Ring The Bells on World AIDS Day

Filipinos are counting the days before the holidays while. UP students are counting the days till the end of the semester. December is a month of much anticipation that keeps us still and quiet by the edge of our seats till the bells signal the good things.

But today, I hope we do not sit still and quiet on World AIDS Day rather we ring the bells on World Aids Day.

Silence is the last thing we need today, especially in our country. The World Health Organization (WHO) says HIV threatens to spread any minute outside the pool of men having sex with men, if it hasn’t already. A decade ago, only two cases of HIV infection were reported every day; three years ago, 22 new cases; but today, 32 people are diagnosed with HIV infection every single day.

We should be raising the distress signal, working overtime to catch up with the rate at which the HIV epidemic spreads locally.

Ernest Hemingway quoted John Donne’s Meditation XVII in explaining the universality of war and how it affects everyone: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

We are at war–not against our own people, but against the spread of this virus threatening our lives. To fight for HIV-positive individuals means a fight for our lives and for humanity.

But it seems as if the response to the epidemic is not a call to arms against the disease but silence across the country. First, government officials–responsible for our nation–are silent. Their silence trickles down to how young voices perceive victims of the epidemic–something short of the fearsome undead.

In a world where the number of HIV cases recorded per day declines, the Philippines goes against the current. As of October 2018, in an article by Rappler on the state of HIV in the country, Dr. Gundo Weiler, WHO representative to the Philippines, says the Philippines strikes a 140% increase in cases compared to the global average which has dropped down to 20%.

This is largely due to the age-old problem: awareness still remains at a minimum. And the government seems fond of glossing over this major health threat in favor of Chinese loans and the removal of Filipino as a required subject in college, all which only sets us further backward.

As if by containing the spread of information, the spread of infection can be suppressed as well. Our country, it seems, is run by scared little children with hands clapped over their ears, chanting “It’s not real, it’s not real.” Government officials are not children–it’s time they uncover their ears and start listening before HIV-AIDS wipes the children of this nation.

The young voices of our country who usually go against the pernicious, juvenile behavior of the government seems to have taken a similar course of action.

In UPLB, despite activities conducted about HIV testing organized by the administration, campaigns on safe sex and the truth about HIV transmission and AIDS infection are not vocalized enough. Aside from the free testing activity last month, nothing else can be gleaned within campus about the issue. This begs the question: where are the advocates of student welfare?

Ignoring HIV-AIDS issues is a nightmare but it is no bogeyman we can keep hidden in a closet and pretend doesn’t exist.

The silence of the government, the UPLB admin, and the university’s student leaders are symptomatic of the stigma about HIV-AIDS still rampant in our society. It further antagonizes, demonizes those infected by the virus–a group which, as established, is composed of men having sex with men. Mostly, members of the LGBTQ community barely fighting for their identities as humans without the dehumanizing effect of the HIV stigma.

Thus, the epidemic of silence spreads.

“Why do the holidays feel colder and quieter each passing year despite the warm weather?” a friend asked as we recount Christmas memories from childhood. It made me realize how we gradually grow farther from each other, like tectonic plates.

Is this why the silence grows more palpable each day, why it’s harder to hear the cries our own? Or are we keeping quiet in passive anticipation of the bell signaling good things?

Meditation XVII further waxes poetic: “…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Except, this is not a death toll, but a wake-up call. What we must do is grab the bell ourselves and ring the nation awake to the fact that this is a matter we should be discussing in the open. We must learn more about this Big Bad we’re up against and how best to defeat it.

HIV-AIDS doesn’t just affect its victims but everyone of us as a community, as a nation, as humans. No matter how far our tectonic plates drift apart, we remain part of the same continent, of mankind. So let’s ring the bells for mankind. [P]

Words by Gershom Mabaquiao

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Frat-Related Violence and Culture – A Snapshot of a Bigger Problem

        Light was scattered and it’s blinded men with power and toxic masculinity.

Many were awakened and aroused, many were tired by the monopoly of few privileged males on light in a university that demands, aspires, and lives for the principles of fairness, equity, and social justice for all.

The recent fiasco that involves Upsilon Sigma Phi is not an isolated case of fraternity misdemeanor but a snapshot of the old boys’ club culture that terrorizes our country and the rest of humanity; and our response must evolve from the short-sighted and band-aid solutions that have been put forward by frightened and immobilized generations that came before us.

An inter-fraternity council and two anti-hazing laws passed are insufficient to correct a culture whose roots are found to have encompassed the rest of society.

