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Student has right to ask Duterte.

Anakbayan condemns in no uncertain terms the cyberbullying and death threats against Stephen Villena, a student from the University of the Philippines Los BaNos (UPLB), who was falsely accused of raising his voice when he asked presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte about his budgetary priorities should he be elected president.

Villena and other young Filipinos always welcome opportunities to meet and ask candidates while aspirants attend or hold public events to reach out to and convince more voters.

Forums such as the one held in UPLB are thus important, and attendees should always be free from all sorts of intimidation and threats.

What happened after the UPLB forum-the cyberbullying and death threats by trolls and hooligans, arising from the grossly-inaccurate and fact-free retelling of the event-should not happen again.

We call on candidate Duterte, who is portrayed as a disciplinarian, to control and restrain some of his most ardent supporters. All candidates and their supporters should welcome the freest and widest possible discussions and debates.

For the record, Villena was not impolite at all, as all eyewitness accounts point out. He was merely reminding Duterte of his own desire to soon finish the forum as he asked the candidate to provide him a straight answer to his question.

We must join Villena in asking Duterte and all presidential candidates the impolite and stupid question about their plans for education. That's the least we could do on behalf of the likes of Kristel Tejada and Jessaven Lagatic -state scholars who ended their lives due to the rising cost of education. For in reality, questions about education are neither impolite or stupid. They are life-and-death questions.

Young Filipinos should emulate Villena and continue to ask questions about the many important issues facing the sector and the nation-issues that have largely been ignored in the circus that is the 2016 campaign.

Our elders and the majority look up to young Filipinos, especially the educated, to participate in the process. But not as trolls, hooligans or thugs loyal to any candidate allergic to any hint of criticism. Their expectation is that we would use our knowledge and freedoms to raise the issues, discuss solutions and challenge the powerful.

And there are many other questions that beg to be asked by Filipinos and waiting to be answered by candidates. We thus find it absurd and unacceptable that fanatical supporters of candidates wish to control and undercut public discussions through threats and intimidation.

Let the election campaign be a breakthrough moment for campuses nationwide, especially those where students are not free to express themselves and to air their grievances. We urge the candidates to meet with more young people and show them in words and in deeds the value of free speech and free expression whether in or out of the election season.

May there be millions more Stephens willing and ready to get involved in politics and to ask questions. Anakbayan is committed to making sure they are free to do so, without fear or favor.

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Mar 18, 2016
Words:500
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