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UST prof gives students points for anti-RH stand

(Updated 3:01 a.m.) He used to lead his students in street rallies on social issues. Now University of Santo Tomas (UST) theology professor Aguedo Florence Jalin Jr. is mobilizing his wards online, giving them bonus points for posting anti-RH comments on the Facebook page of the pro-RH Akbayan party-list group, which denounced the practice as urging the youth to "mimic the positions of authority figures." Jalin said the extra credit offered to students were prompted by reports that the Reproductive Health (RH) bill was close to being passed in the House of Representatives, “When I heard that, I started thinking: How will I help the Church?" he told GMA News Online in a telephone interview just after midnight Tuesday. In the past, he used to take his students to the streets rallying for Church and social issues, as he did in EDSA Dos that helped bring down then-President Joseph Estrada from power. The Church and the State are at loggerheads over the RH bill, which promotes sex education and liberal access to contraceptives as a tool for family planning. GMA News Online on Monday also spoke to Cheann Matriz, Akbayan Youth’s secretary-general, who said that several days after Valentine’s Day, when Akbayan distributed free condoms at a public market in Quezon City, Akbayan members noticed on their Facebook page “troll messages of ‘opposition’ to the campaign." Matriz said the messages came mostly from UST students, reacting against the activity and the RH bill. The students included their complete names, courses, and school.
Journalism student Ann Remedios Dungca Reyes posted her opposition to Akbayan's distribution of free condoms on the group's Facebook page, even likening the use of condoms to eating ice cream with a sock on it. Like her fellow UST students, she included school ID information.Screen grab from Akbayan's Facebook page
According to the Professor Jalin, there is nothing wrong with his instructions to his students, saying Akbayan’s Facebook page was an open space. “They have a line there that says comments and opinions are welcome. So that’s what we did," he said. “I call it an online parliamentary," Jalin added. Jalin reveals his identity Shrugging off the possible negative reactions to what he had done, he said, “What is important is the issue." The professor said he also advised his students to stop reading the negative reactions to their comments on Facebook as they may be tempted “go into a word war." "Do not stoop to their level," he told his students. Jalin, who had been unnamed in previous reports, revealed on Sunday his identity in a comment on the Akbayan website — not its Facebook page — which the group did not immediately notice. When Akbayan finally read Jalin’s comment, the youth group alerted the media about it. Akbayan on Friday blogged about certain professors who supposedly asked their students to refute Akbayan’s pro-RH position in exchange for extra grades. “Some of the students who made the said posts admitted this," Akbayan said. In response to the Akbayan blog, Jalin posted, “I am the professor of theology you are referring [to] in your lengthy discourse about certain professors. And the classes you categorically named were my classes." “It only proved we, my students and I, have achieved what we are dearly hoping — to bring across the message of opposition to: 1) the 'Valentine’s Day activity' your group decided to take up, and 2) the RH bill," he said. He added that he and his students were simply echoing the pastoral letter issued in July 2010 and titled, “Securing our Moral Heritage: Towards a Moral Society," by Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Bishop Nereo Odchimar. He said the letter mentioned “two timeless and simple but profound truths." “At the foundation of the moral society is a central religious truth – our divine origin and our divinely-given identity as persons," Jalin quoted the letter as saying. “The rejection or disregard of morality and religious belief is at the core of corruption." Odchimar said in the letter, “A contraceptive-oriented population control program is not the moral way." Invitation to a debate Akbayan had invited anti-RH professors to a debate, but Jalin declined. “Debate, as you and I fully know, showcases arrogance more than clarity of the issue," he said. On its blog, Akbayan said it respects the rights of students to express their opinion, but “[does] not believe this can happen under conditions where they are incentivized to mimic the positions of authority figures. The involved teachers unjustly influenced their students to voice [out] their positions against the bill." The students, according to Akbayan, were not at fault. “We believe this obscures true and meaningful debates especially among students who are most in need of guidance." The group urged anti-RH bill teachers to “stop hiding behind the backs of their students." Mixed reactions on Facebook When Jalin revealed his identity, it drew mixed reactions on Akbayan’s Facebook page. Aira de Jesus, who claimed to be a UST student, said she did not simply post her comment about the RH bill for the incentives or the homework. “It is because I want to show that I am a concerned Thomasian, that I am aware of what is happening around me," she said. In another Facebook post, Aira Keith C. Bondoc said the issue is not Jalin but the RH bill. “It is about the stand of each Filipino citizen, whether a Thomasian or not," she said. Cecilia Lerio expressed her confusion. “The students claim they posted their own personal opinions, yet the professor clearly states that the comments were ‘designed to show consistency of thoughts’ and to ‘echo’ the CBCP circular." It is “alarming to think that [echoing] opinions is an enterprise of the academe," Lerio added. — VS/HS, GMA News