By AIRA MARIE SIGUENZA and SHARLYN VIVO
MANILA – Students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) joined the “Walk for Education! Walk for our Future!” in celebration of the 4th National Students Day and International Students Day (ISD), November 17.
The protest amplified their call against the mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps (MROTC) and for a safe, accessible, and quality school opening.
“The PUP Community celebrates the International Students’ Day along with the Filipino youth that is seriously victimized by the continuous budget cut in State University Colleges and misprioritization of the government railroading the controversial Mandatory ROTC,” said Joshua Aquiler, PUP Student Council President of the College of Political Science and Public Administration.
PUP students incorporated a scary theme in their protest, reflecting the frightening thought of insufficient funds and impending militarization in the university. They wore spooky costumes and props carrying their calls to push for Ligtas na Balik-Eskwela (LBE), condemn budget cuts in education, and the railroading of the MROTC.
For 2023, PUP expects a P244-million ($4.25 million) budget cut from its previous P2.60 billion ($0.045 billion) budget. For the PUP students, this would mean a worsening situation inside the university, contrary to their calls for a free, accessible, and quality education.
“The university’s facilities are not in good condition; even our comfort rooms are impaired. Now, the state wants our budget slashed while they have funds for militarization?” said Flory Joy Alvarez from PUP’s political organization Sandigan ng Mag-aaral para sa Sambayanan (SAMASA).
Aside from the local conditions inside the university, the students also highlighted the impacts of inflation on students who have been attending hybrid face-to-face classes.
Anakbayan-PUP Chairperson Rishielene Cruz narrated that the price of goods outside the university rocketed to P20-P50 ($0.35-$0.87), all the while they are struggling with the costly and rotten transportation system in the country. “There is nothing left in the students’ allowance because of the excessive price hikes. How can we achieve genuine LBE if our society has a serious crisis?”
While the protest was happening, police forces were deployed at the gates of the university. It can be remembered that PUP has the Prudente-Ramos accord, also known as the PUP-DND accord, which prohibits the presence of military forces 50 meters inside and outside the university’s vicinity.
Defend PUP convenor, and the current Central Student Council Vice President Benhur Queqquegan called out the police. “The MROTC impedes the democratic rights and academic freedom of the students. Furthermore, the program’s said goal of inducing nationalism in students is fallacious since this program will only bring fascism and blind obedience to the students,” he said.
After the local program, the students marched from España to Mendiola to join other schools, universities, and youth sectors in a unity walk and a centralized program.
Despite the blockades of police and threats to disrupt the program, over 600 youth walked to Liwasang Bonifacio and finished the program.
The student sector from different parts of the country, such as Davao, Cebu, Iloilo, Baguio, Southern Tagalog, and Metro Manila, conducted their own local activities.
ISD is a yearly commemoration of students all around the globe in remembrance of the student activists in Prague who fought against the bloodthirsty ruling of Adolf Hitler, which resulted in the arrest of over 1,200 students and the execution of nine protesters without legal proceedings.