TO SILENCE the campus press is to silence the student body.
Last month, the Philippine Collegian, the student publication of the University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman, sought the help of the publications in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) to uphold campus press freedom following the attacks against campus press in the recent days.
The Philippine Collegian was prohibited from printing its first issue for this academic year due to UP’s complicated procurement process. Meanwhile, there are plans to dismantle the college publications in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and replace them with a centralized publication.
Data from the College Editors Guild of the Philippines showed that there were more than 800 cases of campus press freedom violations from 2010 to 2015. Of those cases, 322 involved suppression of journal funds and prevention from school administrators.
This issue of campus press suppression hits closer to home. While the publication does not suffer from defunding or threats of suspension or expulsion for staffers by the administration or censorship by those in power, the Flame battles repression disguised in other forms.
There were threats. I, for one, received a letter of complaint from a political party accusing me of writing an article “grounded on baseless accusation” and for not doing journalism right. They also threatened me with University sanctions that I might incur—dismissal, for example—once proven guilty.
I feared for a moment that I might be dismissed from the University but I knew I did nothing wrong. I went back and forth to the offices of AB and Central Comelec to gather facts and verify statements. I interviewed all the local political parties, including the very same people who complained against me.
The then-editors of the Flame responded to the letter and invited the complainants for a formal dialogue. They did not attend the meeting and the publication did not issue a public apology because there was no need for one—we did journalism right.
There were also events in the University that we were not allowed to cover, probably because the Flame is a smaller and lesser-known publication and they had to prioritize bigger media outlets. We did what every member of the press should do—apply for media accreditation. Unfortunately, our papers flew straight to the trash bin.
It is such an irony that the request of a UST-based publication to cover one of the biggest events in the history of the University was not granted. We do not differ much from other media entities except for size and popularity, but we all do the same thing. We serve the same purpose—to inform and to heighten the awareness of people.
In the end, we managed to have a decent Papal Visit coverage. We had our ways. After all, journalists should be able to tell stories despite being under difficult circumstances.
With the repression of school publications still perpetuating in the country, Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago refiled a bill that seeks to repeal Republic Act 7079 or the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 (CJA) and replace it with a law that “genuinely upholds campus press freedom.” The flaws in CJA pave way for school administrations to devise schemes to silence the campus press without suffering from penalty.
Student publications must be free from any form of intervention and censorship from those in power and must only serve the interest of the student body.
Campus journalists are essential; we serve as the mouthpiece of the studentry and the watchdogs of the society. It is us who write the narrative through our fearless and accurate reportage. It is us who have the power to effect change and move people to action.
Amid this grim setting, we must not leave our audience—the student body—uninformed, uninvolved, and apathetic. We only vow to ignite their intellectual senses. F
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