A youth group expressed its disapproval of the alleged credits given by some University of Santo Tomas (UST) teachers to students who oppose the Reproductive Health (RH) bill.
In a statement, Akbayan Youth claimed that certain UST teachers gave a “voluntary and optional assignment” to their students to oppose the Reproductive Health (RH) bill in exchange for extra credit.
“Students… 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,” Akbayan said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
In an interview with GMA News Online on Monday, Akbayan Youth Secretary-General Cheann Matriz said they noticed the comments several days after Valentine’s Day, when Akbayan distributed free condoms at a public market in Quezon City.
“‘Yung reactions nila were against the activity and the RH bill. ‘Yung ibang students hindi raw sila happy with the event (giving away free condoms). May nagsabi pa na Akbayan is promoting premarital sex,” Matriz said.
(Their reactions were about the activity of distributing condoms and about the RH bill. Other students said they were not happy with the event. Some even said that Akbayan is promoting premarital sex.)
Akbayan members who were moderating the Facebook discussions noticed that students who were posting their anti-RH views were leaving their full name, section and school.
For example, Denice Sharina Lao, who left a post on Akbayan’s Facebook page on February 15, said she thinks giving away condoms to teenagers will give the impression that “sex with protection is okay even if you’re not married.”
“The more you promote contraception, the higher chances (sic) of passing on AIDS and STDs since more and more people will engage in pre-marital sex,” she said.
At the end of her post, Lao introduced herself as “Lao, Denice Sharina P., UST, 2CA2.”
“2CA2” refers to her year level, the course she is taking up, and the section she is in – in which case, she is a second year Communication Arts major from Section 2.
The students who posted on the Akbayan page introduced themselves as coming from the following courses and sections: “2LM1”, “2Pol2”, “2JRN1” and “2CA2”.
A UST student identified the following course abbreviations for GMA News Online: Legal Management (LM), Political Science (Pol), Journalism (JRN) and Communication Arts (CA).
Akbayan noted that most of the comments came from the four sections, which may have been the classes assigned to do the optional homework.
It was also noted that the students were not members of the Akbayan page and never participated in other discussions before they posted their comments.
Matriz said some students admitted that they were asked to post anti-RH bill comments on the Akbayan page for “bonus points.”
“It’s a sad thing because they make their students disagree (to the bill) without discussing the bill itself,” Matriz said.
But not everyone decided to go for the extra grade. Some students said they refused to do the assignment even if it means they do not get an extra grade.
“I am one of the students of UST who had the said task, but I intentionally didn’t comply because I feared [that] regardless of my positions and arguments on the issue, the integrity of my opinion can be [questioned] because of the said incentives, said Aaron Gabriel Santos.
In its statement, Akbayan said although the activity was for an “optional grade” and not a requirement for their classes, the activity privileges a certain position over another and hinders the 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,” Akbayan said.
UST supports CBCP stand on RH bill
GMA News Online tried to get the side of the University of Santo Tomas through Public Affairs Director Giovanna Fontanilla, but Fontanilla said UST cannot issue a statement about the “optional assignment” of some professors as of posting time.
According to a 2008 article from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website, the “Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas will focus on the promotion of ‘faith and life issues.’
In the same article, UST’s Fr. Filemon de la Cruz, Vice-Rector for Religious Affairs, added that UST has a responsibility to defend and promote church’s teaching and stand on pro-life matters.
The article also said UST will continue to support the stand of the Filipino Bishops against the reproductive health bill.” No new statement regarding the RH bill has been released by UST since then.
Divided on the issue
Matriz said a source from UST told Akbayan that the faculty is “divided” when it comes to the issue of the RH bill.
The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), a national association of Catholic educational institutions in the country, said they prescribe to the CBCP’s stand on the RH bill.
However, CEAP President Fr. Gregorio Bañaga told GMA News Online that they have not given directives to their 1,360 members schools regarding the schools’ position on the RH bill and the way the bill is taught to the students.
Bañaga said the matter will be taken up in their next board meeting in March.
University of Santo Tomas is a member school of CEAP. Other Catholic universities like the Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University are CEAP members as well.
Not all UST profs are anti-RH
Gene Michael Atanacio, who introduced himself on Akabayan’s page as a UST professor, said not all UST professors are against the RH bill.
“UST fosters academic freedom just like any other colleges and universities. UST has a strong conviction in teaching Christian values as taught by the doctrines of the church and on the Pope’s stand on issues like this,” he said.
Atanacio refused to name the professors who gave the assignment to the students who posted anti-RH remarks.
“As for the issue of professors asking their students to post here (Akbayan page) for the incentives of a good grade, I do agree it is not right,” he said. “I asked (sic) Akbayan not to blame ALL professors of UST… not all professors in UST are anti-RH bill.”
Teachers challenged to a debate
Akbayan said they are challenging the UST teachers who gave the assignment to a debate on the issue of reproductive health.
“We challenge them to stop using their students as transmission belts of their own opinions,” Akbayan said.
Matriz added that the group will hold fora where students can learn about the RH bill if their school or university refuses to discuss the bill inside the classroom.
“Our next step is to find these professors, engage them in debate, and hopeully they can open their classes to us,” she said. “We challenge professors to open their classes so we can state the merits of the bill.” – VVP, GMA News