Palawan students assail military presence, red-baiting anew

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY – Days before the 3rd year of one of the darkest days of press freedom in the country, campus journalists and student activists in Palawan State University (PSU) express their alarm due to military presence in their campus and slam the apparent redbaiting of progressive youth groups.

Last November 19, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headed by Major Oliver A. Banaria, Commander of the Civil Relations Service Group, staged a forum titled “Children in Armed Conflict” and “Role of Youth in Nation Building” which claimed connections of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, League of Filipino Students and the National Union of Students of the Philippines to insurgencies led by the New People’s Army. Brochures indicating “4 Reasons Why Not to Join the CPP/NPA” were also distributed to the forum attendees.

“We decry the actual presence of the AFP here in PSU and question their motives as to why they are conducting activities targeted for students,” Allan Jay Javier, Chairperson of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines – Palawan chapter said and cited the LFS-DND Student Accord and Prudente-Ramos Memorandum of Agreement which prohibit any form of military presence inside campuses.

Javier said that historically, the military did these kinds of acts “not out of goodwill” but rather with goals biased to current government programs that eventually lead to grave human rights abuse. He said that such military acts were reminiscent of the conditioning of the minds of the people before students of the University of the Philippines like Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan were abducted in 2006 and remain to be desaparecidos.

Meanwhile, Ramon Maraneta, Editor-in-chief of The Pioneer, official student publication of PSU, expressed alarm for the security of students because of the military presence and the atmosphere it creates in the academic community. “Students and teachers should be able to exercise their academic freedom without prior restraint and intimidation from state forces,” he said.

“It is only a matter of time before the AFP will drop names that will ultimately put legal youth activists and also any youth or student in the province in the crosshairs,” Maraneta added. He stressed that the military’s subtle approach of encouraging student to be active members of progressive organizations but reminding them to refrain from “armed struggle” is no different from actual red-baiting.

“Those who are at the forefront of the fight for their democratic rights are usually the first ones eliminated by state forces,” Maraneta added, and also referred to Palawan radio broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega who was a staunch critic of mining issues in the province but was politically killed in January 2011.

Michael Alegre, CEGP Southern Tagalog Secretary-General stated that this is proof of the Aquino administration’s persistence in campus militarization under the Oplan Bayanihan framework.

“May we remind who was responsible for the killings of 58 individuals including 32 journalists in 2009 in Maguindanao? No one else but the military who served as private armies for the local elite. It is therefore not for the military to claim what students should do, since we have seen even after the Martial Law era the AFP’s bloody reputation in eradicating dissenters and critics,” Alegre added. Just last week, CEGP called for the revival of the official student publication of PUP-Lopez in Quezon which was forcibly closed down because of intensified campus militarization in 2008.

“We call for youth and students in Palawan and around the country to become vigilant and steadfast, not only on education issues but on people’s issues as well such as foreign large-scale mining and land-use conversion. When these escalate, we expect state forces to do its part in through various forms of human rights abuse in order to control and prevent our unity to resolve these issues,” Alegre said.

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