities) defeat the whole essence of democracy. Students are the biggest stakeholders in the whole education system and should therefore be given decent chances to state their views/opinions on matters that will directly affect them, such as tuition increase.
Second, STRAW Bill is a black and white document which goes beyond the discourse of religion, ideology, race, political affiliation or sexual orientation. This premise is rooted from the concept that education should not contain any form of prejudice towards any form of self-expression.
Is the bill set against university administrators?
No. The bill actually recognizes the role of all the stakeholders in the whole educational system. The bill acknowledges the transient nature of the students thereby providing mechanisms for checks and balances in all university processes.
Can the bill be circumvented or utilized against students?
No. As earlier stated, mechanisms are placed in the bill to ensure checks and balances in all crucial processes in the university. This bill likewise empowers the Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to become more than monitoring institutions. It allows these agencies to render judgment and execute necessary administrative punishments or make essential recommendations in the Department of Justice for prosecution of any offending party which/who has violated any provision in the bill.
Why do we need to support the bill?
The STRAW Bill, once enacted into law, will be a concrete step to address the perennial problems in the education system. The bill can always be amended and improved in the future. This is our proposal, our bill.
How do we support the bill?
- Spread the information about our struggle for the passage of the STRAW Bill. Organize projects and programs that seek to heighten our fellow students' awareness and appreciation about this important legislative measure.
- Engage your organizations or student council and ask them to make a STRAW Bill campaign in your own school.
- Write letters to your district representatives urging them to support the bill. You can even reach them via social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
- Join the Coalition for Students’ Rights and Welfare!