You might indict a violator of the anti-hazing law or any discrimination law but that only punishes the person not rehabilitates and changes the culture. The fear of the law is futile because of the claws that fraternities have on our political infrastructures and the handcuffs that macho-patriarchal culture has on our social and moral infrastructures. The Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of our government, the private sector, and media are polluted with fraternity members and by toxic masculine males. They use universities as incubators to learn how to shape politics, law, business and culture by using ties, tradition, money and aggression.

How does an inter-fraternity council address an ingrain cultural and social mindset? A mindset shaped by religions that explicitly dictate that women are to be subjugated by men; if not neglect the deplorable conditions of women inside the home and the public.

A mindset molded by cultural artifacts such as guns, military toys, and gendered role-playing games that condition males to be dominant, aggressive, and power-hungry. A mindset taught by educational institutions and economic conditions that females are properties and investments available for exploitation by males.

The inter-fraternity council only resolves conflicts and lessens tension among fraternities, but recent events demand it to evolve to become more proactive and progressive in targeting cultures and mindsets.

Fraternities are not the only problem, rather they are the symptom of a bigger problem – the toxic masculine culture; a bigger problem that requires a more profound and wider call to dismantle many social and cultural infrastructures that propagate it.

As our political infrastructures are controlled and influenced by groups like fraternities, they too inevitably become perpetrators, enablers, and extensions of toxic masculinity. Political favors, academic admissions, grade requirements, business deals, and job opportunities become materials of exchange among fraternity brothers – out of brotherhood; and between fraternity brothers and individuals – out of personal ties and power asymmetry. This type of culture is an affront to our university’s ideal of meritocracy. Organizations like fraternities propagate the institutions and cultures of toxic masculinity that enlightened and progressive groups demanded to dismantle and disarm the centuries that followed ours.

How can then a victim of violence demand fairness, equity, and justice in a system whose scales of justice tip towards a few privileged men who live by the creed of ‘brotherhood’?

Absence fraternities, the same culture thrives through the kumpadre system where males exchange favors on the premise of being ‘close’. We saw this in Duterte’s appointment of military officials and we saw this in Noynoy Aquino’s appointment of male friends to the cabinet. Male politicians instigate deals and alliances during elections – how then does the lumad, female, LGBTQIA+ fight against an infrastructure directly and indirectly controlled by one gender?

Perhaps, the monopoly of power was most apparent in the inability of student leaders and student councils to act despite the widespread demand for accountability from the students. The primary mandate of student councils is to ensure that the university is a safe and conducive space for learning – a mandated rooted in the basic human rights to quality life, and to free, quality and accessible education. Student leaders who delay action and service also delay justice and safety for students – they are not rightful to be called as student leader nor UP students.

The complacent acceptance to only impose accountability to the guilty and the inability to address a culture that has perpetuated violence miss the salient points that students assert and demand. Students call out the toxic masculine culture that enables entitlement, dominion and pride to perpetuate among members of fraternities.

The call for accountability from fraternities demands only the imprisonment of few but absolves many who do not physically and verbally assault people; the call for abolishment only dissolves private spaces of toxic masculine men but allow them to find new spaces to infect – these are not wrong neither are they void of good intentions, but they should not be the end points of our wider demands for a society that is safe for Lumads, LGBT, government critics, women and ordinary individuals.

Nobody is safe in a university ran by men and for men alone. A society ran by men and for men alone is unjust.

We, the students, are demanding University Student Council Chairperson John Joseph Ilagan to use his power to end impunity and end the culture of toxic masculinity and machismo that plague society through entities like fraternities.

We, the students, are demanding all student leaders and university officials who are associated with fraternities to end fraternity-related violence and commit to building a safe and conducive unviersiity.

Do not delay – the future should be just, humane and progressive, and it will only be if we make it, demand it and own it. [P]

WORDS: John Albert Pagunsan

PHOTOS & GRAPHICS: Paula Bautista, John Albert Pagunsan

UP Prexy releases statement on frat-related issues

FRATAfter two weeks of fraternity-related issues in the university, University of the Philippines System President Danilo Concepcion released a statement.

In the statement, President Concepcion emphasized that UP does not welcome misogyny and similar behaviors after conversations of members of Upsilon Sigma Phi were leaked by an anonymous Twitter account. He said, “Whatever the source of these reported posts may be, the language and the behavior they contain are reprehensible and totally unacceptable in our community.” The President elaborated, “Such flagrant misogyny has no place in a university dedicated to the highest ideals and the practice of gender equality and human rights.

