Thursday, January 22, 2009

Defend the Office of the Student regent! Vote YES to CRSRS!

The Office of the Student Regent & KASAMA sa UP

by JPaul Manzanilla, former USC Chair & former Student Regent

The creation of the student regent position is profoundly related to the student and the people’s struggle to decide on their own conditions.

From 1908 to 1968 university policies are determined without the student population’s full knowledge. Student councils in the campuses provide services, launch campaigns and voice out their concerns on many matters but the Board of Regents (BOR) had no provision for student representation. Only on 29 September 1969, its 787th meeting, did the board resolve to have a “student observer,” following the recommendation of UP President Salvador P. Lopez. Student council chairman Mr. Fernando T. Barican was then allowed to observe the board proceedings. On January 25, 1970, a day before the state of the nation address, Mr. Barican was appointed by President Ferdinand Marcos as a regular member of the board. The BOR Chair and the UP President announces that this appointment of the student council chair as regular board member “will therefore set an important precedent and give due recognition to the role of students in the life of the university.”* According to the colonial university charter, the Philippine President has the power to appoint the non-ex-officio members of the Board of Regents and the Student Regent is one of the seven additional members to be appointed by the President of the Philippines, with the consent of the Commission on Appointments of the Congress of the Philippines.2 In 1970, 1971 and 1972 the incumbent student council chairmen Ericson Baculinao, Manuel Ortega and Jaime Tan3, respectively, were appointed regular members of the board concurrent with their student council tenure.

The Committee on Academic Reform of the Law Student Government, in a position paper in the early eighties, positively noted a progressive development in Presidential Decree No. 58. Promulgated on 20 November 1972 as an amendment to the University Charter, the decree provided “one regent representing the student body” in its composition of the BOR. According to the paper,

“the progressive development of student representation in the Board of Regents is, in itself, a tradition. Thus, we have seen the movement of student representation from informal consultation to implicit recognition and finally, under P.D. 58, to express recognition. Also, under the arrangement prior to P.D. 58, the U.S.C. Chairman was not the representative of ALL students although he was the representative of the overwhelming majority of them (students in U.P. at Los BaƱos and the regional units did not participate in the election of U.S.C. officials); however, P.D. 59 mandates that the student regent must represent the ‘Student Body’ which is nothing less than the studentry of the entire University System. P.D. 58 therefore requires greater representativeness.” (present author’s emphasis)

It must be strongly ascertained, however, that the tradition this student formation describes is one of the consequences of the militant student movement of the time. Radicalized students then were fighting with the people for a reorientation of our economy along national interests and for a democratic right to decide on sovereign matters. It was to prove perilous for the students to recognize legal formal pronouncements as privileges granted to them instead of a product of their resolute campaign. P.D. 58, after all, is trounced by the more powerful P.D. 1081 or Martial Law.

Martial Rule and Marshalling for Reforms

Marcos’ dictatorial means were to operate for self-serving ends; publicly and politically it was to crush the growing rebellion while intensifying imperialist and feudal oppression. In schools and colleges' student councils, publications, fraternities, all student assemblies were abolished. The student regent (SR) post was to remain vacant for a decade since the dissolution of student organizations.

Students painstakingly engaged with authorities for the restoration of democratic rights. The movement for democratic reforms in the late seventies through early eighties decisively fought for the reestablishment of student publications and councils, along with organizations of various interests. They had learned from the campaigns of urban poor communities and labor union fights. Now was the time to reclaim what were due them inside the universities. They had succeeded in reestablishing student formations steadily.

P.D. 58 also created autonomous units of the university and accordingly, the UP student council in Diliman ceased to represent the entire university student body. A national convention of all university and college student councils was held on October 17 to 22, 1981 and the Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP (KASAMA sa UP) was established to campaign for the reinstatement of the student regent position in the BOR. The national alliance of UP student councils sought a dialogue with the board on January 7, 1983 and asserted the students’ right to be involved in the decision-making processes of the university by possessing direct representation in its highest policy-making body. They too demanded that the SR must, unlike in the previous practices when he was selected by the university president and appointed by the country’s head, be selected by the students themselves.

On February 5 and 6, 1983 KASAMA sa UP held a system-wide conference to discuss the mechanism for the selection of the student regent. Their position: an Office of the Student Regent should be created to position an ex-officio membership of the SR in the BOR and the institutionalization of this board membership. They agreed further to form a U.P. System-wide Student Council (UPSSC) with its chair automatically serving as the student regent. This council will “define the lines of accountability of the student regent to his constituencies.” On February 24, 1983 they had a second dialogue with the BOR and the board agreed in principle to their demands. A ratification of a system-wide student council charter must be made before such a council can be created. The alliance agreed to the BOR’s proposed interim student regent appointed by the President from a list of three nominees they submitted. UPSSC failed to materialize and the student body still had to contend with the less official status of their regent.

