Last February 14, Valentine’s Day, Akbayan Party distributed free condoms to passersby in Mega-Q Mart along Cubao-EDSA. The action was part of the party’s broader awareness campaign for the Reproductive Health Bill. Shortly after, alleged students from the University of Santo Tomas flooded Akbayan Facebook site (http://www.facebook.com/pages/AKBAYAN-PARTYLIST/61953501555) with troll messages of “opposition” to the campaign.
Akbayan Youth welcomes the posts made in the spirit of open and respectful debate. However, beyond objecting to the manner of some of these posts, we lament the manner on how the students were motivated to register their “opposition” to the RH bill.
Certain professors/instructors who reportedly gave “voluntary and optional” assignments to students who introduced themselves from the classes of 2 LM1, 2 Pol 2, 2 JRN 1, and 2CA 2 were allegedly asked to refute the pro-RH position of Akbayan on its Facebook page in exchange for extra grades. Some of the students who made the said posts admitted this.
“Extra Grades”, “optional assignment”, “goaded” by teachers
While we respect the right of students to express their opinions, we do not believe this can happen under conditions where they are incentivized to mimic the positions of authority figures. The involved teachers unjustly influenced their students to voice their positions against the bill. Rather than consider opinions based on a careful reading of the bill, many of these posts were mere reproductions of ill-informed stances repetitively stating the same arguments framed in the same template without offering new dimensions and perspectives to deepen discourse. We believe this obscures true and meaningful debates especially among the students who are most in need of guidance – guidance made not through the unequal exercise of authority by certain teachers but through dialogue based on good faith and open-mindedness.
Furthermore, though the involved professors might say that it is an “optional grade”, the fact is, it privileges a certain position over another, and hinders the formulation and expression of a counter-opinion. That it takes place in an academic setting where the ferment of free opinion should be given premium, and that the clear asymmetrical power relations (teacher-student) were deployed, makes it even more reprehensible.
Students not at fault, Teachers challenged to a debate
The students are not at fault here. They were only acting based on the “incentives” offered to them by these irresponsible teachers who exercised unequal power relations to their students. It would have been permissible if the involved teachers provided their students all the necessary lens of analysis or at the very least, a simple reading of the reproductive health bill before agitating them to take a position on the issue. However, based on the posts made by the students using the same arguments and templates repetitively, it is safe to surmise that they were provided ready-made statements and/or assumptions.
Hence, we challenge the said teachers to a debate on the issue of reproductive health. We challenge them to stop using their students as “transmission belts” of their own opinions. Being members of the broad academic community, it is incumbent on them to exercise intellectual honesty, courage and integrity. They should stop hiding behind the backs of their students.
We, student and youth leaders from Akbayan Youth are more than willing to debate with these “teachers.” ###