You cannot separate activism from student leadership — Artlet student-leaders

Dainish Samantha Santos/TomasinoWeb

Thomasian student-leaders reacted to the Faculty of Arts and Letters’s Student Council’s (ABSC) presidential candidate’s statements against activism by claiming that activism and leadership go hand-in-hand.

In a series of interviews with TomasinoWeb, Speaker of the Central Student Council’s Central Board, Nathan Agustin, and former UST AB Board of Major’s Speaker, John Steven Usero, stated that student-leaders should not shy away from activism.

“We cannot really separate activism with our roles as student leaders because, as we see, students do not really hold power within the university,” Agustin said.

During the Miting de Avance for ABSC’s Special Elections held on August 31, presidential candidate Denzelle Jude Caro debated against student activism.

“Student activism is not the only way for us to go through because currently, we don’t have the protection of our university,” he said.

Usero contradicted the statement, insisting that student-leaders primarily represent and protect the student body, regardless of whether or not the university stands with them.

“[I]f it’s against doon sa karapatan ng tao maging malaya […], kailangan manindigan ng isang lider na hindi siya dapat magplay safe — kailangan ichallenge niya; at the same time, pag chinallenge mo isang bagay, kailangan maging rational ka,” he said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

The University has previously sanctioned students for joining mass organizations and participating in activism.

ABSC: The aftermath of activism

“Every channel is blocked because of the pandemic; in your student activism, currently, you are individualistic rather than collective,” Caro said, comparing student activism during the Martial Law period to that of today.

After admitting to being unaware of ABSC’s history, he argued that in this time of pandemic, student activism is more individualistic than collective as students do not have the masses to fall back on given the health restrictions.

Agustin partially agreed with the security concern of practicing activism during the pandemic, but still believes that the claim does not stand well with denying student activism as a whole.

Usero further supported the statement by explaining that the essence of activism does not depend on whether or not it happens physically with the masses but rather on seeing the problems in society.

“Kapag sinabi mong activism, ibig-sabihin may mali sa status quo, […] [at] kailangan natin makibahagi sa mga tao […] hindi lang naman siya ‘Hoy pupunta ako sa labas, pupunta ako sa kalsada’ para masabi na nakikibahagi ako sa mga tao — kailangan natin pag-aralan ang lipunan […] [at] ang kultura ng mga problema,” he said.

Student activism is denoted as “the involvement of students in defending their interests and bringing about needed change that drastically affect their university life and society.”

Call for communication and discourse

Despite the backlash Caro’s notions received, both student-leaders called for discourse and open communication regarding these controversial issues.

“Imbis na i-condemn mo ang mga taong ‘yon, kailangan mong ieducate […] kasi biktima rin sila ng sistema, biktima sila sa lipunan,” Usero said.

The Special Elections for ABSC will be done online from September 13 to 18.

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The Premier Digital Media Organization of the University of Santo Tomas