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Duterte only telling UP students not to waste taxpayers’ money —Roque

President Rodrigo Duterte only meant to tell protesting University of the Philippines students not to waste the taxpayers’ money by walking out of their classes, said his spokesperson Harry Roque on Saturday.

Duterte is only against walkouts, and was not repressing the students’ rights to free expression and to peaceful assembly, claimed Roque at a press briefing in Laoag, Ilocos Norte.

He was explaining Duterte’s statement on Thursday that he would replace UP students who walk out of their classes—a common protest action in the state university—with “bright” lumad, or indigenous peoples from Mindanao.

“Ang sinasabi lang ng Presidente [ay] ‘wag naman nating sayangin ‘yung mga pera ng sambayanan na ginugol natin para sa free tuition ng lahat ng state universities and colleges,” said Roque, touting that Duterte signed the free tuition law against his economic managers' advice.

“Kung talagang nais mag-walkout ng mga estudyante ng UP [ay] karapatan niya ‘yan, pero kaya nga sabi niya, papalitan niya ‘yung mga nagwo-walk out ng mga intelihenteng mga estudyante galing sa mga lumad,” he added.

Himself a former UP professor, Roque said lumad students would still have to apply to get into the university, but added he was sure there could be a way for the university’s administration to prioritize them.

Duterte on Thursday “encouraged” protesting students to stay in the streets and said he would enroll “bright lumad” in UP.

This is in contrast to his previous threat to bomb lumad schools for supposedly teaching students to rebel against the government, a point that student activists raised in condemnation of the President’s recent remarks.

Rallyists on that day had been speaking out against the “US-Duterte regime” in a protest action that was scheduled by youth group Anakbayan after Roque “ridiculed” communist leader Jose Maria Sison’s call for youth protests against Duterte.

Anakbayan has set another “massive mobilization and walkout protest” for February 23.

“Hindi po ipinagbabawal ang malayang pananalita. Hindi po ipinagbabawal ang rallies,” said Roque.

“Ang ayaw lang ni Presidente [ay] ‘yung mga walkouts dahil sayang naman ‘yung kaban ng bayan na binabayad ng mga ordinaryong mga mamamayan kung sasayangin lang ng mga estudyante ‘yung binayarang tuition ng gobyerno sa pamamagitan ng kanilang pagwa-walkout,” he added. —Nicole-Anne C. Lagrimas/ALG, GMA News