[27 Feb 2015 | No Comment | 211 views]

Thousands of students from various colleges and universities not only in Metro Manila but also in key cities of the Philippines walked out of their classes on Friday, February 27, in a massive show of nationwide outrage against President Aquino’s attempt to cover up his involvement in the Mamasapano operation.

Read the full story »

News »

[4 Mar 2015 | No Comment | 67 views]

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon expressed alarm Wednesday over the death of Cagayan State University (CSU) freshman Rosanna Sanfuego who took her life reportedly due to failure to pay school fees.

Police reports show that Sanfuego, 16, a respiratory therapy student of CSU, took her life in their home in the town of Abulug in Cagayan last February 27, a week after she was forced to quit school due to financial constraints.

Reports show that Sanfuego was not able to take her midterm examinations, as her family was having difficulty paying her school fees in CSU.

“The Filipino youth joins the Sanfuego family in mourning for the death of yet another brilliant and promising Iskolar ng Bayan due to school fee problems. When UP Manila student Kristel Tejada died in 2013, we said: a single death caused by the high cost of Philippine education is one death too many. Now we have another victim of the skyrocketing cost of education. It is clear that instead of improving, the education sector has taken a turn for the worse since Kristel’s death,” Ridon said.

‘Deadly school fees’

While CSU does not collect tuition from its students, the state-run university still collects other school fees (OSFs) which amount to as much as P3,000 per semester.

“For so long, students have battled against soaring tuition rates. Kristel took her life in 2013 due to failure to settle her matriculation. Yet in Sanfuego’s story, we see that OSFs, too, are deadly,” Ridon said.

Data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) show that despite the non-collection of tuition fees, CSU still collects about P66 million in OSFs from its students annually.

“Sanfuego’s death reveals to us the larger picture – that the education system in the Philippines has become vastly unaffordable, even for students in state universities. The deregulated nature of Philippine education has ushered in a system wherein tuition and its evil twin, OSFs, sap the resources of families dry and drive students to desperation,” Ridon said.

Other school fees left unchecked

A study published by Kabataan Partylist last November show that in a span of just four years, the country’s 110 state universities and colleges (SUCs) were able to collect a whopping P13.5 billion from OSFs or fees that students pay apart from tuition.

The said study cited DBM’s figures which show that the nation’s 1.1 million public tertiary students have shelled out around P12,000 each in OSFs for the period spanning 2010 to 2013. Examples of OSFs include development fees, registration fees, library fees, athletic fees, and late payment dues.

Government data also revealed that since President Benigno Aquino III assumed office in 2010, both tuition and other school fees collected from students of SUCs have steadily increased, with collection from fees apart from tuition doubling in just four years.

The total income of the country’s 110 SUCs from OSFs grew by almost 60 percent from P2.6 billion in 2010 to an eye-popping P4.1 billion in 2013. DBM even projects that collections from OSFs in state schools will reach up to P4.4 billion in 2015. This means that on a national average, each student enrolled in an SUC pays some P3,268 in OSFs annually.

Ridon has earlier filed House Resolution No. 1640, which seeks for a congressional inquiry on how OSFs remained “completely unregulated” despite the implementation of CHED Memorandum Order No. 3, series of 2012 (CMO 3-2012).

“Sanfuego’s case cannot be disregarded as suicide – the system that has allowed other school fees to rapidly bloat has in fact murdered her,” Ridon said.Junk All Other School Fees Logo

News »

[2 Mar 2015 | No Comment | 94 views]

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon filed a resolution on Monday urging a House panel to investigate the circumstance of death of 17 US servicemen that died while serving under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), an elite team of US troopers stationed in the country until recently.

In House Resolution No. 1954, Ridon called on the House Committee on National Defense, to “conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, on the performance and activities of the JSOTF-P, a special forces program of the United States which ran from 2002 until 2015, that allowed US troops to participate in combat operations, build structures, preposition equipment, etc., despite clear prohibitions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.”