The President also expressed his sentiments as a member of Upsilon Sigma Phi on the posts, “ They do not represent what we have stood for all these years, as they bring us back to the darkness rather than the light.” He also committed to not protecting guilty members, “I will not protect any fraternity brother who may be found culpable of these kinds of offensive acts.”[P]

 

Read: https://www.up.edu.ph/index.php/a-statement-by-the-president-on-recent-issues-involving-fraternities/

Lagindab Review: An entertaining comedic and romantic take on Philippine Society

Despite the lack of support from the administration and local government units for student-initiated art projects, the UPLB Communication Arts program continues to deliver provocative and engaging artistic and cultural acts. Theater arts students continue to call for accessible spaces for practice and performance – they have yet to receive a decent response from the administration.

Lagindab touches important aspects of human nature and Philippine society in the subtlest and most unexpected ways.

The comedic yet realistic acting, a precise yet symbol-laden script, and a basic yet accurate costume and props contribute the an overall experience that leaves the audience wondering how subtlety can be a weapon to lessen intimidation when discussing the heaviest social issues. Lagindab is a perfect inexpensive introduction to an engaging and accessible theater arts.

Orlando Nadres’ Paraisong Parisukat explores the sentiments and life of Isha – a provincial girl who works in a shoe store for seven years, whose life changes after meeting a new male colleague. Lagindab’s adaptation of the play was ambiguous at the start – a risky move as audiences would have a different impression. However, the impressive characterization gave depth and breadth to the issues that plague the characters of the play. While not explicit – the play highlights important class struggles faced by migrants in a city, and the neglected and silenced existential dilemmas faced by blue-collar workers. The beauty of this adaptation is that it does not bore nor does it stress the spectators whilst discussing and immersing them to the lives of minimum-wage earners (and possibly contractual) like Isha. Isha’s struggle is masked by the lively music, chaotic and colorful lives of her colleagues, a wandering boyfriend, and heartless boss. Despite the lack of administrative financial support, a rollercoaster of energy surges and plunges of actors, lapses in script memorization, and inconsistent and often overlapping music – the play brought to life a play that had many questions that will haunt many students upon their graduation. The conclusion was brief but it gave a glimpse of how life is bigger than a shoebox and brighter than  golden medal, if one was given the chance and if one willed to get out.

A year ago, the Communication Arts students and faculty staged Bienvenido Noriega’s Bayan-Bayanan which breath comedy and joie-de-vivre in the lives of Overseas Filipino Workers – it was surprisingly followed by Lagindab’s staging of Bienvenido Noriega’s Idolong Romantiko. A play that was rich with context and representation – it discussed many sins and defects of a Filipino citizen that contribute to Philippine society’s demise. Lagindab did more than justice to Bienvenido Noriega’s play. Despite problems in impersonation – the profound and complicated personalities of the characters were delivered with flairs of comedy and sexual innuendos which made audiences relate to the characters quickly. Almost realistic with the moans, grunts, kissing sounds and sensual dances – the play resembled popular and engaging Filipino teleseryes yet with socially-relevant engaging scripts and themes. Albeit covering popular Philippine social cancers, Noriega is courageous to discuss sensitive issues such as rebellions and feudalism. Audiences should not miss how a simple production set was highlighted by lights and sounds. Perhaps satirical, the must-awaited conclusion provides the audience the whole point of the play – a Greek tragedy in the Philippine context. Overall, the play’s theme of justice was given what was due for it – justice.

Lagindab will have its last two shows later at NCAS Auditorium at 4pm and 7pm for PHP100.

Words by John Albert Pagunsan

Photos, courtesy of Lagindab’s Rey Perez

NUSP slams mandatory drug testing in universities

The National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) condemns the plan of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to require all universities and colleges to conduct drug tests on students.

The student union said in their statement, “Like its boss Duterte, CHED tags drug abuse as the ultimate monster confronting the youth and the country without comprehensively looking at the socio-economic problems that people face.”

Technical-vocational institutions, colleges and universities will be required to subject their students to a mandatory drug test in the following academic year of 2019-2020 as CHED ordered in Memorandum Order no. 18 of 2018.

The student union pointed out that despite the expected budget cuts for state-operated colleges and universities, it seems that CHED’s top priority is the mandatory drug testing.

“Drug testing is the top priority of CHED at this time when we expect budget cuts for public schools that offer free education, and we are suffering due to price, fare and tuition hikes approved by Duterte and CHED,” said NUSP in a statement.

