Against the few for the many

The admonition that University of the Philippines students shouldn’t be protesting in the streets but should instead be in their classrooms, and that by doing the first they’re wasting the people’s money, UP being a state university supported by their taxes, has been made before by previous administrations.

It’s hardly surprising for a number of reasons. No Philippine regime has ever been appreciative of citizen protests despite their claims to the contrary. Protests can after all enlighten the open-minded, and expose the injustice, corruption, mendacity, and subservience to foreign interests so characteristic of dynastic rule. Most of the bureaucrats that comprise every regime that has ever been in power are also ignorant of both the history and traditions of UP and its contributions to Philippine society, and the civic and educative value of citizen involvement in public affairs.

Either that, or they’re merely pretending to be clueless and pandering to what they think is public sentiment in their effort to stop the criticism to which they’re specially sensitive.

Former President Benigno Aquino III’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said the exact same thing President Rodrigo Duterte, his allies, minions, online trolls and paid hacks in print and broadcasting were saying last week. In behalf of Mr. Aquino, Ms. Valte declared in 2012, when UP students held a demonstration at Manila’s Mendiola street protesting the cuts in the budgets of UP and other state universities and colleges such as the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and the Philippine Normal College, that the students should “prioritize” their studies instead of “walking out” of their classrooms.

The Secretary of Justice of Mr. Aquino’s predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had implied the same thing in 2006 when he condemned UP students for demonstrating against the regime he was serving, and for their supposedly thinking of themselves as citizens of “an independent republic.”

Raul Gonzalez also described UP as “too liberal” for allowing student protests. He quite seriously proposed a halt to state funding of UP, in effect arguing for its abolition. Gonzalez had earlier described UP as a hotbed of “destabilizers and naked runners,” the latter being in reference to the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity’s “Oblation Run,” during which some of its members run naked on campus to call attention to public issues.

Ignorance of UP history and traditions and the fact that like everyone else, its constituents including its students have the Constitutionally-protected freedom to express themselves and to assemble peaceably, may have been a mere pretense on the part of past administrations in their attempts to stop criticism. But President Rodrigo Duterte’s case may be entirely different. He may actually be unaware of those realities. The same assumptions are at work across these three regimes, however, among them that only in the classroom is learning possible, and that taxpayer support is best earned by students’ being silent and uninvolved in public affairs.

As he has repeatedly demonstrated since 2016, it’s doubtful if Mr. Duterte respects or is even aware of the limits of presidential power, thus his threat to remove from UP those students protesting his regime’s march to despotism through constitutional amendments, the imposition of a “revolutionary government,” and/or the declaration of nationwide martial law, as well as its resistance to the adoption of the social, economic and political reforms needed for the country’s survival and Philippine society’s authentic development.

To get into UP, students have to pass the dreaded UP College Admissions Test (UPCAT), which consists of four parts (language proficiency, reading comprehension, science, and mathematics). It’s extremely doubtful if the very same self-righteous bureaucrats with obviously single-digit IQs can pass it. Out of some 88,000 who took the test last year, only about 14,000 were accepted as freshmen in the UP System’s six constituent universities. But the test of one’s commitment to one’s studies doesn’t end with passing the UPCAT. To be retained in UP–the only Philippine university among the world’s 400 best universities–students have to maintain grades specific to the degree programs in which they are enrolled. Failure means being put on probation or expulsion.

Neither acceptance in UP nor expulsion from it are as arbitrary as Mr. Duterte’s threat suggests. Meanwhile, his saying that he will replace with “bright Lumads” the students he will expel from UP can only be described as meaningless at best and at worst utterly cynical, since he has made the Lumad even more vulnerable to displacement and harassment by saying they’re New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas or sympathizers, and by opening their ancestral lands to exploitation. He has even threatened to bomb their schools.

His spokesperson has “clarified” that he was not against protest but the students’ “walking out” of their classes, that being, he said, a waste of taxpayers’ money. That statement of course assumes that only during class hours do students protest– and that protesting students perform poorly academically.

Neither assumption is correct. Many activists are among UP’s best students and graduates, which means that they take their studies seriously. Those studies can in fact validate the protests themselves. A term paper in a political science class that establishes the reality of dynastic rule can lead students to rightfully demonstrate against the anti-democratic monopoly over political power of a handful of families. An investigative report written for a journalism class can reveal the need for citizens to demand the passage of a freedom of information act as a means of monitoring and minimizing government corruption.

As expected, however, the claim that protesting students don’t take their studies seriously was echoed by Mr. Duterte’s Senate allies, who urged protesting students to be “responsible.”

By protesting the country’s headlong rush down the precipice of another dictatorship, the students are in the first place being far more responsible than the self-serving know-nothings in both houses of Congress who’re involved in a veritable conspiracy to complete the ruin of this country and what little remains of Philippine democracy after decades of incompetent and corrupt dynastic rule.

In the second place, the protesting students are giving back to taxpayers the money they support UP with by actually living and defending the principles and responsibilities of freedom, human rights, free inquiry, truth-telling, independence and patriotism they learned in the classrooms.

In contrast are the most notorious profligates in these isles of woe who have made a career out of squandering and appropriating for themselves taxpayer money– the so-called “lawmakers” and other bureaucrats who haven’t even read the Constitution they want to either amend or replace with one that will satisfy their lust for power and pelf and assure their near-perpetual hold on government; who pass bills into law without even reading them so long as they will benefit from them; and who don’t even attend sessions, much less introduce bills that will benefit this country and its people once they become law. Include among them their collaborators, their patrons and their co-conspirators.

Everyone in his or her right mind in these times of national peril knows only too well who’re really wasting the people’s money and putting it in secret bank accounts–and whom history will one day rightly condemn for their greed and treachery. It is against these few that students not only from UP but from other schools as well are protesting in behalf of the many.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Published in Business World
Feb. 9, 2018

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