The JSOTF-P was established by the Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) in July 2002, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines (OEF-P).  The SOCPAC operates under the command of the United States Pacific Command. The OEF-P was said to be the response of the Philippine government in a US-led worldwide campaign against terrorism following the 9/11 attack in 2001.

According to a mission factsheet from the US Embassy, the JSOTF-P is comprised of 500-600 US personnel from Army Special Operations Forces, Navy Seals, Air Force special operators and support staff, who were tasked to aid the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a “strictly non-combat role to defeat terrorists, eliminate safe havens and create the conditions necessary for peace, stability and prosperity in the Southern Philippines” at the request of the Philippine government.

Last Tuesday, February 24, the JSOTF-P announced that it will be departing the country and will be formally ending their 13-year stay in the country.

“The JSOTF-P is one of the most controversial US military programs in the Philippines. Several whistleblowers, including former Navy officer Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian, have revealed that this special US force engage in direct combat in Mindanao. As such, we cannot just let them depart without conducting a review of the program’s performance, undertakings, and their past activities with Philippine forces,” Ridon said.

17 US servicemen casualties

During the closing ceremonies which marks the conclusion of the JSTOF-P last week, a moment of silence was offered to remember “17 fallen U.S. troops” enlisted under the program.

Ridon noted that this corresponds to news reports collated over the years that show that a total of 17 U.S. troops have died while on active duty under the JSOTF-P:

  • 10 U.S. forces died on February 21, 2002 after their aircraft crashed in an open sea in Southern Philippines
  •  On October 2002, a U.S. Special Force soldier died during a bombing incident at Camp Enrile Malagutay in Zamboanga
  • On June 30, 2004 a U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed in a “non-hostile” incident in Manila
  • Another US Special Forces soldier was killed in a “non-hostile” incident in Makati in October 14, 2005
  •  On February 15, 2007, a US Marine was said to have died in a non-hostile incident in Jolo
  • A U.S. Special Forces soldier died in a drowning incident in Lake Seit in Southern Philippines on October 27, 2007
  • Two U.S. Special Forces died in a blast in Jolo on September 29, 2009

“Aside from very few news reports, no sufficient information has been made available to the public regarding the deaths of the 17 U.S. troops while serving under the JSOTF-P. This casts a shadow of doubt on the real circumstances of their death and also fuel allegations that they might have indeed participated in actual combat operations,” Ridon noted in HR 1954.

“Simply labeling some of the deaths as occurring in ‘non-hostile’ incidents further spikes speculation,” Ridon said.

The legislator noted that the 1987 Constitution bans direct combat involvement of US troops. “If these US servicemen died in combat in Mindanao, then we are looking at cases of serious infringement of our sovereignty,” Ridon said.

Leaving to escape heat of Mamasapano clash?

Ridon said that the JSOTF-P’s sudden departure may be connected with the heightened criticism against the alleged US involvement in the Mamasapano clash.

“The US announced that they are pulling out the special forces as early as last year, without confirming a date. However, when the Mamasapano clash took place, here they are, immediately packing their bags.”

“There are serious allegations of US military intervention – through the JSOTF-P – in the botched Mamasapano operation. The JSOTF-P’s involvement in intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance have been widely reported, yet the US Embassy remained mum. There are even reports of casualties on their side. All of these issues remain unresolved, leaving the Filipino public groping in the dark. This is why we cannot just let them pack their bags and go without further questioning,” Ridon said.

“A review of the JSOTF-P operations in the Philippines will reveal the extent of US military intervention in the Philippines. We cannot let an affront to our national sovereignty slip out of our islands quietly,” he ended.KPL logo clean version

News »

[2 Mar 2015 | No Comment | 75 views]

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon expressed alarm over the new spate of tuition increase-related rights violations committed by school administrators against students.

“In the run-up to the deadline of tuition increase consultations, several students’ rights violations have been reported to Kabataan Partylist, all which were perpetrated by school administrators themselves,” Ridon said.

