FIVE Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) students, who forcibly took school property and threw them out from a building during a protest over tuition hike, are now facing criminal charges before the Manila Prosecutor’s Office.

PUP student leaders Chaser Soriano, Ferrin Umagat, Judy Anne Fabito, Piem Canela and Abriel Mansilungan were slapped with charges of robbery with intimidation and violence filed by school administrators and security.

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The suspects, who allegedly led some 60 university students in staging an indignation rally last Wednesday afternoon, spent several nights at the Manila Police District detention center have now posted bail.

The students were protesting the 2,000-percent increase in their tuition.

The charges were filed at 11:20 p.m. Wednesday, a few hours after Commission on Higher Education (Ched) Chairman Emmanuel Angeles declared that no tuition increase will be approved or implemented in the school.

Angeles, who is also the Chairman of the PUP Board of Regents (BOR), vowed that he will vote against the proposed tuition increase on March 29, the scheduled BOR meeting to discuss the proposal.

“We are now assured of two votes against the tuition hike during the scheduled BOR meeting on Monday. The students only needed six to seven people so that we can say we have been triumphant in our cause. But it was a setback on our part because we got detained here,” Soriano said.

Police Chief Inspector Marcelo Reyes said the complainant was filed by Leonardo Coquilla, chief of the security division of PUP.

According to the complaint, some 60 students barged inside the PUP main building that housed the administration offices of the school, and then took out several school properties without the university's consent, among them the student desks that have been thrown out of the PUP main building.

During the protest action, the militant students allegedly tried to carry out at least 13 chairs on board at least two passenger jeepneys bearing the licensed plates TWU-753 and TVY-797 without the consent of the university officials.

“Our security personnel were outnumbered and although they were armed, they could not prevent the students since they were ordered to exert maximum tolerance,” the complainant said.

The two vehicles, which were carrying the school properties and the five militant leaders, were only flagged down by the joint elements of the MPD-Station 5 policemen and PUP security guards upon reaching a police outpost on Valenzuela Street, in Sta. Mesa Manila.

For their part, Soriano denied that they intended to steal the chairs that they described as garbage, as she explained that they only planned to show it to the Ched chairman in their demonstration that day.

Soriano, who is the president of the PUP student council and PUP chairperson of militant group Anakbayan, said their arrest was allegedly made to harass the students who were not in favor of the tuition increase.

'Go to Congress'

After the incident, Ched appealed to student groups and supporters to bring their fight to Congress instead of barricading schools and damaging their properties.

Angeles deplored what he said is the “unfortunate” behavior of the students who staged protest actions.

“It is very unfortunate what had happened yesterday (Wednesday), the behavior of the young. Although we are a democracy, there are still laws to be followed. Maybe there should be much more responsible behavior here,” Angeles said.

“Their intention is good but their violent action only resulted to damaging the properties of colleges and universities,” he added.

He said Wednesday’s protest at the Ched office damaged close to P500,000 worth of properties, including portion of the main gate.

Angeles said the proper venue for the mass actions is at Congress since lawmakers are the one who hold the power of the purse.

“They should demonstrate in front of Congress because they have the power to give out budget,” he said.

But he said Ched will always ensure that maximum tolerance will be implemented when school authorities deal with protesters.

Tuition hike

Following the scuffle in PUP, Ched said that 290 private higher education institutions have already signified their intention to hike fees this coming school year.

Angeles said that on average, these schools are planning to hike their fees by 10 percent.

Figures provided by Ched showed that 19 schools in Ilocos Region, six in Cagayan Valley Region, 39 in Central Luzon, 50 in Calabarzon, nine in Mimaropa, 13 in Bicol Region, 20 in Western Visayas, 13 in Central Visayas, 16 in Zamboanga Peninsula, 21 in Northern Mindanao, and 74 in the National Capital Region (NCR) have informed the commission as of March 23 of their plan.

There are 1,780 higher education institutions in the country today.

But Angeles assured parents and students that the proposal still has to go through the regular process, including consultations and the approval of the Ched before it can be implemented.

“Even if we are in a deregulated status they still have to follow the process. Dadaan po ng butas ng karayom yan,” Angeles added.

At the same time, the Ched chairman said the commission has the final say on the proposal as it is the one going to issue the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) governing any increase. (ECV/AH/Sunnex)