MANILA, Philippines – Senators on Wednesday, February 20, slammed the proposal of National Youth Commission (NYC) Chairman Ronald Cardema to strip "rebellious" scholars of their government scholarships.
Senator Francis Escudero, chairperson of the education committee, said Cardema's proposal violates the 1987 Constitution and the rights it guarantees. These include the right to free speech, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to due process and equal protection of the laws.
"The government is the government of those who agree with it and disagree with it...and the President is the President of those who voted for him and did not vote for him," Escudero said in a statement.
"Both the President and the government should serve every Filipino without distinction and regardless of political beliefs. Dissent in a democracy should never be frowned upon, much less penalized in any way," he added.
If there's anyone who should be removed, Escudero said, it should be Cardema.
"The sycophantic and obsequious suggestion of the NYC head shows his ignorance of the Constitution and, far from helping, is surely doing a disservice to PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) and the government. Kung may sisipain [sa puwesto] dapat siya at 'di ang mga estudyante (If there's anyone who should be ousted, it should be him and not the students)," Escudero said.
Opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan shared similar views.
"Hindi iligal ang sumama sa mga organisasyon na leftist at lalong hindi iligal at krimen ang magprotesta o sumali sa mga rally. Ang NYC ang gumagawa ng iligal na hakbang kung itutuloy nila ang iligal na patakaran," Pangilinan said.
(Joining leftist groups is not illegal, more so joining protests and rallies. The NYC would be doing an illegal act should it continue with its proposal.)
Senator Panfilo Lacson said government scholars showing dissent "are exercising a basic right available to any citizen of this country" and "should not be penalized, not even kicked out of school."
However, if these students bear arms and commit the crime of rebellion, they should be punished after due process, Lacson said.
On Tuesday, February 19, Cardema asked Duterte to issue an executive order removing the subsidy of "all rebellious anti-government scholars." He specified students who were allied with the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People's Army, and National Democratic Front.
Cardema claimed there were incidents of students supposedly caught as armed rebels fighting against government forces.
Cardema, who was the leader of the Duterte Youth movement before his appointment to the NYC, earlier asked Sangguniang Kabataan officials nationwide to "fight" leftist youth groups.