MANILA, Philippines – Were some Theology class students at the University of Sto. Tomas told to troll the Facebook page of a partylist group in exchange for extra grades in school?
The impression was left on the minds of Akbayan activists supporting the reproductive health (RH) bill following a mysterious barrage of posts from UST students who suddenly spammed anti-RH bill posts on the partylist’s Facebook page.
“Akbayan Youth welcomes the posts made in the spirit of open and respectful debate. However, beyond objecting to the manner of some of these posts, we lament the manner on how the students were motivated to register their 'opposition' to the RH bill,” the group said in a press statement Monday.
The partylist group said some teachers gave it as an assignment to students, who were allegedly asked to refute the pro-RH position of Akbayan on its Facebook page in exchange for "extra grades."
“Some of the students who made the said posts admitted this,” Akbayan said.
The group also named one Theology professor who reportedly admitted to the act.
“While we respect the right of students to express their opinions, we do not believe this can happen under conditions where they are incentivized to mimic the positions of authority figures. The involved teachers unjustly influenced their students to voice their positions against the bill. Rather than consider opinions based on a careful reading of the bill, therefore, many of these posts were mere reproductions of ill-informed stances repetitively stating the same argument framed in the same template without offering new dimensions and perspectives to deepen discourse,” Akbayan said.
“Though the involved professors might say that it is an "optional grade", the fact is, it privileges a certain position over another, and hinders the formulation and expression of a counter-opinion. That it takes place in an academic setting where the ferment of free opinion should be given premium, and that the clear asymmetrical power relations (teacher-student) were deployed, makes it even more reprehensible,” it added.
According to one student, the professor "gives plus points to the content of our post. He asked us to submit it to him by 'print screen-ing' it."
The group did not blame the students for the row.
“They were only acting based on the ‘incentives’ offered to them by these irresponsible teachers who exercised unequal power relations to their students. It would have been permissible if the involved teachers provided their students all the necessary lens of analysis or at the very least, a simple reading of the reproductive health bill before agitating them to take a position on the issue,” Akbayan said.
“Hence, we challenge the said professors to a debate on the issue of reproductive health. We challenge them to stop using their students as transmission belts of their own opinions. Being members of the broad academic community, it is incumbent on them to exercise intellectual honesty, courage and integrity. They should stop hiding behind the backs of their students,” it added.
UST officials have yet to comment on the issue.