HomeNewsCatholic university students join 'academic strike' against 'gov't negligence'

Catholic university students join ‘academic strike’ against ‘gov’t negligence’

Students from a leading Catholic university in Manila have launched an “academic strike” to protest what they described as the government’s “criminal neglect” and “incompetence” in the wake of disasters that hit the country in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, November 17, students at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University staged a demonstration with other youth groups outside the school’s main campus to call for an “academic strike” against the “negligence” and government “inaction.”

The students announced that they would stop submitting school requirements starting November 18 until the national government heeds their demand for proper calamity aid and pandemic response to those most affected of the calamities.

“We can no longer stomach the ever-rising number of deaths due to the state’s blatant incompetence,” read the students’ statement. “We cannot prioritize our schoolwork when our countrymen are suffering unnecessarily at the hands of those in power,” they added.

As of November 16, the government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported at least 69 deaths, with another 12 missing, due to the onslaught of typhoon “Ulysses” (international name: Vamco) last week.

The powerful Category 4-equivalent typhoon caused the worst flooding in the national capital since typhoon “Ondoy (Ketsana)” in 2009.

Heavy rains caused by the typhoon overflowed rivers, causing severe flooding in the city of Marikina in the outskirts of the capital. As the typhoon crossed the country, dams from all around Luzon island neared their spilling points, forcing authorities to release large amounts of water.

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The overflowing dams caused widespread floods in the northern provinces of Cagayan and Isabela.

Academic break

On November 17, the university student government of the De La Salle University of the Christian Brothers also called for “a system-wide academic break” to allow students, professors, and employees to recover from the disaster.

The student body of the Catholic university noted that as of November 16, at least 1,101 of its students were still without electricity, while about 1,175 were directly affected by the aftermath of typhoon “Ulysses” (international name: Vamco) that inundated many parts of the country.

“Approximately one in every ten students is affected by the calamities that have struck the country,” read the De La Salle students’ statement.

Youth groups hold a demonstration outside the Ateneo de Manila University campus in Quezon City on November 17 to show support for a call made by students of the Catholic university for an “academic strike” to protest alleged government neglect of victims of disasters. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

The Commission on Higher Education has earlier rejected calls for a nationwide academic break, noting that schools could adjust their academic calendar and decide to suspend classes depending on the impact of the disaster in their localities.

“A unilateral suspension is not a good policy because we cannot make unilateral decisions that are based on what is actually happening on the ground,” said Professor Prospero de Vera, chairman of the commission.

He said the impact of the typhoons and the disasters “are different across different parts of the country,” adding that he will meet with university presidents later in the week to discuss the issue.

Government spokesman Harry Roque, meanwhile, warned students that they will fail their courses if they would not comply with academic requirements.

“You will fail,” said Roque, a former law professor at the University of the Philippines. “No matter what your reason is for the strike, if you do not fulfil your academic requirements, you will lose your future and you will not graduate from Ateneo,” he said.

The Ateneo students, however, said they will press with the strike starting November 18 in solidarity with students who are victims of calamities and of the pandemic.

“We strike in order to let them, and more of the student body, focus on their advocacies. We strike in order to have the chance to be a person for and with others,” said the students of the Catholic university in their statement.

“We cannot sit idly by and do our modules, ignoring the fact that the Philippine nation is in shambles. We sacrifice what we have (that is, our access to education) for those who do not share our privileges,” they added.

The students said they will only end the strike once the government comes up with a proper response to the disaster that hit the country in the past three weeks.

“The national government must act now or step down from their positions. No compromises,” they added.

Student activists stage a demonstration outside the Ateneo de Manila University campus in Quezon City on November 17. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Call for support

Sarah Elago, who represents the youth in the Lower House of Congress, lauded the “noble cause” of the students and their “courage to speak truth to power, demand accountability, and mobilize for relief efforts.”

She said it is imperative that the youth should respond to “the clarion call to act now and assert a better future for the people, for the nation, and for the planet.”

Elago called on the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education “to heed the call of students, teachers, and education support personnel” to declare an academic break.

“We demand an academic break to assess the current education situation, review faculty and student workload, implement a ‘no fail’ policy, and provide aid to those in need of food, shelter and other necessities,” said the youth legislator.

In a statement, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines accused the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte of failing to put in due recognition the “dire realities of the people” during the disasters and the pandemic.

“The people were more proactive than the national government to respond in this time of crisis. The administration has been continuously negligent and heedless of their people’s welfare,” said the organization of the country’s student publications.

“The Duterte administration was quiet and remiss of their people’s call for help. Aside from their laxity on their duties is their misplaced priorities,” added the group’s statement.

The government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has already recommended the declaration of state of calamity in entire Luzon island after three consecutive typhoons wreaked havoc in the country.

A declaration of a state of calamity “may warrant request for and acceptance of international humanitarian assistance upon the recommendation” of the council.

With the declaration, local government units will also have easier access to funds for relief and rehabilitation efforts.

Several provinces in the northern part of the country have been placed under a state of calamity due to the extent of devastation caused by the three successive typhoons that left close to a hundred people dead, thousands homeless, and billions of pesos worth of damage to infrastructure and agriculture.

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