KASAMA sa UP convened the National Assembly of Student Leaders on November 26 and 27, 1983 and resolved to have a student representative in the BOR pending the ratification of the UPSSC Constitution. They defined the rights and responsibilities of this student representative and elected Leandro Alejandro, UP student council chairman of Diliman, to the position. Another dialogue with UP President Edgardo Angara on December 22 of the same year maintained the appointment by selecting from a list of three students submitted by KASAMA sa UP. The national assembly rejected Marcos’ hand in the appointment.

After EDSA: Rights, Controversies and Campaigns

The People Power Uprising that ousted the dictator was deemed the continuation of the fight for democratic rights in the larger world outside and within the state university’s bureaucracy.

President Corazon Aquino’s Executive Order No. 204 amended the composition of the Board of Regents. The memberships of the undersecretary of agriculture and the chancellors of the autonomous units were removed. Appointee regents were reduced from six to give, at least three of whom are alumni of the university. A faculty regent is to be appointed by the president. Most importantly, the largest constituency of any educational institution – the students – would now have their representative with the right to vote. The Office of the Student Regent (OSR) was formally established and Francisco Pangilinan, UP Diliman student council chair, became the first SR who can vote on decisions.

From Pangilinan in 1987 to Henry Grageda in 1990 the selection of the student regent went smoothly. But in 1991, UP President Jose Abueva defied the KASAMA sa UP selection process by appointing Angelo Jimenez over KASAMA’s choice: Jose Ilagan. The practice was to appoint only the top nominee and should the post be offered to the other nominees, they must refuse. Jimenez accepted the nomination and KASAMA sa UP contested this intervention on the students’ right to choose their regent. Jimenez’s term was a regent-less year in the history of the alliance.

The first refusal to recognize the selection process was committed by the university president, succeeding controversies on who and what the SR should be and how s/he is to be elected were set off more spitefully by student leaders. University officials ruled over the divided student body imposing anti-democratic and anti-poor policies on the UP community.

In 1995 and 1996 some student councils bolted out of the KASAMA sa UP over differences on the nature and character of the university, analyses on Philippine society and on what the student movement should do in our country. KASAMA sa UP believes that the Philippines country is backward, agricultural, pre-industrial and foreign-dominated. Its opponents thought that we are an industrializing country and/or any analysis on society must be discarded by an alliance of student councils, including the necessary actions on how to change the nation for the better. KASAMA sa UP finds after a thorough study of government education programs that the Philippine educational system is colonial, commercialized and repressive. Other student councils rejected such a “negative” view within the premier state university. KASAMA sa UP joins the non-academic segment of the university community and the basic sectors outside the campuses in the fight for our common rights and welfare. Ivory-tower student leaders called for a focus on the campaigns inside the university, removed from significant events happening all over the country. Some simply dismissed the activist orientation of the student council and a progressive orientation of student leaders.

The university student councils of Diliman and Manila did not participate in the student regent selection process in 1996 and communicated to the BOR their rejection of the appointment of Leo Malagar from UP Visayas. Considering that not all of the student councils are members of the KASAMA sa UP, the Office of the Student Regent formed the General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) in the same year to provide an all-inclusive SR selection. With student councils both from the KASAMA and non-members the Codified Rules for Student Regent was crafted. In 1998 the Diliman university student council disregarded the selection process they took part in and nominated their own choice, John Pineda, to UP President Emil Javier, over GASC-selected Dennis Longid.

The most controversial component of the codified rules is the non-discrimination provision on academic standing. Students who stand up for their rights find their student leaders persecuted, with subjective rulings on their academic standing. Some student councils are fighting for good academic standing while KASAMA sa UP cites the common experiences of repressive measures applied on leaders and student council members who firmly oppose unjust policies and schemes. In 1999 several student councils led by the USC of Diliman contravened the selection of Ferdinand Zafranco of UP Manila. They wrote to various administrators and the offices of the university president and even President Joseph Estrada contesting Zafranco’s academic qualifications. Zafranco was later kicked out of the university, his appointment revoked and incumbent regent Longid’s term extended. To students who campaign for the technical requirement of good academic standing, it is singularly important that one strives to be a good student, never mind the conditions and the punitive reactions of the administration on the many who fight for accessible top-quality education. Many times the fight becomes divisive, with accusations of academic irresponsibility being hurled on those who fail to reach the good academic mark (bad academic standing = bad student leadership) when the proper response should be to unite in calling for an end to tuition increase and commercializing schemes.

This serves the conservative administration opinion that student leaders should be just focused on their studies, and not studying the conditions of their academic education. Why do many leave the university? Academic standing and proportional allocation of votes are central questions for the ongoing discussion on the student regent’s (s)election that is to be incorporated in the university charter. More than the technical matters of eligibility and elections mechanism, the coming referendum on the Office of the Student Regent must make legible—and thus historically institutionalize—the position’s emergence from the struggle for democratic rights and the concomitant duty of the regent to campaign for the welfare of the students.

