Palace: Duterte against students missing class, not protests

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This story was updated to include statements from National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) Deputy Secretary General Raoul Manuel.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 3) — Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque came to his boss' defense after President Rodrigo Duterte singled out students from the University of the Philippines (UP) for walking out in protest.

"Malinaw po ang sabi ni Presidente, ang tinututulan niya iyong walkout sa klase. Hindi po niya sinusupil ang karapatan ng malayang pananalita at saka ng karapatan ng peaceful  assembly, puwede pong gawin iyan ng mga estudyante," he said.

[Translation: The President was clear — he's against students walking out of their classes in protest. He's not quelling the right to free speech and the right to peaceful assembly. The students can do that.]

Roque argued that students should not waste government funding, as the administration has signed a new law providing free tuition for students in public and vocational schools nationwide.

"Ang sinasabi lang ng Presidente, huwag naman natin sayangin iyong mga pera ng sambayanan na ginugol natin para sa free tuition ng lahat ng State Universities and Colleges (SUCs)," he explained.

[Translation: The President is just saying let's not waste national funds that we allocated to subsidize state SUCs.]

The free tuition fee law, Republic Act 10931, was signed in August 2017. It seeks to provide full tuition subsidy for students in public schools and technical vocation institutes.

Roque also clarified the President cannot give away slots to Lumads, the indigenous people of Mindanao.

"Pero I'm sure po, pupuwedeng magkaroon naman ng pamamaraan sa UP na bigyan ng prayoridad iyong mga Lumad communities. At kung hindi po ako nagkakamali, sa admission policy, kahit papaano po ay nakokonsidera iyong mga taga-Lumad pagdating mismo sa admission policy," he explained.

[Translation: But I'm sure, we can do something with UP to prioritize Lumad communities. And if I'm not mistaken, in UP's admission policy, they can consider Lumads.]

Duterte, in a speech before indigenous leaders Thursday, said he would let "smart" Lumad students who are not fortunate enough to have access to quality education take the place of students who keep walking out.

READ: KABATAAN hits Duterte threat vs. student protesters, says more walk-outs to come

NUSP: Walk outs not a waste of nation’s funds

Speaking to CNN Philippines’ Newsroom Weekend, however, National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) Deputy Secretary General Raoul Manuel denied walk outs are a waste of the country’s resources.

Tingin po natin ay hindi sayang sa pera ng bayan yung pagwawalk out ng mga studyante dahil hindi naman mali na ating ipanawagan yung ating pagtutol sa tax reform na kung saan eh tumataas lamang ang mga bilihin,” he said.

[Translation: We don't think walking out is a waste of the nation's funds because it's not wrong that we voice out our opposition to tax reform, which causes the price of goods to rise.]

He said what wasted the nation’s funds are the government’s spending on the government’s so-called war against its citizens or “giyera laban sa mga mamamayan.”

Manuel also hit the administration, saying despite its free education law, students still bear rising education costs.

He said, students of Lumad schools can feel the President’s “insincerity” and have said they are not competing with UP students for slots.

A Lumad school, ALCADEV, had earlier called out Duterte's statement on offering Lumads slots in the University, pointing out how Duterte had threatened to bomb Lumad schools just last year.

He warned more protests would come in key cities in the country on February 23, as student activists gear up for demonstrations.

"This month we'll see the intensifying struggle of students to attain the genuine free education that we have long been asking for," he said.