Senator wants youth chair sacked after remarks against state scholars

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Senator Francis Escudero and National Youth Commission Chairperson Ronald Cardema (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 20) — A senator wants the National Youth Commission (NYC) chairperson sacked over his remarks against student organizations allied with the political left.

"Kung may sisipain (sa pwesto) dapat siya at 'di ang mga estudyante," Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero, who chairs the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture, said Wednesday.

[Translation: If we're kicking someone out, it should be him and not the students.]

NYC head Ronald Cardema on Wednesday asked officials of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK), Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), Citizen Army Training (CAT) to report to the commission government scholars known as "anti-government youth leaders" allied with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), its armed wing the New People's Army (NPA), and the National Democratic Front (NDF).

Cardema also called on President Rodrigo Duterte to cancel government scholarships for "anti-government scholars."

But the senator said in his statement that Cardema's remarks are not within the commission's mandate, and thus a violation of the Constitution.

"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," Escudero said.

The commission was created under Republic Act 8044,  under the Office of the President. Among its objectives are: lead youth promotion and development programs and activities, encourage wide and active participation of the youth in governmental and non-governmental activities, harness and develop the youth's full potential as partners in nation-building, and supplement government appropriations for the youth with funds from other sources.

"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 (Duterte) and the government," Escudero said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, the author of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, also reminded Cardema that it is not illegal for students to join leftist organizations.

"Hindi iligal ang sumama sa mga organisasyon na leftist at lalong hindi iligal at krimen ang mag protesta o sumali sa mga rally.  Ang NYC ang gumagawa ng iligal na hakbang kung itutuloy nila ang iligal na patakaran," he said.

[Translation: It's not illegal to join leftist organizations and it is not illegal to protest or join rallies. The NYC is working on illegal measures if they decide to pursue this.]

Justice chief: We should be proud of socially aware students

Department of Justice chief Menardo Guevarra even echoed Escudero's remarks.

"WITH ALL DUE RESPECT, such a proposal, if adopted, would effectively restrain the youth's constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression," Guevarra said in a message Wednesday.

State universities and colleges should not drop activist students from the roll, Guevarra added.

"Our state universities and colleges, instead of taking it against militant students by dropping them from the roll, should be proud that they are producing young people who are socially aware and concerned not only about themselves but also about the nation," he said.

Senator Ping Lacson also recognized students' rights to organize, but added that they should be held liable if they are found to commit rebellion.

"If they bear arms and commit the crime of rebellion, in the same vein, just like any other person, they should not only be dismissed from school, they should suffer the consequences of their criminal act and jailed, after being accorded due process," Lacson said in a statement.