MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he sees nothing wrong with students expressing dissent against his administration but warned that those who would push for the "destruction" of his government might lose their scholarship, as earlier suggested by an official.
National Youth Commission Chairman Ronald Cardema drew flak after asking Duterte to sign an executive order removing the subsidy of anti-government scholars, specifically those allied with the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
Duterte said students who support the NPA and the destruction of his government are his “enemies,” but he said those who simply join protest rallies against his government’s policies are free to air their grievances.
“If you disagree with my move, you disagree or you don’t find consonance in our decisions, fine,” Duterte told reporters in a chance interview in Malacañang.
“If you go and say, ‘let us go out and join the NPA, give food to the NPA, money to the NPA, then you espouse the destruction of the duly constituted government," said the President, who has branded the communist movement as a terrorist organization.
Duterte then warned students that they risk losing their scholarship “if they espouse [the destruction] of the very government feeding food on their mouth.”
“If you espouse to overthrow the government then you are committing the crime of rebellion… It carries with it the penalty of no bail,” he said.
"When the time comes I will arrest all of them and they will lose everything the government has offered them."
Duterte earlier canceled peace negotiations with the communist movement, saying rebel attacks against state forces continued when talks were ongoing.
Government troops have since pursued a campaign to quell the NPA.
Earlier Wednesday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said revoking a student’s scholarship because of his disagreements with government policies may not be done, as this violates the principles of democracy.
“We are a government of laws, not of speculations. Kailangan mayroon tayong ebidensya na parte nga sila ng grupo na laban sa gobyerno,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
(We are a government of laws, not of speculations. There should be evidence showing the student is really of a group that is anti-government.)
“Kung sila ay sumasama lang sa mga rally, that’s a right. That’s freedom of expression. That’s freedom of assembly. Unless you can show concrete evidence that they are really part of those who are against this government hindi naman pu-pwede iyon.”
(If they join rallies, that’s a right, that’s freedom of expression, that’s freedom of assembly. Unless you can show concrete evidence that they are really part of those who are against this government, that cannot be done.)
Panelo stressed that anti-government actions that could cause students to lose their scholarship include joining the armed struggle and plotting against the government. He said mere membership in groups espousing dissent against the government would not warrant such penalty.
“Hindi pu-puwedeng mere membership lang. Kailangan may ebidensya na more than your membership. Kung nakita na kasama ka sa plano against the government, nagkaroon ng raid tapos ikaw pala kasama doon, ang laking ebidensya noon,” he said.
(Mere membership is not enough. We need evidence. If you are caught planning against the government, then a raid took place and you are caught, that’s a huge evidence.)
“If you just express your dissent to government policies, kasama sa demokrasya iyon (that’s part of democracy).”