MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to defund the University of the Philippines because he "somehow confused" it with the Ateneo De Manila University, where some students recently called for an academic strike over the "criminally neglectful" government response to recent typhoons and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said he had to clarify to Duterte that it was Ateneo students who said "they were not going to send requirements" as a government protest.
However, someone else at Duterte's meeting with officials on Tuesday told him that UP Manila students would also join the strike, Roque said. He added he was not sure if this was true.
"That's why the President had to send a message na you're dealing with something that the government should be dealing. It's ahead of your time. So parang it's his way of saying aral muna kayo, bahala na muna kami rito," Roque told CNN.
(It's his way of saying study for now, we'll take care of this.)
"He also, I think, somehow confused the proponents of this academic strike. I explained it was the Ateneo students advocating the academic strike," he added.
Duterte's message "should have only been addressed to Ateneo students," said his spokesman, who graduated from UP and taught there for close to 20 years.
Roque said he had warned Ateneo students that failure to pass school requirements "is a ground for students not to pass or even to be kicked out."
He said a proposed "academic freeze" is out of the question, despite the recent typhoons and the pandemic.
Around 500 Ateneo students, in a statement, pledged to withhold the submission of any school requirement from Nov. 18, until the "national government heeds the people’s demands for proper calamity aid and pandemic response."
Seven weather disturbances hit the Philippines since mid-October, of which super Typhoon Rolly and Typhoon Ulysses caused significant devastation mainly in Luzon.
The country's coronavirus tally, meanwhile, has climbed to 410, 718 cases as of Tuesday, of which 28,313 are active cases. The death toll stood at 7,862.