September 28, 2014

Student activism lives!

The brouhaha over the alleged “violent” protest on campus by University of the Philippines (UP) student activists against the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and its principal architect and implementer, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, comes in the wake of the nation’s recollection of the martial law period.  Invariably the role of the university as a rampart of reaction versus hotbed of radicalism is reprised.  The phenomenon of student activism, especially in the premier state university, then and now, shares the spotlight, with divergent views on its continuing relevance.

The myth of the university as an ivory tower  had already been debunked in the seventies at the height of student activism and in the face of the brutality of martial rule.  Still the myth lingers, deliberately nurtured and propagated to conceal the reality that the university primarily serves to provide the intellectual requirements of the ruling system.   Currently it is being used by the defenders of Secretary Abad to denounce the student activists as “hooligans” and “enemies of the university” by their invocation of “academic freedom”, civility, and non-violent discourse.

The statement of faculty members of the UP School of Economics unwittingly yet glaringly betrays this attempt at resurrecting and invoking this myth. They pretend to be disinterested academics dedicated to arriving at and expounding on the objective truth. Yet they attempt to cover up the fact that from the outset they are one with Mr. Abad in terms of the economic philosophy or school of thought that they teach and propagate and which undergirds the government’s economic policies of neoliberal/neoclassical economics serving the ruling elite and their foreign partners.

They take advantage of the seemingly “unpopular” because “excessive” behavior of the activists during their protest in order to destroy the latter’s credibility to set aside and bury the valid issues that they raise.  They hype up the alleged “violence” and “mayhem” of the activists to camouflage the bigger disorder and harsher violence wrought by the economic policies that they promote as correct and beneficial to the people.  They make it appear that Mr. Abad is merely doing his job, peacefully and with civility, yet he was unjustifiably victimized by the “violence” inflicted by the “hooligans” masquerading as activists.

Without a doubt UP remains, after more than a hundred years of existence and for all intents and purposes, a university of the status quo.  It was only in the last fifty years or so that “a progressive university within a reactionary university” emerged.  Progressive, nay revolutionary, ideas, movements and organizations had their inception and took root during this period.

UP primarily churns out the country’s leaders and experts in government, business and socio-cultural institutions such as schools and mass media who uphold and prop up the ruling system even as UP has produced outstanding revolutionaries, activists and other progressives who have dedicated their lives to critiquing and overturning it.

Student activists then as now do not have any illusion that they will change UP into the bedrock of progressive ideas and practice while society at large is reactionary but they have tried and continue to try to keep the fire burning within UP. 

The reactionaries and their apologists and paid hacks on the other hand, work hard to find ways to extinguish that flame. 

Student activists before and during martial law confronted Philippine reality with a sharply critical mind, armed with a scientific and progressive philosophy, and a nationalist, democratic and uncompromisingly pro-people political standpoint. (“Serve the people” was the mantra of the day.)

They dared to expose and overturn the dominant elite characterizations of Philippine society.  They were not deceived by the Marcosian justifications for martial law, the empty rhetoric about reform and building a “new society”.  They could not be cowed by the  dictator’s bluster nor the very real prospect of torture and death at the hands of the military, police and paramilitary forces that martial law had turned into the tyrant’s private army.

Not content with skimming the surface of society’s ills but true to their moniker -- radicals – they dug at the deeply-entrenched and historical roots of these problems.   The activists took very seriously the revolutionary imperative of bringing about the downfall of the exploitative and oppressive status quo.

Even at the onset and during the height of martial law, student activists were at the forefront of breaking the “tyranny of silence” by scribbling defiant slogans on blackboards and walls, smuggling manifestoes, holding secret discussions and conducting lightning rallies.

All these, they did amid the same scorn, disapproval, criticisms and vehement protests from the conservatives and "moderates" in and outside the campus.

Inevitably, they confronted and fought the reactionary forces upholding the status quo in the plazas, streets and shantytowns of the towns and cities and in the wide countryside where the majority of Filipinos live lives of misery and quiet desperation.  Like the student activists now, the activists then were at first dismissed as juvenile rabble rousers.  But when hundreds went underground and to the hills to live up to their convictions, those accusations were muted and proven wrong.  

Years from now, these “hooligan” activists' deeds will be appreciated and remembered, just as the deeds of the student activists decades ago are now memorialized.  Those of their “civil  and proper" critics will be consigned to the dustbin of history. #

Published in Business World                                                                  
29 September 2014


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