Under the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) Memorandum Order 3-2012, private schools need to conduct consultations before proposing any increase in matriculation. The CHED-mandated tuition consultation period ended last February 27.

“The new spate of rights violations were recorded in schools that intend to increase tuition next year, and the infractions are directly related to the students’ opposition to the said increases,” the youth lawmaker said.

Rights violations in UE

Earlier today, Ridon filed House Resolution No. 1946 which urges the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education (CHTE) to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on “accounts of intimidation and other forms of threat and democratic rights violations of the University of the East Manila and Caloocan administrations on student leaders who denounced and protested against tuition and other fee increases in their respective campuses.”

The University of the East (UE) System is proposing a five percent increase in tuition fee and another five percent increase in other school fees for school year 2015-2016.

In HR 1946, Ridon narrated how student leaders in both UE-Manila and UE-Caloocan were forced to attend the tuition increase consultations. “In UE Caloocan, some students were literally dragged by security officials to attend the consultations. The students reported that they did not have a voice inside the consultation and President Ester Garcia of UE, merely informed them of the proposed increase. They were even forced to sign the ‘attendance sheet,’” Ridon added.

In the past years, schools such as UE use the attendance sheet as a “proof of consultation” that they submit to CHED.

“The violation did not stop there. As the tuition increase consultation was being held in UE-Caloocan, several students also attempted to mount a protest action. However, even before the protest erupted, a student leader was forcibly escorted by the school’s security guards to the Students Affairs Office, after which he was forced to leave the university’s premises.  The student already filed a formal complaint to the legal office of the university but reported that he is not optimistic that the matter will be resolved to his favor,” Ridon said.

The same incident happened during the tuition consultation in University of the East Manila on February 16, 2015. A college president was forced by the administration to sign the “attendance sheet.”

Padlocked gates

Meanwhile, students of National Teachers College (NTC) reported similar tuition hike-related rights violations.

On February 26, NTC students held a program in front of their school gate to protest against their school’s six percent tuition increase proposal for the next academic year. As the students gathered in front of the school, security officials forcefully displaced them and even locked the school gates to prevent other students to participate in the protest.

“These accounts portray the incessant democratic rights violations, especially in private universities, where anti-student policies are more persistent,” Ridon said.

The youth lawmaker said that he will report these incidents to the CHTE, especially since the said House panel is currently deliberating the Students Rights Act.

“As the bill is primarily concerned with the rights of students, reports of new rights violations should also be tackled by the said committee, to further deepen the discussion on how the proposed legislation will effectively prevent such infractions committed against students and make perpetrators accountable for their acts,” Ridon stressed.

The legislator also called on CHED to disallow schools that commit rights violations from increasing their school fees.

Around 400 schools are expected to submit tuition and other school fee increase proposals to CHED on or before April 1.KPL logo clean version

News »

[2 Mar 2015 | No Comment | 111 views]

Mindanao offensive meant to cover-up Aquino’s accountability in Mamasapano ops

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon decried Monday the ongoing “all-out offensive” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which has already led to the displacement of over 20,000 people in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

“The Aquino administration is calling it an ‘all-out offensive’ but that’s a big understatement. What’s happening in Mindanao right now is an all-out war, and no amount of euphemism can hide that,” Ridon said.

The AFP has declared an “all-out offensive” in Maguindanao and began shelling communities last week, leading to the massive displacement of civilians.

“The AFP wants us to believe that they are targeting armed combatants yet the reports from the ground tell a different story. Since the offensive began last week, there have already been multiple reports of government troops indiscriminately firing upon fleeing civilians and bombing communities in both Maguindanao and North Cotabato. The government is saying that this effort will bring peace and stability in the region, but that is clearly not the case here,” Ridon said.

Mindanao-based human rights groups have earlier reported that over 20,000 residents of the municipalities of Shariff Saidona Mustapha, Shariff Aguak, and Datu Unsay in Maguindanao have already fled from the ongoing military offensive.

