Monday, July 17, 2006


A University gains its relevance for society according to the functions that we, its constituents, ascribe to it. For many of us, its most obvious and perfunctory function is the schooling of a managerial class that would occupy the upper echelons of various social enterprises. From this functional perspective, the primary task of the University is to impart higher-order training and skills to students in preparation for their professional careers in government, business, and the academe. However, the true worth of a University in a society must not merely lie in this function as a training institution. For sure, the soul of a University is not completely captured in the diplomas that it churns out every academic year. Beyond the daily grind of classes, papers, schedules and exams that ensure the quality of professional schooling, there must be a loftier ideal that accord to a University its soul. How do we then define the role of a university in a society? Where do we find its soul? These important questions achieve greater significance for our University in the light of contemporary social events.

In the wake of the “Hello Garci” election scandal last year and her sly machinations to escape all constitutional attempts for her to address serious electoral fraud allegations, various surveys and the general public opinion have signified a general loss of confidence in the country’s leadership which eventually manifested in calls for Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo to be removed from office through various means. These voices emanated from different sectors of Philippine society and would have found a political manifestation in this year’s Edsa anniversary celebrations.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo promptly declared the nation under a state of national emergency and deputized the military in a Marcosian attempt to quell all attempts to unseat her. Since then, the nation has been tethered to the grip of a desperate administration holding on to power through undeclared martial law tactics. Unable to secure the degree of legitimacy to allow her to govern effectively, she has turned to the military to prop up her administration. Now, Arroyo bares the fangs of a dictatorship in a new bid to salvage her presidency by releasing her military attack dogs against those who continue to challenge her administration. For her, it is the presidency until 2010 and beyond even if it means tearing this nation apart.

First, she declared an all-out-war against communist insurgents even allotting a billion peso budget for what has actually become a “dirty war” where hundreds of civilians have become the primary targets of government-sponsored death squads. A significant portion of this figure can be attributed to the operations of General Palparan and his men whose deployment in Mindoro, Samar and now Central Luzon left a trail of carnage in the assassinations, forced disappearances and massacres that followed in their wake. His promotion and high profile status despite his human rights record is a clear message of what this administration wants to put across – desist from resisting or be eliminated. The same tactic of sowing fear is now being levelled against sympathetic businessman and civilian supporters as well as bishops who take on a critical stance against her administration. A well-orchestrated demolition job to discredit these personalities is now seemingly in the works. All who resist are now subsumed under a single category – destabilizers and this arbitrary label has given state security forces the basic rationale for justifying state terror as well as shape public opinion against those who oppose her administration.

The numbers are staggering: 705 activists, students, teachers, journalists, and lawyers have been murdered while 181 remain missing since the start of her term and a significant number of these took place in the last six months when her government confronted its worse political crisis. Part of this statistic is two of our own: Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan. Karen is a BA Sociology student from CSSP and Sherlyn a Sports Science major from CHK. Both UP students were volunteers of a farmer’s organization and were living out the University ideals of being true scholars of the people when they were abducted by armed men in Hagonoy, Bulacan at 2 am together with Manuel Merino, a farmer. Since their abduction last June 26, no one has seen or heard from them. The situation of the students becomes increasingly alarming with every passing day that they remain incommunicado. Earlier this week, there were reports of bodies in shallow graves near a military detachment. When Karen and Sherlyn’s parents went to Bulacan to confirm, no one wanted to provide information and to this day the students (or their bodies) remain missing. Such is the climate of terror that envelops the towns that are practically already within Metro Manila’s doorsteps.

The continuing political crisis in the past months has degenerated into a situation where crucial social institutions which once provided alternative leadership in times of crisis now manifest the symptoms of extreme political cynicism that only embolden this illegitimate regime. The young idealists in the military are either incarcerated or have sold their principles in the name of family and career. The bishops, on the other hand, are paralyzed by their confusion at a critical time when their flock needs discerning moral guidance. What is clear is their distrust towards everything and everyone, which perhaps also reflect the attitude of a significant section of the populace. This social malaise has become the sign of our times. In this general context of cynicism and apathy coupled with the strong-arm tactics of a dictatorial regime, where do ordinary citizens searching for the truth and redress turn to?

Bearing these contemporary realities in mind, it becomes necessary to define the role of a University in these critical times. Situating the University within the contemporary social milieu, it is now easier to take stock of the conditions that shape our University’s soul. Unlike other institutions that are primarily driven by the inertia of capital and power, a university ideally enjoys relative isolation from these imperatives to allow it to fulfill its important role as a social critic and repository of social memory. This historic role has been played by UP time and time again. Generations of UP students and faculty have lived these ideals of speaking the truth against power whether it be versus foreign domination, corruption or tyranny. Many of the activists, nationalists and intellectuals that help chart the destiny of this nation towards more democratic ideals came from the University. In an apt symbolism represented by the Oblation, countless have martyred themselves as they offer their lives for an ideal that the University stands for – the courage to speak the truth when no one dares to and to sacrifice one’s life for such convictions. It is the capacity of the University to witness for the truth that gains for it a soul. Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan are embodiments of this core among university traditions.

The forced disappearance of Karen and Sherlyn, mga Iskolar ng Bayan, amidst a general climate of state terror is a clarion call for those of us within the University to take on this important social role once more to speak the truth against power. At a time when fear, cynicism and confusion are the tactics of an illegitimate State, the example of Karen and Sherlyn to brave the risk of serving the people embolden us. As Ditto Sarmiento wrote in the Collegian during the dark days of martial law three decades ago “Kung hindi tayo kikibo, sino? Kung hindi tayo kikilos ngayon, kailan?”

Tigil-Paslang UP is the response of the concerned constituents of UP to
the spate of killings, abductions, torture, illegal arrests under
Arroyo's Oplan Bantay Laya. Among its convenors are National Artist
Bien Lumbera, Faculty Regent Roland Simbulan, Student Regent Raffy
Sanchez, Former CSWCD Dean Angelito Manalili, Former CSSP Dean Connie
Paz, Dr. Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, Dr. Ramon Guillermo, Dr. Giovanni
Tapang, Dr. Fidel Nemenzo, Prof. Judy Taguiwalo, Prof. Sarah Raymundo,
Prof. Danilo Arao, Buboy Cabrera of the All-UP Worker's Union and others.
The students are also
represented by Paolo Alfonso of the USC, as well as STAND-UP,
NNARA-YOUTH, AGHAM Youth and GABRIELA Youth, among others.



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6:12 AM  

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