In 2001 the KASAMA sa UP and SR Kristine Clare Bugayong exposed previous year’s SR Hannah Serana’s graft and corruption cases. On the tide of EDSA 2 that toppled a corrupt and brute president, the alliance and the SR seriously set to cleanse the student institution, even if it meant prosecuting one from your own ranks and inviting the vilification of your political opponents. Those opposed to the KASAMA sa UP charged that Serana is criminal and so is the alliance that she represents (Serana was vice chair of the KASAMA sa UP in 1998-1999). Cynics self-righteously pointed how student leaders of today betray the public interest and become the trapos of tomorrow. Bugayong and company looked for documents and gathered evidence in the nationwide scandal that rocked the university. They had successfully filed the legal complaint, withstood disparagement and are vigilant in ensuring that justice be served. To this day those who maligned KASAMA sa UP had not done a helpful thing in ferreting out the truth and taking the defendants responsible for their acts. They just raise the issue habitually in the bid for student political power.

The Office of the Student Regent and the KASAMA sa UP were formed from the students’ decisive campaign to have their voices heard and their ideas translated into action. The UP administration, and any administration all over the country, must now confront the strength of collective action being practiced inside the highest decision-making body.

From the renewed students’ confrontation with the state on the Education Act of 1982 the KASAMA sa UP outlined a comprehensive study of the Philippine educational system. The last years of Marcos was the beginning of a more colonial type of education, serving the needs of big foreign corporations here in our country and the demands of the free market the world over. Tuition and other fees were deregulated and the number of private schools increased. The government has to contend with public schools bursting at the seams and a growing army of out-of-school youth who are embittered and toughened to fight the unjust system.

The SR and the alliance were engaged in issues such as the recommendations of the 1983 Committee to Review Academic Programs (CRAP) under UP President Edgardo Angara, Magna Carta of Students, commemoration of the First Quarter Storm and the campaigns against human rights violations.

KASAMA sa UP opposed the implementation of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP). This design was a particular ramification of the Aquino administration’s structural adjustment programs obedient to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s deal of deregulation, liberalization and privatization. The government’s promise of reducing expenses and increasing income from government-owned and controlled corporations included the university as a pilot area in public higher education. Students had to pay tuition according to their financial capacity, contrary to the public good of providing low-cost (if not free) education to those who qualified admission in the university. As state subsidy on education decreases, school officials then had to be resourceful in making money out of UP’s large tracts of lands, academic-intellectual-scientific output and vast resources. The Higher Education Modernization Act of 1997 and the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Educational Reforms under the Ramos and Estrada administrations executed rationalization and gradual privatization of state universities and colleges closely related to the deregulation, liberalization and privatization economic programs. Briefly stating, the said programs classified educational institutions based on their relevance to overall economic needs. Smaller colleges and institutes may be dissolved or appended to larger existing ones and college degrees may be dissolved when these are redundant (other campuses have the same programs) and if the courses do not entice a significant enrollment. PCER and HEMA sought to speed up the lease of university services (such as food and maintenance) to private entities and land for profitable ventures.

In 1999 to 2001 the office and the alliance provided system-wide leadership to campaigns against the then largest budget cut UP history, which it tied to the general immorality and anti-people policies of the Estrada regime. The Kilusan Laban sa Budget Cut mobilized thousands of students, teachers, employees and community residents, regularly trooping the Batasang Pambansa, the Senate, culminating in Mendiola on February 14, 2000.

In 2001 and 2002, the OSR and KASAMA sa UP launched a system-wide campaign on the Revised General Education Program that devalues crucial general education subjects such as history and literature in the guise of freedom to choose courses. The General Education Movement (GEM), a network of students and faculty members, was established in response to this academic revision.

From 2003 to early 2008 the multisectoral community, of which the office and the alliance are part of, unswervingly pushed to have a UP charter that advances the national interest along with the welfare of its students, teachers and employees enacted. Now the Office of the Student Regent and the KASAMA sa UP face the business leadership of Emerlinda Roman in the university’s centennial year, realizing the oblation call to serve the people. With numerous formations and individuals, it participates in the relentless questioning of what we must struggle to do: UP, ang galing mo ialay sa bayan!

1From the Law Student Government’s Committee on Academic Reform position paper on student representation in the Board of Regents, page 2, no date. The quote comes from the letter of the Honorable Onofre D. Corpuz, Secretary of Education and Chairman of the Board of Regents, and University President Salvador P. Lopez to the President of the Philippines dated 15 January 1970.

2From the same paper by the Law Student Government, quoting from Act No. 1870 (1908), section 4.

3Mr. Jaime Galvez Tan and his council started their term on September 8, 1972 but were only able to legally represent the students for two weeks or until the proclamation of Martial Law on September 23.

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