On Nov. 14, around 60 DLSU students, mostly from the political party Alyansang Tapat sa Lasalista (Tapat), joined other student contingents from Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman in an unsanctioned rally along Katipunan Ave.
Without official permits, and bracing rain and traffic, the student demonstrators were unfazed as they incited a noise barrage and waved vulgar placards that pushed for the ratification of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.
The nature of activism
By definition, activism is a full-scale operation involving research, debate and analysis with the wider public on any existing idea and the proposal of an alternative, or a better way of doing things as perceived by the activist.
“Activism just emphasizes certain direct actions towards specified causes,” says Louie Montemar from the Political Science Department. “Therefore, activism is more exposed towards action-oriented activities such as demonstrations, mobilizations, rallies,” he adds.
DLSU has had a long history of student movements. In 1966, academic issues and reforms by the administration brought Lasallians to boycott classes in defiance of the administration’s decisions. Students in the past protested crucial changes in the workings of the University, going on picket strikes against issues such as the shift to the Trimestral system in 1981.
Lasallians played a large role in national protests as well, particularly during the Martial Law years when student-led underground resistances were in vogue.
Paint the town red
No stranger to history, Tapat, maintains the need for active participation in demonstrations if needed, backed up by external linkages, and mobilization to further advocacies and causes.
Last Nov. 23, Lasallian demonstrators, also converged with other rallyists in a demonstration entitled ‘Occupy Congress’, a desperate exhortation for district legislators to approve the controversial Bill.
Tapat, as a partner of the RH Agenda Movement, spearheaded all the movement’s advocacy efforts, from the collection of pro-RH petition letters from students to amassing the party and leading two student groups to Batasang Pambansa.
“Activism is being possessed by this belief that we can make ourselves a witness of social transformation,” affirms Tapat President Roby Camagong.
While Tapat, since its inception prior to Martial Law has been participative in student mobilization, other groups in DLSU have also participated in rallies. POLISCY, the Political Science Society of DLSU, according to Montemar, has initiated rallies in the past against the controversial policies under the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
External influences also find their ways to tap into the Lasallian crowds. An organization known as Karatula (Kabataang Artista para sa Tunay na Kalayaan) has been making itself recognized among schools on Taft Ave. Karatula’s Vito Cruz (DLSU) chapter formed just this year. It is still relatively young, and has been reputed to lead its members to protest the recent budget cut for education in demonstrations along Mendiola.
According to Karatula organiser Michael Beltran, the group has been involved in nearly every single major protest movement in the past few years since its foundation, including EDSA II.
Not in our nature
Not all student groups, however, solidly promote actual pickets and marching off to the streets.
Such rallies, at least those political in nature, are not to be expected from DLSU’s main representative body, the University Student Government (USG). The USG rarely declares official stances. Being a representation of the entire student body, might suggest uniformity in the student body’s stances.
Leanne Castillo, USG Vice President for External Affairs, clarifies that should student officers hold any positions and participate in demonstrations or mobilizations, these would be independent and personal stances. In no way can they represent DLSU as an institution or the USG unless duly authorized.
The USG, instead, focuses on awareness and information dissemination so that students can take on their own individual stances and not rely on collective action.
Similarly, DLSU’s other major political party Iisang Tugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) equates activism with advocacy and raising awareness.
“It is not in our nature [to participate in demonstrations], for us, it is more of starting the initiatives. As a political party, we emphasize less on demonstration, more on communication and compromising. Rarely would you see Santugon going to the streets,” shares Santugon President Mic Gutierrez.
While Santugon defines this non-preference for actual mobilization, student groups wishing to organize mobilizations are generally not permitted by the University. Gutierrez says that political parties, for example, are not permitted to conduct such activities. “When it comes to revolutionary [student mobilization] methods, the administration is not very tolerating towards such.”
The process that requires all organizations to subject their activities for approval has a subtle but profound constraining effect on influencing student attitudes. This may be a cause for hesitation or a genuine lack of Lasallian exposure to actual demonstrations and mobilization. “In UP, the administration is not choking them, they are free to do what they believe is right,” compares Camagong.
Because actions such as mobilizations are limited by authorizing bodies in the Student Affairs Office, recognized organizations turn to sanctioned activities such as discussions, debates, advocacy seminars and fundraising projects to channel ‘activism’.
Montemar points out that while such projects are more in line with advocacy, they do not necessarily connote the activism that is displayed in student mobilization. “Where such things are necessary and needed, then they should be done, [but]there is often a need to create ‘disturbances in the force’, Sometimes you have to go out to the streets and hold your placards.”
Although the efforts of the Tapat-led pro-RH advocates in Congress are laudable, the decisions, in the end, still lie with the legislators. In the same vein, Lasallian activists are limited to the scope granted them by the administration.
photos from the RH Bill Rally where La Sallians took part: