Duterte to 'anti-gov't scholars': No harm in dissenting, unless you join NPA

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President Rodrigo Duterte (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 20) — President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday disagreeing with government is not a crime.

"Wala naman kung dissent lang [No harm in dissenting]. If you disagree with my move, or you do not find consonance... but if you go and say, 'Let us go out, join the NPA (New People's Army), support the NPA, give food to the NPA, money to the NPA,' then you espouse the destruction of the duly-constituted government," he told reporters after the signing of several bills in Malacañang.

This was in response to National Youth Commission Chairperson Ronald Cardema's directive to youth leaders to report "anti-government" students, whose scholarships he wants revoked.

Cardema had called on the President to issue an executive order canceling the government scholarships of all anti-government scholars found affiliated with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), its armed wing the New People's Army, and its political arm the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Several senators and public officials have called out Cardema for his directive. Vice President Leni Robredo called the proposed measure a move to "curtail freedom of expression."

NYC chair 'directing, asking, begging'

The NYC chairperson told CNN Philippines he has since corrected his statement, saying his order to Duterte would not cover all "anti-government" scholars.

"Hindi ko naman sinabing lahat ng government scholars, lahat ng nagpo-protesta ay tanggalan po ng government scholarship," Cardema said on CNN Philippines' News Night. "'Yun lang pong mga government scholars na already joining the rebellion. 'Yung mga anti-government na talagang sumasanib na sa New People's Army."

[Translation: I did not say all government scholars, all protesters should have their government scholarships removed. Only those who are joining the rebellion, and those joining the New People's Army."

Cardema, in his statement, asked officials of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK), Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), Citizen Army Training (CAT), and other youth leaders to "report to the National Youth Commission all government scholars who are known in your area as anti-government youth leaders allied with the leftist CPP-NPA-NDF."

He clarified this, saying that he was directing the groups since they can identify their fellow youth.

"Any government office can ask the help of any Filipino citizen, especially when it comes to national security," Cardema said. "The purpose here is for all pro-government leaders of the land to report those who are trying to bring down this government."

Cardema claimed he was using as basis for his statement the incident wherein a University of the Philippines Los Banos student who became an NPA was killed in a clash with the military on February 14.

When asked about the constitutionality of his directive, Cardema said, "That is really not my proposal. My proposal is only for government scholars who are already supporting, joining the armed rebellion."

The commission was created under Republic Act 8044, under the Office of the President. Its objectives include leading youth promotion and development programs and activities; encouraging wide and active participation of the youth in governmental and non-governmental activities; harnessing and developing the youth's full potential as partners in nation-building; and supplementing government appropriations for the youth with funds from other sources.