Poor Ronald Cardema. The National Youth Commission chair and concurrent head of the party-list group Duterte Youth didn’t know what hit him last week when he found himself in a sh—tstorm entirely of his own making.
Thinking perhaps that he could earn more brownie points from the Duterte administration — the way he and his chums did in February 2017 when a grand total of seven Duterte Youth members, including Cardema, held a rally at the People Power monument during the Edsa anniversary celebrations in defense of Mr. Duterte, after which they were feted and awarded “Republic Defenders” pins by Solicitor General Jose Calida in Malacañang — Cardema called on the President “to remove the government scholarships of all rebellious, antigovernment scholars.”
And, in a move akin to turning the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) into a Nazi youth group, he also directed SK officials to report any leftist and anti-Duterte activities by students and young Filipinos in their areas.
The proposal to punish student scholars for acts of dissent and contrary expression immediately drew condemnation and derision — and from all corners, irrespective of political affiliation.
The demand achieved something unexpected and improbable — it united all sectors for once, with everyone from Malacañang to the opposition, from the Akbayan party-list and the National Union of Students of the Philippines to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, all agreeing that Cardema’s call has no basis.
“With all due respect, such a proposal, if adopted, would effectively restrain the youth’s constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression,” said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. “Our state universities and colleges, instead of taking it against militant students by dropping them from the roll, should be proud that they are producing young people who are socially aware and concerned not only about themselves but also about the nation.”
Education Secretary Leonor Briones emphasized that the basis for government scholarships is solely academic performance.
“Hindi tinatanggalan mo ng scholarship dahil engaged in other activities. Even in high school and elementary, ine-encourage natin ’yung notion ng the ‘whole child or the whole learner, whole personality…’ Bottom line sa scholarships… is academic standings,” she said.
The “sycophantic and obsequious suggestion,” as Sen. Francis Escudero described it, was subsequently modified by Cardema, who explained on TV that he was only referring to students affiliated with the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front (despite the clear language of his original statement — “all rebellious, antigovernment scholars”).
Other than that modification, Cardema was unapologetic about the whole fracas, rejecting the calls from various fronts for him to resign his post.
He wouldn’t resign as well, he maintained, even in the wake of the revelation that he is in a glaring conflict-of-interest situation as both NYC head and chair of the Duterte Youth.
The party-list group is running in the May elections, and its first nominee is Cardema’s wife, Ducielle Marie D. Suarez. Thus, “He would need to explain whether or not government funds and resources have been used to help in the ongoing campaign of Duterte Youth,” said the election watchdog Kontra Daya. “Ronald Cardema should be reminded that the use of government funds and resources is a clear violation of the Omnibus Election Code.”
In defense, Cardema said there is nothing wrong about his wife running, as the wives of many government officials are also running. Well, on that, this aspiring fascist, this Duterte warrior who thinks all young Filipinos should march in lock step with the mindset and programs of his Dear Leader in Malacañang, has a point.
But if he thinks he can rely on the Palace to continue seeing him as a viable foot soldier and not the damaged goods he has become, he should pay heed to the ominous import of Panelo’s words (and imagine the presidential spokesperson intoning them with a gleam in his eyes): “If [Cardema] feels he is still adequate, he knows what to do. If he thinks that he is a burden to the administration because of the statements he made, then he knows what to do.”
There — the cue for what a zealot like him is also expected to do for his idol once things head south: Take the fall and sacrifice himself. Cardema wants to glorify the President and make him out to be a wise, reasonable leader? Now’s his chance.
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