By DR. JAN MICHAEL YAP
Before I go into the details of the S&T Say No to Tyranny or (SnT)2 alliance, allow me to talk about the reasons behind the organization. First off, I want to impress upon everyone that science and technology are political. Now, I know that we usually have a negative connotation on things being branded as “political”, or that such a term is limited only to things related to government activities and functions. But if you look for the definition of the word, “politics” actually refers to the “set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status”. So here we see that it is a ubiquitous term, not only limited to governmental references. I highlight here “power relations between individuals such as the distribution of resources or status” because this is an important notion going forward. Science and technology at their most abstract aim to contribute to the pool of knowledge and understanding of the world and to provide frameworks, methods, processes, and even products for the benefit of at least part of humanity. We already know that S&T affects society but we must also recognize that it does so by enabling and/or empowering one or more sectors of society, thereby creating or modifying relationships of individuals and groups. Even the mere mention of the word “science” or “technology” changes the dynamics of a discourse and somehow gives weight or legitimacy to arguments, no matter how fallacious those arguments are at times. Science and technology alter power dynamics, and are thus political. The question now is, given that it alters power dynamics, who should it favor and therefore benefit from such modification? Of course, the moral and ethical answer would be “for the masses”. But S&T, being political in nature, can also alter power structures in favor of a few whose self-interests trump everything else.
So now tyranny, is there one in the Philippines? What is tyranny anyway? The online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines tyranny as “oppressive power… especially exerted by the government,” and oppressive being “unreasonably burdensome or severe” or “overwhelming or depressing to the spirit of senses.” Given this qualification of tyranny, are we under some sort of oppressive rule? The answer is yes. We have seen how time and time again how the government weaponized almost every unit, every process, and every power of the State to subvert human rights and to shirk accountability and responsibility, what with its so-called war on drugs which is effectively a war on the poor and the marginalized and a systemic genocide, lawfare through trumped-up charges against critics and activists, and even the subjugation of legislation and adjudication to bend to their whims.
Our discipline isn’t spared from State oppression, and what’s worse is that they also co-opted S&T by cherry-picking aspects of it, or some semblance thereof, to legitimize their tyrannical acts. These acts are at times covert and affect the most vulnerable of sectors, as with the PUV modernization act where they intend to “upgrade” public utility transport with supposedly modern and eco-friendly transport without due regard to the plight of the jeepney drivers and operators who will shoulder the gargantuan cost of the upgrade. They also conducted various acts that waste away the country’s ecosphere without listening to proven scientific reasons why they shouldn’t act on it, from the creation of the dolomite beach in Manila Bay, to allowing the Aerotropolis project in Bulacan to proceed, and to the unbridled support of the countless exploitative mining projects by large companies. And of course, what discourse in S&T and Philippine society would be without mentioning the State’s COVID-19 response where the government has opted to choose a militaristic approach to address a public health emergency, the paltry financial, material, and institutional support for humanitarian and medical solutions even with the copious amounts loaned from foreign entities, and just recently favoring certain companies for vaccination and imposing it on people even without the release of any credible evidence of efficacy and safety. A more lamentable fact than the aforementioned co-opting and cherry picking is that certain experts willingly or unwillingly support and reinforce their actions with nary a critical analysis of what those acts will mean to the larger populace.
There are many other instances of how S&T has been shunned and misused in the name of self-interests of those in power. This should also show you not only the ongoing tyranny in the Philippines, but also how it negatively affects science and technology either by disregarding scientific advice if it doesn’t suit the administration’s narrative, or cherry-picking concepts when it furthers their vested interests. That is why there is a need, a responsibility in fact, for us scientists, technologists, and engineers to push back against such oppression, to collectively say no to tyranny. This is the foundation upon which the Scientists and Technologists Say No To Tyranny or (SnT) 2 alliance was built upon.
(SnT)2 is a coalition for the upholding of human rights and condemnation against the violation thereof by those in power. It was formed around 2017 by scientists, engineers, mostly from the academe to stand against the then budding fascist and tyrannical rule of the Duterte administration. It is important to note that this is not the first alliance or organization of its kind as hinted by the background on the founding members of the alliance: there were already a number of scientists and engineers who organized and fought long ago especially during the Martial Law period of the 1970s and early 1980s like the Samahang Makabayang Siyentista, Liga ng Agham para sa Bayan, and the Scientists, Technologists, and Engineers for the People. It is thus in the same spirit that the (SnT)2 alliance currently stands today – to arouse and rally the STEM sector and amplify its voice against the tyrannical rule of Duterte and his minions. And it is also in this spirit that we are gathered here as a reminder that is necessary, our duty in fact, to resist and to continue struggling against tyranny, now and in the future. We would like invite every scientist, technologist, engineer, both aspiring and professional, to join us as we unite and fight back against the oppression levied upon the Filipino masses towards a truly free and independent society where science and technology can truly flourish and serve the people.
Dr. Jan Michael C. Yap is a computer scientist working for the UP Philippine Genome Center. He is also currently the chair of the Computer Professionals’ Union and the spokesperson of the Scientists and Technologists Say No to Tyranny or (SnT)2 alliance. The essay is based on his speech delivered at the forum RESISTANCE: Continuing the Struggle Against Tyranny on February 27, 2021.
Lab Notes: critical views and incisive analysis on issues in the Philippines, charting ways in making science and technology serve the people.