MANILA, Philippines - A youth forum on the 2013 elections has been cancelled by the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) because some candidates who are set to take part supported the reproductive health (RH) law, participants said Thursday.
Heart Diño, chairperson of University of the Philippines-Diliman's student council, confirmed this in a series of tweets.
"We regret to inform you that the UST has cancelled the #YouthVote2013 senatorial forum set tom because of the presence of RH senatoriables," said Diño, UP Diliman's first transgender student leader.
The Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) accused UST officials of cancelling the forum scheduled Friday "for fear of discussion on the reproductive health law."
The forum panelists would have included Risa Hontiveros, Richard Gordon, Grace Poe, Teddy Casiño and Ang Kapatiran's Lito David, the SCAP said in a statement.
"We feel that this is a loss for the Thomasians, being deprived of their opportunity to discern the 2013 senatorial candidates," said Argee Gonzales, the vice president of UST's Central Student Council. "The inclusion of RH champion Risa Hontiveros is balanced by the anti-RH Ang Kapatiran."
He said the forum was intended to discuss young people's health, as part of the youth agenda series that their organization is campaigning in schools.
Diño said the forum will continue in San Beda College-Alabang on January 29, which will discuss youth employment.
Diño said that they will not pursue any legal case against the UST administration but will instead push for the passage of the Students’ Rights and Welfare Bill to protect students' academic freedom.
Hontiveros dismayed, alarmed
Hontiveros, in a press statement, tagged UST secretary general Fr. Isidro Abaño as the alleged official who revoked the permit for the activity.
"I am deeply dismayed, disappointed and alarmed by this development," she said in a press statement.
"It imperils the business of universities like UST - the education of our youth. It curtails the studentry's exercise of their own conscience, the principle upon which many Filipinos, including those opposed to RH, anchored their stance on this issue," she added.
"I am product of Catholic education, one which allows for a free exchange of ideas, and I believe that all educational institutions should serve as a platform for discernment and not allow itself to become a breeding ground for ignorance and intolerance," said Hontiveros, a former partylist representative under Akbayan who is now running under the Aquino administration's senatorial ticket.
"This decision indicates partisanship on the part of the university administration. By limiting the forum to those who subscribe to the anti-RH position of the school, it is taking a partisan stance. Is there a policy among anti-RH schools and universities to disinvite pro-RH candidates like myself? If yes, what are the schools afraid of?" she asked.
Hontiveros said she respects the stand of Catholic institutions on the RH law.
"However, as a mother, I maintain that the RH law is pro-life, pro-choice, and pro-chance. It prevents maternal deaths and infant mortality. Access to family planning and contraceptives curb abortion. It gives Filipino families the opportunity to improve their lot through family planning," she said.
She urged the UST administration to reverse its decision and allow the forum to push through.
"In the interest of fairness and non-partisanship, it should allow the participation of all candidates, including those in favor of the RH law," she said.
UST has yet to come out with an official statement on the issue.