Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA3788 2005-08-17 07:36 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manila
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 003788
DEPT FOR EAP/PMBS, EAP/PD, R/ECA, INR/EAP, INR/B
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/17/2015
TAGS: PGOV PINS PINR KISL SOCI RP
SUBJECT: STUDENT ACTIVISM IN THE PHILIPPINES: STILL A
FORCE, BUT LESS SO
REF: A. MANILA 3231
¶B. MANILA 2840
¶C. 05 MANILA 5552
Classified By: Acting Political Counselor Joseph L. Novak
for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
¶1. (C) Summary: Student activism in the Philippines has
long been a political force and it remains one. This is
particularly the case at state-funded universities, where
many students are involved in politics, including the effort
to oust President Arroyo. Private university students play
less of a political role, with only a small minority involved
in politics. The left remains active in state-funded
universities, though the number of students joining the
Communist Party appears to be in decline. Muslim students
have their own groups, but few Muslims appear to be involved
in extremist, anti-U.S. politics. Although student politics
remains alive and well, it appears to be less of a force at
this time, with more students focused on getting ahead
professionally in a global world. End Summary.
Activism a Force at State Schools
¶2. (SBU) Student activism in the Philippines has long been a
political force and it remains one. (Note: This message
focuses on university-level students. There is some activism
among high school students, but to a much lesser extent. End
Note.) This is particularly the case at state-funded
universities, such as the University of the Philippines’ main
campus located at Diliman in Quezon City, metro Manila.
“UP,” as it is called, is the largest and most prestigious
school in the country, with approximately 24,000 students.
While it is difficult to estimate their exact number, many UP
students are involved in politics. There are, for example,
on campus political groups linked to the independent election
monitoring group National Movement for Free Elections
(NAMFREL), the “Be not Afraid” movement (led by Opposition
Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson), and a group of students loyal
to former president Joseph Estrada. Leftist groups, such as
Bayan Muna, Migrante, Gabriela and the National Union of
Students of the Philippines (NUSP), are also active. The
League of Filipino Students, which is linked with the left,
has traditionally been influential in the UP student
government and currently controls the student council (see
below for more regarding leftist groups on campus).
¶3. (U) In addition to UP-Diliman, campuses of UP located in
other parts of the country, such as Baguio, Los Banos, and
Mindanao, have reputations for political activism. Students
from UP (Baguio), for example, have participated in marches
in support of striking sugar cane workers at the Hacienda
Luisita plantation in Tarlac Province located north of Manila
(ref c). Another state-funded university that is known to
have many students active in politics is the Manila campus of
the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
¶4. (SBU) Students from state-funded universities have been
well represented in the effort to oust President Arroyo.
Approximately 10,000 students (most of them from public
universities) attended a July 13 rally in Makati in metro
Manila to demand the resignation of President Arroyo (ref a).
As with student participation in other rallies, many of
these students were from the left, although a fair number
were supporters of mainstream Opposition groups. Students
from UP also played a key role in disseminating audio clips
from the controversial wiretapped recordings of President
Arroyo’s conversations with a serving Commission on Elections
(COMELEC) official in the aftermath of the May 2004 elections
(ref b). League of Filipino Student members, for example,
created a mobile phone ring tone from a short clip of the
tapes, which they uploaded to the Internet. The ring tone
proved wildly popular and thousands of Filipinos downloaded
it onto their cell phones within days, much to the
embarrassment of the government.
Private School Students Steer a Different Course
¶5. (C) Private university students play less of a political
role, with only a small minority involved in politics.
Several student leaders at private universities have told us
that they and their classmates are largely apathetic toward
politics, preferring to focus on their studies. Private
universities in the Philippines, such as Ateneo de Manila
University, De La Salle University, the University of Santo
Tomas, and the University of Asia and the Pacific, are
expensive and students want to get their money’s worth out of
their educations. Bernie Villegas, the Vice President of the
University of Asia and the Pacific, told Acting Pol/C
recently that students at his university were mainly focused
on getting their degrees so that they could compete for jobs.
¶6. (SBU) Another reason that students at private schools
tend to be less drawn to politics is that most of these
schools are run by Catholic orders. In general, these orders
ask students to focus on their studies and they frown on
active engagement by students in politics. There are
exceptions to this general rule. For example, the La Salle
brothers, who run De La Salle University, publicly asked for
President Arroyo’s resignation in June. It is believed that
the brothers have close links with former president Corazon
Aquino, who came out against Arroyo in July. On the other
hand, the Jesuit priests who run Ateneo have not backed
either side during the ongoing political infighting, defying
the order’s international reputation for political activism.
The Opus Dei members who run the University of Asia and the
Pacific are also not known to get involved in day-to-day
political issues, although they do sometimes publicly discuss
Church positions on such issues as family planning.
Leftist Students Active
¶7. (C) The left remains quite active at state-funded
universities. As noted above, leftist groups, such as Bayan
Muna, Migrante, Gabriela and the National Union of Students
of the Philippines (NUSP), are active at most UP campuses.
These groups are legal, some have representation in Congress,
and they have been very involved in the anti-Arroyo effort.
These groups are also linked with the Communist Party of the
Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA). The number of
students gravitating toward direct membership in the CPP/NPA
appears to be in decline, however. Students at Manila
university campuses have told Emboffs that the CPP/NPA
continues to recruit on campus, but that few students join
up. This stands in contrast to the situation in the 1970s
through the 1980s, when many students — spurred on by the
struggle against the Marcos dictatorship — left school and
joined NPA forces fighting in the jungle. Mission has heard
that some students still join the NPA. Pol FSN has told us
that when she was a student at UP (Los Banos) from 1995-99 a
handful of students left school to join the NPA. However,
the numbers were low.
¶8. (C) Muslim students have their own groups at
universities. Many Muslims at universities in Mindanao, such
as Mindanao State University in Marawi, are members of the
Ranao Council and the Bangsamoro Youth movement, for example.
Such groups tend to focus on local issues, including peace
and development in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
(ARMM), as opposed to national political issues. Many Muslim
students are also actively involved in local NGOs working on
conflict resolution and development issues, such as GAWAD
Kalinga (an NGO that builds housing in poor areas) and Bantai
Ceasefire (an NGO that works to reduce tensions in conflict
areas in Mindanao). Students who work for these NGOs have
told poloff that they see such work as a way that they can
“contribute to the Bangsamoro (Filipino Muslim) cause.” Not
coincidentally, many students parlay their volunteer
experience while in school into paying jobs with NGOs after
¶9. (C) The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Muslim
insurgent group, is active on campuses in Mindanao, although
it does not seem to have a dedicated student group. Some
students work for the Bangsamoro Development Agency, a
MILF-linked NGO focused on economic development in Mindanao.
Terrorist organizations like Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu
Sayyaf Group appear to have no toehold at the
¶10. (C) Although student politics remains alive and well, it
appears to be less intense at this time, with more students
focused on getting ahead professionally in a global world.
In the late 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, students in state-funded
schools were very engaged in politics, especially in
left-wing politics and the effort to remove Marcos from
power. Students in that timeframe were an important force
and the GRP had to reckon with them in terms of rallies and
street demonstrations. Today, while some students are
engaged politically and participate in rallies, students
overall are no longer as vital a political force as they once
were. The left maintains some strength in this area, but it
has suffered as the attraction of Communist ideology has
faded. Trends among Muslim students need continued
monitoring, but so far anti-U.S. extremism does not seem to
have gained much of a beachhead.
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