Media outlets including CNN Philippines and Philippine Star reported that the Department of Education (DepEd) is facing a PHP 51 billion budget cut for the next year while ABS-CBN and the Philippine Star reported the CHED’s financial assistance program budget is also facing a cut as big as PHP 3 billion.

The mandatory drug testing comes after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Malacañang listed the University of the Philippines as among the universities ‘plotting’ an alleged rebellion, called the “Red October”, and recruiting ‘rebels’ against the Duterte administration. However, the allegation was quickly withdrawn by the AFP and PNP after they claimed that the rebellion was ‘neutralized’.

War on drugs victims

The Duterte’s War on Drugs has claimed lives of children as young as five years old – among its victims are former UP student Carl Arnaiz, senior high school student Kian delos Santos, and college graduating student Roman Manaois.

The PNP reports that 4,200 ‘alleged’ drug personalities have been killed since Duterte took office.  However, several human rights groups claim the number to be around 12,000 while NUSP reports that 25,000 lives have been claimed since Duterte assumed office.

During his second State of the Nation Address, the president stated that his administration’s war on drugs will not stop rather ‘it will be relentless and chilling as on the day it began’.

Earlier this year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched a preliminary investigation on Duterte and his war on drugs, which was followed by the filing of a complaint by relatives and families of victims. The ICC is an international court of last resort, it has indicted famous authoritarian leaders for gross human rights violations like Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Joseph Kony of the Lord Resistance Army, and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. [P]

WORDS: John Albert Pagunsan.

(LOGO of NUSP lifted from NUSP Facebook Page)

 

Isko’t Iska 2018: A play of finding, using and amplifying voices.

Words by John Albert Pagunsan with contributions from Aaron Tristan De Vera of BA Communication Arts ’15. Picture lifted from Isko’t Iska 2018 Facebook page.

(Isko’t Iska 2018 is staged for free at DL Umali Auditorium, 7PM, on November 13 to 14.)

Continuing the tradition of activism and social awakening through theater, this year’s installment of Isko’t Iska discusses the personal struggle of Iskolars of finding a voice and using a voice and amplifies the voices of the victims of government neglect and oppression.

The play has never failed to deliver as an act of protest and as an alternative platform for discussion of social issues since the Marcos’ Martial Law regime. This year’s writers and production staff are sharp at molding characters and circumstances that hit close to home for many Iskolars and Filipinos; providing an alternative primer to the ideal character of an Iskolar, a public university and a Philippine society vis-à-vis the realities that surround students.

ISKA’S VOICE AFTER GRADUATION

The most remarkable departure Isko’t Iska took for this year’s installment is showering a delayed yet graduating senior with lots of spotlight. Iska’s story reflects the lives of many upperclass students – the dilemma of either using their found voice in helping the country or in building massive fortunes and portfolios. Isko’t Iska provides a persuasive reason and an impactful conclusion to that dilemma. The viewer leaves the auditorium with an answer but also carries with her questions of what to do with her recent enlightenment.

Albeit lapses in delivery and dragging scenes, Iska is a perfect caricature of a UPLB student – chained to familial obligations while aspiring for national obligations. Her story exposes the dynamics among Filipino family members and how their economic and social positions largely determine the nature and the use of their voices. The play is subtle in discussing how the most vocal becomes voiceless inside a home – and how that circumstance becomes a defining point of Iska’s character and story.

Iska’s wit and wisdom are her weapons in times of adversity – two characteristics the play would want audiences to espouse after brief immersions on different struggles of marginalized sectors through the play. While the play suggests options for using the found voice, it gives a lot of liberty to the viewer to choose and create new ways of voicing and being voiced.

ISKO’S SEARCH FOR HIS VOICE

Isko’s story resonates among freshmen – the dilemma of finding his true voice. A rich discussion is produced from the interplay of a Freshman’s internal and external struggles in the present context. It becomes an alternative life guide for many freshmen deprived of senior assistance and guidance (because of an OSA memorandum). Throughout the play, Isko finds his voice; but in the process that voice becomes threatened after it voices the voiceless.

The search for Isko’s voice could have been more impactful if complemented with higher and stronger vocal projection and a concise and precise script. While the play remains loyal to the formula of having main characters involved in social activism, this year’s installment focuses on activism through journalistic documentation and reporting – giving light to the media repression and government-sanctioned misinformation.

The search for his voice leads him to unexpected but liberating circumstances – a potent narrative that the play sustains from the first minute to closing.

