The invisible terror in universities

Jun. 22, 2020

The point of terror is fear. As if Filipinos aren’t fearful enough of the COVID-19 pandemic’s direct effects to health and livelihood, the Duterte regime has to instill more fear with the Anti-Terror Bill (ATB). It is currently sitting suspensefully at the President’s desk, awaiting to supersede the people’s fear of coronavirus with fear of made-believe threats to national security, unless more legislators take back their vote.

The Duterte logic has always been known for its incongruity–slaughtering small-time drug pushers and users instead of eradicating cartels, attempting to phase-out jeepney instead of improving mass transportation and urban planning, blaming constituents instead of taking accountability. We can only figure out what the ATB has to do with the pandemic that it was tagged “urgent” over mass testing. Once passed, the bill can easily put suspected terrorists under surveillance for up to 60 days, arrest them without warrant and get hold of them for up to 24 days without fear of costly damages for mistaken identity.

The University of the Philippines has been the venue of big protests against ATB. Different mobilizations were held at UP Diliman for the past week, including the Grand Mañanita on Independence Day, a parody event alluding to Metro Manila Police Chief Major General Debold Sinas’ illegally held birthday party on May 8 while NCR was still under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). However, not all universities are safe spaces for dissent, much less where dissent is encouraged. Most universities, especially the obscure ones and the ones reliant on local government funding, have always been under terror.

On the night of June 5, Friday, writer Jerry Gracio called the attention of Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian through a tweet about a faculty member of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Valenzuela (PLV) who had not yet received her salary, which led to the unpacking of more issues that have waited so long to reach public knowledge, which include rampant contractualization and delayed salaries on teachers, and campus repression.

Seizing the attention drawn by Gracio’s whistle-blowing, we, previous and current teachers of PLV drafted an open letter exposing such practices and requested the Mayor for a thorough investigation. The petition letter gained overwhelming support from teachers, students, alumni, and concerned individuals in a matter of 24 hours.

Having been a part of PLV for five years, I was witness to a kind of invisible terror hovering over the university. If teachers are to stay employed, they have to keep mum about their delayed salary, lack of benefits, and security of tenure. Meanwhile, students make themselves content with a wanting library, an administration-controlled campus paper and student council, and school officials who surveil their socio-political opinions to the point of red-tagging.

PLV’s excellent ranking nationwide especially on Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET) is not earned by chance because the university is teeming with driven students. While this is a feather in PLV’s hat, it does not in any way justify its existing malpractices, nor does it deserve being called a “factory” by the Mayor himself, as it only reveals his warped views of education.

Over the years, the school officials have managed to manipulate students and teachers into silence – ordering them into their office for the slightest sign of complaint and dissent – and use this submission to keep themselves in power. By conditioning the students to limit their participation in national issues, school officials dwarf the students’ ability to think critically, so that their vision becomes limited as that of a horse’s on a bridle.

Come June 8, Monday, the Mayor held a meeting in which he justified the claims in the letter instead of investigating them. Known for his “disciplinarian” leadership in Valenzuela, Mayor Gatchalian might have found it surprising that he isn’t immune to criticism. On the same day, reports of withholding of Good Moral Character of students who signed the petition letter secretly made rounds, which only proves the notoriety of PLV against dissenting voices.

How many more students are being gagged in universities? How many more are not aware they are being gagged? Shortly after reporting the withholding of GMCs in PLV, the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) reported a case of a student whose scholarship got withheld due to his social media post at the Universal College of Parañaque.

How many more students are at the forefront of terror not only in their own schools but in this country? Sixteen students were arrested in Iligan and seven at UP Cebu for protesting against ATB. Meanwhile, others have found out of fake duplicate social media accounts while a number of them are being red-tagged. On top of these, students are now made to worry of ill-prepared distance learning despite the case of Cristelyn Villance, a student of Capiz State University who was killed from a motorcycle accident after trying to submit school requirements online.

There could have been no better time to begin this column but now, no other way to begin but like this – a kind of exposé, an assertion, a kind of empowerment at the face of existing and impending terror in all its forms. By identifying and unpacking systemic injustices in different levels and contexts, I intend to incite to envision a kind of society stifled voices deserve. For one, where teachers’ labor is properly compensated and students are treated as thinking individuals who are capable of dissent without fear of being silenced. (

Roma Estrada has taught for ten years in different high schools and universities. She also writes for Gantala Press, Ibong Adorno, and Concerned Artists of the Philippines. Currently maintaining a column for Davao Today, she also co-edited LILA, a poetry anthology by women, and Kult, a collection of capsule critiques. Her other works can be read in the anthologies Umaalma, Kumikibo (Gantala Press, 2018) and Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines, forthcoming from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Press. Reach her at

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