Art by Janssen Judd Romero/ THE FLAME

To say that our beloved University has had bad press would be a gross understatement.

After all, the ruckus over TomasinoWeb’s 7-Eleven photo has reached the mainstream media and the halls of Congress.

While it has raised awareness about the need to defend students’ rights, it has also been feasted upon by clout chasers who saw it as an opportunity to malign UST and to engage in virtue signaling.

The forced takedown of the photo of two information and computing sciences students in their type B uniform has epitomized press freedom repression in a school that, ironically, offers one of the best, if not the best, journalism programs in the Philippines.

Because of the order of the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) for TomasinoWeb to unpublish the photo, UST is now seen as a bastion of antiquated and oppressive practices, a backward and medieval entity run by modern-day Padre Damasos.

Of course, such sweeping generalizations are not fair. OSA should not be seen as representative of all members of the Thomasian community, especially those who are forward-looking and who have empathy. Sadly, efforts to explain this to outsiders may prove to be futile given the tense and emotional atmosphere and the fact that OSA is a vital part of UST’s bureaucracy.

But all’s not lost.

Life coaches, inspirational books and some of our elders have taught us that despite the adversities we are facing, there are a lot of things to be thankful for.

Call it “toxic positivity” or “gaslighting,” but we believe we have reasons to be grateful to OSA because of this self-inflicted public relations crisis.

If you disagree, feel free to bash us. Don’t worry; we will neither threaten you nor force you to delete your posts critical of us. We are just urging you to have an open mind as we pen this sincere message of appreciation to the office tasked to ensure our safety, take care of our welfare and promote our well-being.

Thank you, OSA, for giving us a vivid overview of the real-world suppression of free speech. You showed us that there are people or groups who resort to threats for the flimsiest reasons. You did an excellent job preparing us for forces that trample on human rights to prevent imagined harm or to please overly sensitive sectors.

Thank you, OSA, for giving us concrete examples of red tape. A number of students are complaining about your tedious and unreasonable requirements that hamper their organizations’ activities and programs. However, they only do so in hushed tones because they know that you are responsible for the release of their good moral character certification, a document they would need when they look for work after graduation. We are not sure if this is your way of teaching us the value of obedience, but one thing is certain: We have to bow to you, as always.

Because of your cumbersome policies, students are forced to learn a virtue called patience. We just hope that your practicum on bureaucratic red tape will not prod members of student organizations to undertake activities without your permission, a scenario that will surely put their safety at risk.

Thank you, OSA, for exposing us to public ridicule—the very thing that you wanted to avoid – even if we have nothing to do with your decision on the now controversial TomasinoWeb photo.

You helped us strengthen our immunity against hurtful words and denigrating wisecracks, something that we desperately need in the age of social media. However, some of us are not capable of withstanding the pressure and may end up loathing their identity as Thomasians. But you need not worry. You can censor them anytime.

Thank you, OSA, for intensifying our resolve to defend our rights as students, especially the freedom of the campus press, and for creating awareness about the weaknesses in our system.

Because of your single, imprudent act, you reminded us of the importance of laws such as the Campus Journalism Act of 1991, which protects student journalists from sanctions arising from their articles.

You inadvertently united us in calling for reforms in our processes and in condemning practices that value paperworks and crude procedures over the well-being of students you are supposed to serve. We assure you that we will remain vigilant against attempts to curtail our liberties, even after we leave the premises of our university.

Finally, thank you, OSA, for sustaining university officials who taught us valuable life lessons and who strengthened our resolve not to take our rights and our freedoms for granted.

Because of them, we already know very well who we don’t want to become. F


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