MANILA, Philippines – Students from various schools and universities “walked out” of their classrooms on Friday, February 23 to join the nationwide protest for rights, freedom, and democracy.
At least 200 protesters, according to Manila Police District, marched from Morayta to Mendiola, Manila holding up streamers and placards expressing their disdain for the Duterte administration’s anti-poor and anti-people policies.
The Filipino youth also carried the protest online, pushing the hashtag #WalkOutPH to one of the top trending tweets on Friday afternoon. The hashtag racked up more than 3,000 tweets and at least 2.6 million impressions on Twitter.
Specifically, students from University of the Philippines, Ateneo De Manila University, De La Salle University, University of Sto Tomas, Polytechnic University, San Sebastian College, University of the East, Far Eastern University, and National University participated. (READ: Oldest alliance of college editors to stage nationwide protests February 23)
According to Anakbyan, protests were also held in numberous centers across the country, including UP Baguio, UP Pampanga, Bulacan State University, Holy Angel University, UP Los Baños, Crossing Calamba, UP Visayas Miag-ao, UP Tacloban, Colon in Cebu City, and UP Mindanao. (READ: IN PHOTOS: Thousands join nationwide walkout vs Duterte)
Among their many advocacies, the students emphasized their call for free education in all levels, demanding the full implementation of the Free Tuition policy to stop the collection of miscellaneous and tuition fees, and its “exorbitant increases” in private schools. (READ: UP chancellor endorses February 23, 24 activities vs EJKs, attack on press freedom)
They also noted the “commercialized character” of the education system of the country, especially in the the implementation of the K-12 program, which only added financial burden to many Filipino families.
“Instead of promoting holistic, quality, and accessible education, the state has only maximized it to promote business interests of private and foreign investors,” Kabataan Partlist representative Sarah Elago said in statement.
Justice in journalism
One of the hundreds of students who joined the protest was Sheerah Escudero, who braved to speak on stage for the first time as a youth leader.
Escudero, an officer of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines and a student at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Muntinlupa spoke about the importance of small schools like hers to join nationwide protests.
“Not only big universities should join protests like this, because it's not only them who see the abuses and the impunity propagated by this administration,” she told Rappler in Filipino.
Apart from being a youth leader, Escudero’s motivation is also rooted from a personal experience being a sister of a victim of extrajudicial killing.
It was ironic, she said, how she pushed her school newspaper to make noise about the killing of Kian Loyd Delos Santos last year, and then witness her own brother go through the same fate only after a month since the teenager’s death.
“Even before my brother became a victim, I already saw what was wrong in this system—the impunity, the silencing, the extrajudicial killings,” Escudero said.
“Now that it’s become personal, I realized who else will speak if not me? Who else will seek for justice, if not me?”
Since the incident, Escudero has joined several gatherings and protests for victims of extrajudicial killings, and continues to write for her school newspaper.
She noted the importance of journalism, including student journalism, in fighting this culture of violence and disinformation propagated by the government.
“If they see you resist, they will either bully you or fight you with disinformation,” she said, “that’s why it’s important for even small newspapers like ours to join protests like this, so that they know that we too see what is wrong.”
Not just a youth protest
Apart from students, the crowd was also joined by other sectors including fishermen, vendors, and jeepney drivers who took a break from their daily grind to march to Mendiola.
They are deemed to be the most gravely affected by the current administration’s “anti-people policies,” specifically the “Oplan Tanggal Bulok, Tangal Usok,” the modernization of PUVs, and the Tax Reform for Accelaration and Inclusion or the TRAIN law.
These also came after President Duterte implemented a salary hike for police officers and soldiers, all the while “ignoring” the calls of teachers, government employees, and laborers for fare wage.
“Various issues plague our society today,” Elago said. “All sectors are hit by Duterte’s policy of strengthening neoliberal attacks, kill, kill, kill program, and economic sellout. He draws different weapons against people. No one is safe.”
And so while the rally is dubbed a “youthquake protest,” Elago said that it had turned int a “people-quake” as different sectors joined the youth on the streets.
“The youth will continue to fight outside the 4 walls of their classrooms to push for basic socio-economic reforms that are not only beneficial to the youth, but to all marginalized and oppressed sectors of the society,” Elago said. – Rappler.com