State scholars’ right to free speech defended

February 20, 2019
Salvador Panelo
Salvador Panelo

MALACAÑANG yesterday said the state cannot just revoke scholarships of students on mere suspicion that they are part of any radical movement.

National Youth Commission Chairperson Ronald Cardema earlier proposed to President Rodrigo Duterte to issue an executive order removing the government scholarships of “all rebellious anti-government scholars,” specifically those allied with communist rebels who have been involved in the killing of troops.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo however said membership in groups critical of government would not be sufficient basis for revoking the scholarship. He considered joining anti-government rallies as part of freedom of expression and the right to peaceably assemble.

“Kung ire-remove mo lang on the basis of suspicion, I don’t think the President will sign (an executive order),” Panelo said at a news conference.

“If there is evidence from the very beginning na may ginagawa ka ... showing that you’re fighting the government, we will remove the scholarship. Natural lang yun,” he said.

Panelo said there should be “legal grounds” before the government can strip a student of scholarship including overt acts of rebellion and sedition.

“Kung pumasok ka doon (rebellion, sedition) papaano ka naman susuportahan ng gobyerno. Otherwise the government will be killing itself,” he said.

The Palace official viewed Cardema’s suggestion as a warning for students to focus on their studies.

“That’s more of a warning to them. Kumbaga sinasabihan kayo, hoy kung gusto niyo maging iskolar ng bayan magtino naman kayo kung hindi sayang lang yung panahon ninyo kasi tatanggalan na nga kayo (ng scholarship), made-demanda pa kayo,” he said.

Commission on Higher Education chair Prospero de Vera called on students participating in rallies to exercise critical thinking but they could lose their government scholarships if joining rallies are already adversely affecting their studies.

De Vera said if a scholar’s education suffers because of his constant participation in rallies, he may no longer be considered in good standing and may lose his scholarship.

But De Vera clarified that if the student consistently attends his classes while participating in rallies, then it is considered an “expression of the freedom of speech.”