OSA officials behind 7-Eleven photo takedown face complaint over alleged free speech violations

Former TomasinoWeb adviser calls for probe
The UST Office for Student Affairs. Photo by John Martin Revilla/THE FLAME

THE HIGHEST officials of the UST Office for Student Affairs (OSA) are facing an administrative complaint about their alleged academic freedom and free speech violations and their supposed “grossly abusive conduct” against campus media entity TomasinoWeb.

In a 14-page letter addressed to UST Vice Rector Fr. Isaias Antonio Tiongco, O.P, former TomasinoWeb adviser Leo Laparan II accused OSA Director Asst. Prof. Maria Cecilia Tio Cuison and Asst. Director Maria Regina Arriero of “engaging in unduly and illegal media censorship.”

Laparan, a journalism instructor and Philippine Star desk editor who resigned as Tomasinoweb adviser after the controversial 7-Eleven photo takedown, claimed that several operations of the campus media entity were curtailed by Cuison and Arriero.

“The actions of OSA Directors Asst. Prof. Maria Tio Cuison and Asst. Prof. Maria Arriero greatly undermined my academic freedom as the Faculty Adviser of TomasinoWeb and my professional expertise as a media practitioner for two decades,” Laparan said. 

“The OSA Directors have no right to dictate upon my area of expertise in guiding TomasinoWeb especially when the students committed no violation of University Rules.”

He asked the Office of the Vice Rector to probe the conduct of Cuison and Arriero, calling for their “permanent” replacement as OSA officials if found guilty of violating the stated laws and regulations.

Cuison’s medical leave was made public last March 14 during the height of several OSA controversies, including the office’s issuance of show-cause notices to students involved in non-recognized organizations and TomasinoWeb’s infamous photo of two information and computing sciences students going inside a 7-Eleven store in their type B uniforms.

Some administrators claimed the photo put the University under “public ridicule” due to the supposed resemblance of the students’ attire to that of the 7-Eleven employees’ uniforms.

As indicated in the UST Faculty Union collective bargaining agreement and the mission of the University, academic staff shall enjoy full academic freedom through his or her development of “sound professional expertise.” Such provision, Laparan claimed, was “greatly undermined” by OSA.

Laparan also alleged the office’s violation of the Education Act of 1982, which requires school administrators to develop a “healthy” school environment conducive to academic freedom.

He added that Cuison and Arriero committed the “abridging of freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press,” as articulated in Article 3, Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution, to the campus media entity. 

Under the Campus Journalism Act of 1991, student publications are recognized as independent entities, with campus journalists being protected from sanctions arising from their outputs. 

“The operations of the student publications shall not be delayed, suspended or closed down in connection with the articles it has published, or on the basis of the conduct or performance of its staff without due process,” the law read.

However, under the guidelines set by UST, TomasinoWeb is not considered a campus publication but a “student organization” subject to the rules of the OSA.

Multiple controversies cited 

According to Laparan, the office has “repeatedly threatened” him and TomasinoWeb members without due process, a move that he said violated a provision in the UST Student Handbook stating that sanctions may only be imposed after an investigation has been conducted.

He cited other incidents he encountered from OSA during his tenure.

Laparan said that in 2022, TomasinoWeb was reportedly prohibited from covering the Thomasian Homecoming Walk for Batch 2020 and 2021 as the event fell during the University’s moratorium period, a temporary halt of student activities on campus. 

“[T]he Core Ocers of TomasinoWeb pleaded to be given leniency since the nature of the organization was in media and publications,” the letter said

“[H]owever, they (Cuison and Arriero) both reiterated that they will not be giving TomasinoWeb an exception and that TomasinoWeb is not different from the organizations, despite TomasinoWeb being composed of campus journalists,” it continued. 

In the same year, the office allegedly ordered the takedown of TomasinoWeb’s article about the online community’s feedback on the 2022 Paskuhan which contained several negative comments from stakeholders, according to Laparan. The article was not unpublished as editors and officers were “able to justify its publication,” he added.

Laparan also claimed that OSA demanded TomasinoWeb’s Valentine’s Day Album in 2023 be taken down from their social media accounts since it was “not authorized to cover that day.”

“It must be noted that upon several meetings with other organizations at that time who were also conducting short onsite projects such as photoshoots and video productions, [none of them] were even made aware that they have to secure permission to cover onsite,” the former publication adviser said.

In December 2023, OSA also reportedly flagged TomasinoWeb’s publication material criticizing the jeepney modernization program due to the inclusion of the UST logo in the artwork. The officials said the University’s stand on the issue could be misinterpreted. 

“The actions of the OSA Directors are not reflective of the values upheld by the University of Santo Tomas. I hope and pray that your good and honorable oce puts the appropriate end to their abuses of power,” Laparan said.

The Flame reached out to Cuison and Arrerio for a statement but has yet to receive a response. F


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