AMPLIFYING THE STIFLED VOICES

                The play is honest and unforgiving in depicting social realities that social lenses have been deprived of capturing and refuse to capture since Duterte’s election from extra-judicial killings to paramilitary aggression against farmers. The introduction accurately and creatively captures the current state of the country while the conclusion is a must-watch as it provides a persuasive solution to the play’s dominant premise of an oppressed Philippine society.

The lives of characters from the fringes tour the audiences in the maze of social realities in homes, city slums, and farming communities; but leaves audiences an important question that haunts both the main characters and the audiences – what does one do when one hears their personal voice and the voices of the masses?

Students cannot refuse to see and hear the social realities that plague the res of the country because the play’s bluntness engages them to how these social realities hit many powerless skin deep.

 

 

Why are there delayed students in UP?

In UP, students face stigma from their parents who expect them to graduate on time. For some, that judgment comes from their own classmates and friends who think that being delayed only means you’re “delinquent” or “not good enough for UP.” Extending one’s stay in the university shouldn’t be something to be shamed of (after all, “quality education takes time”); but one cannot deny the struggle of having to wait a little longer to don that sweet Sablay.

To be delayed isn’t usually something UP students would want to happen to them. Some are delayed because they chose to shift courses, or they needed more time for their special project/undergraduate research. For a few, taking part in extracurricular activities such as exchange programs are their reasons for getting delayed. However, for many UP students, circumstance prevents them from graduating on time despite their dedication and hard work.

Here is a list of reasons why UP students get delayed:

1. Financial reasons

Sometimes students get delayed due to financial factors. Even with the Free Tuition Law, some students still struggle to cover their expenses for rent, food, as well as materials they need for school. With skyrocketing prices of goods, it could spell out delay for students who simply cannot afford their needs.

Some students continue their education as a working student—but even this is not an option for some given the academic workload in UP. For the same reason, many students have to completely stop their education, dedicating themselves to providing for the financial needs of their families. This is the case for Joanna*, a BACA student, who filed for LOA because she couldn’t afford school anymore. “My batch was the first to suffer the TOFI from 225 per unit to 1000 per unit. My family wasn’t ready for that.”

Melissa*, a Philosophy student, chose to work and quit school momentarily to support her family. “Our only source of income is our small shop and it hadn’t been doing well, so I applied to work in the BPO industry as a customer representative agent.”

2. Health problems

Disease can be a huge hindrance to one’s education. In the university, the academic workload can get too heavy. Some individuals may not be able to take the amount of stress building up throughout the semester. This could end up in either physical or mental health problems, or both. A student may have a difficult time submitting requirements, catching up on lessons, and passing exams. For some, this could also mean having to drop subjects and give up the semester.

Chelsea*, a BS Biology student, was diagnosed with depression during her stay in the university. Because of this, she wasn’t able to focus. “I wasn’t able to prioritize my academics when my depression struck during my 2nd and 3rd year. Failing my exams became a trigger…because I didn’t want to be surrounded by people I couldn’t keep up with…I wasn’t able to focus on my academics because of that.”

3. Lack of subjects, SAIS

The university is notorious for its lack of faculty members, staff, and facilities. Hence, it could only provide a limited number of sections for its thousands of students who need it. The worst part is, we have the Student Academic Information System or SAIS where students are pit against each other to vie for slots in subjects. Something that everyone should be able to acquire, regardless of their status.

For Jhonnet Galit, a BS Human Ecology student, he was “a product of the birth pains of SAIS.” He explained, “I think it was 2016 when it was the first year of SAIS. There were problems with the registration and I ended up getting no slots. Since I was not eligible to graduate on time, I was not prioritized. I was delayed for 2 semesters because of that.”

Lack of slots was the problem for Jainno Bongon, a BS Nutrition student: “Midyear nun two years ago at dapat yun na huling chance ko to take Chem 160. Eh ‘di ko nakuha yung Chem 40 na prerequisite to 160. Puwede ko lang siya i-take ulit the following year.

In the end, we should recognize that the problems of our delayed iskos and iskas are usually uncontrollable circumstances. Many of these problems are systemic and economical, and we can only guess the number of students delayed because of these issues that have long been prevalent, not just in UP. We must continue to assert for pro-student policies and our basic rights to ensure accessible and quality education—not just for UP students—but for everyone.

*Some students requested to remain anonymous and their names changed

WORDS: Mark Ernest Famatigan
ILLUSTRATION: Lindsay Anne Penaranda
EDITED BY: Mac Andre R. Arboleda