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What you need to know about the UST OSA, TomasinoWeb, and 7-Eleven photo issue

By NICK GARCIA Published Feb 20, 2024 1:36 pm Updated Feb 20, 2024 3:27 pm

The University of Santo Tomas is under fire after its administration ordered a campus media organization to delete one of its published photos in an apparent censorship.

TomasinoWeb on Feb. 15 featured students from the College of Information and Computing Sciences (CICS) in “Type B” uniforms, which are worn during the early part of the year. One of the photos showed students entering a convenience store.

There have been jokes that the uniforms of its employees look similar to the CICS uniforms due to the colors and design.

The photo in question stood out, earning thousands of “Haha” reactions.

But on Feb. 16, the photo disappeared, with many social media users wondering why it was deleted. Later in the night, TomasinoWeb issued a statement, saying some members of the UST administration—Office for Student Affairs (OSA)—“raised concerns” over the photo that “has become a source of public ridicule” due to “the supposed association of the CICS Type B uniform with the convenience store's employee uniforms.”

“To rectify this, we have removed the photograph from the album across all our social media platforms,” TomasinoWeb said, though stressing that it “never intended to cause any harm to anyone.”

TomasinoWeb adviser resigns

TomasinoWeb adviser Leo Laparan, UST journalism instructor, resigned from his post on Feb. 19 following the issue. He served as publication adviser for over a year.

Laparan, in an interview with The Flame, the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters publication, said they stood by their decision not to take down the photo, but university officials forced them to.

“We could not do anything, I felt my being an adviser (was) irrelevant,” he said. “That is a glaring illustration of censorship because there’s nothing wrong with the photo.”

Noting it never happened in his 21-year career, Laparan said he’d "rather leave to preserve [himself]."

“Natapakan ‘yung pagka-journalist ko rito,” he said.

Possible non-accreditation

TomasinoWeb president Jan Carlo Zamora, in another interview with The Flame, said the OSA, in a meeting in their office, warned the organization of a possible non-accreditation due to the photo.

“Gusto mo ba mag-end ang TomasinoWeb sa term mo was how they asked me,” Zamora said.

He also had a separate meeting with CICS officials, who wanted the photo gone or replaced with a new one.

Still, Zamora pointed out that the OSA or CICS didn’t inform him of provisions that TomasinoWeb supposedly violated in the student handbook.

“OSA, bearing the name Student Affairs, should have stood up for us and viewed the photograph in a different light,” he said. “There is nothing wrong or malicious about the picture, yet they showed it that way.”

Campus Journalism Act’s technicalities

Section 3b of the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 defines “student publication” as “any printed material is independently published by, and which meets the needs and interests of, the studentry.”

But TomasinoWeb is considered a student organization under UST guidelines. Like others, it follows the rules of the OSA.

Violations may result in non-accreditation to operate the following academic year.

If an adviser of a student organization resigns, it should also “cease to post anything until such time that a new adviser is appointed.”

Laparan acknowledged the technicality of the law hence the administration’s “recurrent suppression” of TomasinoWeb.

“I believe that a media organization should operate independently, devoid of external forces,” he told reporters. “Otherwise, hindi mafufulfill ng media organization ang purpose niya, 'yung tungkulin niya makapag-inform ng public nang tama.”

'Press freedom being stepped on'

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), in a statement posted on Facebook on Feb. 19, said the UST administration's “reaction to a harmless photograph exposes its elitist stance.”

“Any imposed takedown, especially over an imagined slight and not because of a factual or ethical lapse,” the NUJP said, “erodes press freedom and the independence of the press.”

It urged UST to “instead uphold the dignity of work and honor the workers' contributions to the Philippine society.”

The UST Journalism Society on Facebook said the censorship of student journalists “is a throwback to bygone eras of colonial rule and martial law repression and has no place in UST.”

“Student leaders and their faculty advisers, who are already subject to stringent oversight and a multitude of regulations and tedious compliance measures, must be able to work within an environment of mutual respect and trust, and one that is free of undue interference,” it said. “Such an environment fosters creativity, innovation, and excellence and befits a mature institution of higher education.”

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) called the OSA’s move “crossing the line,” saying it must be held accountable for its “ill-judged decisions.”

“These spate of actions are not just forms of censorship, but rather an attack to the campus publication's integrity and an affront to discourse over campus matters,” the CEGP said. “This also insults students' capacity to express disappointment and clamor answers for lingering institutional concerns.”

“Moreso, the publication has no obligation to apologize for its reportage and the public's interpretation of its subject,” it added.

Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raoul Manuel on X shared a copy of the photo “in solidarity with everyone in the UST community who stand vs. campus repression.”

Jeann Miranda, Anakbayan National Chairperson, urged student publications and student councils to support TomasinoWeb.

“Press freedom is being stepped on, this is not the time to be quiet. This is the time to stand together,” Miranda said.

The Varsitarian, UST’s official student publication, shared photos of student activists gathering outside the university to protest the incident.

The OSA and other UST officials have yet to issue a statement on the matter. PhilSTAR L!fe has also reached out to the OSA for comment, but has yet to receive a reply.

Disclaimer: Leo Laparan is a desk editor of The Philippine STAR.