Nat'l Youth Commission: Report 'anti-government' students, revoke their scholarships

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 20) — The head of the National Youth Commission (NYC) has directed youth leaders to report "anti-government" students in hopes of having their scholarships revoked.

In a statement on Wednesday, NYC chair Ronald Cardema asked officials of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK), Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), Citizen Army Training (CAT), and other youth leaders to "report to the National Youth Commission all government scholars who are known in your area as anti-government youth leaders allied with the leftist CPP-NPA-NDF."

He said a number of government scholars were recently caught as members of the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which has waged a five-decade insurgency. The Duterte administration has terminated peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF), which represents rebels in the talks. The government seeks to tag communist rebels as terrorists - a move that is still pending before the court.

Cardema also called on President Rodrigo Duterte to cancel the government scholarships being enjoyed by "rebellious" students.

"I am requesting our Head of Government, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, to issue an Executive Order removing the government scholarships of all anti-government scholars, specifically those students who are allied with the leftist CPP-NPA-NDF," he said.

He explained that the scholars, in going against the government are "fighting the majority of the Filipino People and also not fulfilling their roles as the expected breadwinners who will uplift their families and as our hope in strengthening our country."

Under Republic Act 8044, the NYC, which is under the Office of the President, should have the following objectives: lead youth promotion and development programs and activities, encourage wide and active participation of the youth in governmental and non-governmental activities, harness and develop the youth's full potential as partners in nation-building, and supplement government appropriations for the youth with funds from other sources.

The Department of Education (DepEd), however, assured that a student's scholarship will not be revoked just because of these activities. DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones said academic standing should be the only basis when withdrawing a scholar's stipend.

"Hindi tinatanggalan mo ng scholarship dahil engaged in other activities. Even in highschool and elementary ine-encourage natin yung notion ng the 'whole child or the whole learner, whole personality.' Pati pag-identify ng honor students kasama yung extracurricular activities so bottomline, sa scholarships of course is academic standings (ang basis)," Briones said in a press briefing.

[Translation: You do not remove the scholarship just because he or she is engaged in other activities. Even in high school and elementary, we encourage the notion of the 'whole child or the whole learner, whole personality.' When we also identify honor students, we include the extracurricular activities so the bottomline is, the scholarship of course is based on academic standings.]

Will Duterte heed call vs. 'rebellious' students?

What's clear for now is that the President will not sign an order withdrawing scholars' stipends without concrete evidence they are joining efforts to destabilize the government, Malacañang said.

"Kung ireremove lang on the basis of suspicion I don't think the president will sign that. Kailangan mayroong grounds, legal grounds, reasonable grounds," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a press briefing when asked about Cardema's proposal.

He stressed that mere membership in a leftist group or joining protest rallies are not enough reasons for a student's scholarship to be withdrawn.

"You have to show us evidence that one [the student] did join because [the student wants] to fight the government," Panelo said.

When asked to explain what kind of evidence he thinks would stand, Panelo said, "Kung nakita na kasama ka sa mga plano against the government. Halimbawa, nagkaroon ng raid tapos ikaw pala ay kasama doon, nagpaplano ka. Aba e ang laking ebidensya."

Translation: "if you are caught with those plotting against the government. For example, there is a raid and you are there, part of the planning. That's huge evidence."

"Pero kung sumasama ka lang (sa rallies) just to express your dissent to government policies e kasama sa demokrasya yun (But if you join rallies just to express your dissent to government policies, that's part of democracy)," he said.

Vice President Leni Robredo meanwhile slammed Cardema's proposal, saying such move can "curtail the freedom of expression" of young Filipinos.

"Pag sinabi yan ng National Youth Commission gusto bang sabihin na yung gusto nating klaseng kabataang Pilipino, yung sunod-sunoran lang? Gusto ba natin ang kabataang Pilipino yung hindi nabibigyan ng boses para ipahayag yung kanyang paniniwala?" Robredo said during a press conference in Cebu City Wednesday.

[Translation: When the National Youth Commission said that, does it mean we want our Filipino youth to only follow orders? Do we want our Filipino youth to be silenced?]

Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero, on the other hand, urged Duterte to fire Cardema for his "ignorance" of the Constitution.

"The sycophantic and obsequious suggestion of the NYC head shows his ignorance of the Constitution and, far from helping, is surely doing a disservice to [Duterte] and the government." Escudero said in a statement.

"Kung may sisipain (sa pwesto) dapat siya at 'di ang mga estudyante," he added.

[Translation: If there's someone who should be removed, it should be him and not the students.]

Senator Ping Lacson and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra echoed the sentiment, saying that the decision to join anti-government rallies is just an exercise of constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.

KABATAAN party-list Representative Sarah Elago also condemned Cardema's proposal. Elago argued the free tuition that state university students currently enjoy was a product of protests.

"The right to protest and the right to education are both fundamental rights inherent to all and both shall be protected and upheld by the state. Only a fascist regime and its puppets like Cardema will hold these rights in contrary to each other," Elago said in a statement.