By U.G. Naguit
As freshmen, walking through the Arch of the Centuries during the yearly Thomasian Welcome Walk, Thomasians are challenged to embody the core-values of compassion, competence, and commitment. In my experience as a Thomasian, I dared to make a difference by not limiting these values to mere lip-service and labels. I dared to make a difference by taking on the responsibility of practicing these values in responding to the plight of the the poor and the oppressed in our society.
As Pope Francis exhorted during his visit in our country: “[All people are enjoined] by the duty to hear the voice of the poor. It bids us break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring and indeed scandalous, social inequalities.”
In 2013, when I finally decided to end my sixth formation year in the seminary and transfer to the University of Santo Tomas, my eyes opened up to the inhumane conditions of our society. I was given a chance to integrate with workers in factories and both farmers and urban poor in their communities in the countryside and the city, respectively.
I myself witnessed the prevalence of oppression and injustice in our society. In order for the privileged few in authority to introduce so-called “development” in the country that ultimately benefit them, rights of the basic masses are taken for granted. This so-called development results in a fraudulent program of agrarian reform, demolition of urban poor communities, and implementation of neoliberal policies that further the exploitation of our workers’ labor.
As a Thomasian, I also encountered forms of oppression and injustice. I observed the worsening of the educational crisis in our country. Education, instead of being accessible to the masses, has become a commodity controlled by the elite because of the commercialization schemes and policies of Aquino such as tuition and other school fees increase (TOFI).
Despite being a “non-stock and non-profit” institution, UST has accumulated more than PhP6.4 Billion in net assets from the previous years. In fact, this academic year’s tuition has again unjustifiably increased by 2.5 percent to 5.3 percent and has become a burden to the majority of the UST students who come from the middle class.
As a compassionate, competent, and committed Thomasian, I believe that I am called to serve my fellow Thomasians and take a stand against TOFI. This issue is not isolated from the overall conditions of poverty and inhumanity in our society that our fellow brothers and sisters experience daily. The fight for a nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented education that truly serves the interests of the masses and not of the privileged few must be pursued.
As long as there is oppression, injustice, and inequality in our society, the struggle for genuine change and emancipation persists.