Friday, October 20, 2006

Freedom Under Siege

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The Philippine Collegian has not
been publishing for a few months now
after the UP administration withheld
its funds (photo from Kule in pdf).

The Philippine Collegian, the official student newspaper of the University of the Philippines, colloquially known as Kule, has not only been at the front seat of the country’s history but figured prominently in it as well.

In the dark days of Martial Law in the ‘70s, despite threats of closure, it continued to publish, albeit underground, to provide voice against the repression.

In recent history, it has served as the voice of the students in campus and national issues such as the tuition fee hike, activists killings, and the turbulent period of the Arroyo administration.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Reynato Puno, who was Editor-in-Chief of Kule in 1960, says it is this tradition that sets the Kule from the rest, a benchmark for all the other campus publications in the country.

In April 20, 2006, the Office of the Chancellor released a memorandum on procurement of supplies and services.

Ever since, the Collegian Editorial Board conducts its autonomous bidding process to select the printer of the paper. But the UP administration insists that student funds used by the paper were public fund and therefore was under the procurement act.

This unilateral action by the administration eventually led to the withholding of funds of the paper and the stoppage of its printing.

Not a few were threatened.

“If you could do it to the Collegian, you could do it to the other college newspapers,” the National Union of Journalists said.

I didn’t know of the issue prior to the request of Reporter’s Notebook to do a story on it. I’ve heard of it from a friend but did not quite get the opportunity to ask for details.

I had a chance to work at Kule, first as a news staffer and eventually as its news editor for school year 1999-2000. I did not have second thoughts about doing it but I must give credit to my segment producer, Joseph Laban, who had researched about the issue even before I got on board so to speak.

In the report, we sought prominent alumni of the Collegian, aside from Puno, it included Former Senator Franklin Drilon who granted an interview.

“As a senator of the Republic, I don’t remember ever allotting funds for the newspaper,” he said.

Puno, who, by virtue of his job as a magistrate usually would not have granted an interview, but he did, perhaps compelled by his own sense of indebtedness to the paper.

“It is an institution, they shouldn’t be doing this,” the justice said.

There were other alumni such as Senator Joker Arroyo and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the first lady editor in chief of the newspaper.

Arroyo declined an interview but Santiago said she was “interested” in the issue and had issued a resolution that sought to investigate the “deadlock.”

The UP administration through Chancellor Sergio Cao did not grant an interview but merely said that it was not attacking the independence of the newspaper.

UP President Emerlinda Roman said that if the Collegian did not want to be under the procurement act, it may collect, on its own, the student funds.

Due to the deadlock, the Kule has been publishing in .pdf format.

But let me hasten to ask a few questions:

Assuming the logic of Roman, if it allows the present term of the Collegian to collect the funds on its own, what then is the nature of the funds?

Justice Puno wonders whether the procurement act is appropriately being used.

Still some sectors assert that it may not be a press freedom issue but a press responsibility issue. The Collegian they say, has been mismanaging its funds.

Issues aside, what is clear is that the Kule is not publishing, the newspaper which is an outlet of student views has stopped printing, how else would the students know about issues that affect them such as the impending tuition fee hike?

But the administration does not seem to mind and the procurement act remains as a justification.

This is not surprising, by its effect, we will know its intent.

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