“Instead of instilling peace, the government is launching a direct attack on the people of Maguindanao and North Cotabato. We fear that the continuation of the all-out offensive will result to more casualties, with the firefight already spreading to neighboring provinces,” Ridon added.

Part of cover-up scheme

The legislator said that the ongoing all-out war is a tactic employed by the Aquino administration to cover up its accountability in the botched Mamasapano operation.

“Mr. President, your grand cover-up scheme is targeting millions of innocent lives. To escape accountability and shift the public’s attention away from your sins, you have authorized an all-out war in Mindanao, in effect endangering the lives of our Muslim brothers and sisters. Deplorable is not enough to describe this recent move,” Ridon said.

The legislator added that the military offensive may also be part of a scheme to release millions in public funds to appease the AFP. “The president wants an excuse to release millions of public funds to the AFP to appease disgruntled generals and prevent any coup attempt,” Ridon said.

“To dodge the bullet of accountability, the Aquino administration has decided to endanger the lives of the people of Maguindanao and North Cotabato. If anything, this ‘all-out offensive’ further exposes Aquino’s utter lack of genuine concern for peace in Mindanao. All this president wants is to clear his name – even if this costs the blood of the people of Mindanao.”KPL logo clean version

News »

[27 Feb 2015 | No Comment | 84 views]

House urged: Probe cause of death of 17 US special troopers

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon announced Friday that he will file a resolution on Monday to call for a congressional review on the performance and activities of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), following its deactivation early this week and the special troop’s departure from the country.

The JSOTF-P is a special US troop deployed in the Philippines starting 2001 to “to advise and assist Philippine security forces at the tactical, operational and strategic levels against violent extremist organizations throughout the southern Philippines” at the request of the Philippine government.

The JSOTF-P has about 600 servicemen and has a headquarters in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City. On Tuesday, February 24, the JSOTF-P held a closing program together with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to mark the end of their 13-year stay in Mindanao.

“The JSOTF-P is one of the most controversial US military programs in the Philippines. Several whistleblowers, including former Navy officer Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian, have revealed that this special US force engage in direct combat in Mindanao. As such, we cannot just let them depart without conducting a review of the program’s performance, undertakings, and their past activities with Philippine forces,” Ridon said.

The party-list legislator said that he will file a resolution on Monday to call on the House Committee on National Defense and Security to conduct a review of the JSOTF-P.

“We plan to invite the commander of the JSOTF-P and US Ambassador Philip Goldberg to testify before Congress, for we believe that it is in the interest of the Filipino people to know what exactly these special troops were doing in Mindanao during their 13-year stint there,” Ridon said.

17 JSOTF-P casualties since 2001

Ridon expressed particular concern over the revelation that in a span of 13 years, a total of 17 JSOTF-P officers died during their tour of duty. This was revealed during the JSOTF-P’s closing ceremony last Tuesday/

“Of the 17, ten died in the helicopter crash in Bohol in 2002. But what of the seven others? What were the cause of their deaths?” Ridon asked, explaining that it is possible that some of these US servicemen died during combat operations.

“We have to emphasize that our Constitution bans direct combat involvement of US troops. If these US servicemen died in combat in Mindanao, then we are looking at cases of serious infringement of our sovereignty,” Ridon said.

Mamasapano involvement

The legislator added that the alleged involvement of the JSOTF-P in the Mamasapano operation needs to be cleared out before they depart from the Philippines.

“There are serious allegations of US military intervention – through the JSOTF-P – in the botched Mamasapano operation. The JSOTF-P’s involvement in intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance have been widely reported, yet the US Embassy remained mum. There are even reports of casualties on their side. All of these issues remain unresolved, leaving the Filipino public groping in the dark. This is why we cannot just let them pack their bags and go without further questioning,” Ridon said.

“A review of the JSOTF-P operations in the Philippines will reveal the extent of US military intervention in the Philippines. We cannot let an affront to our national sovereignty slip out of our islands quietly,” Ridon insisted.KPL logo clean version