Thursday, July 24, 2008

UP will forge through risk-filled neoliberal terrain; so will militant

UP will forge through risk-filled neoliberal terrain; so will militant
activism persist

by Satur C. Ocampo

An Outsider's View of the University of the Philippines delivered as part of
the UP Centennial Lecture Series on July 10, 2008 at the NISMED, UP Diliman

Before we begin, may I invite everyone to stand up for three minutes of
silence in honor of the former students of the University of the Philippines
who gave up their lives in the continuing struggle for national liberation,
economic emancipation, social justice, equitable development and genuine and
lasting peace for the Filipino people.

Thank you. I also thank you for inviting me, through President
Emerlinda R. Roman, to be one of the speakers in this Centennial Lecture
Series. I hope that my sincere and humble efforts to cope with your
expectations will be met with relative satisfaction. If not, I'll ask for
another chance, but please not in the next Centennial.

Your first speaker representing an "Outsider's View," the businessman
and civic leader Ramon R. del Rosario Jr., banteringly attested to his being
"truly an outsider" as a "true-and-through Green Archer" whose encounters
with UP to this day have been to root for the De La Salle team against the
UP Maroons during UAAP basketball games. Then he delighted you with his
proud declaration that his two daughters graduated from UP with academic

I am an "outsider" not in the sense that Mr. del Rosario is, he having
freely chosen not to study in UP but acquiring his education here and abroad
in his field of choice. On my part, I dreamed of studying in UP as early as
my high school days in the early 1950s in my hometown of Sta. Rita,
Pampanga. For reasons I'll explain, I never got to do so. My college
education was rough-edged, and I never got a college diploma. I am proud to
say, however, that the alumni association of the Polytechnic University of
the Philippines (formerly the PCC or Philippine College of Commerce) chose
to consider me an outstanding PCC alumnus in 1999 for pursuing my political

My boyhood dream of studying in UP began when my father's cousin
happened to bring a copy of The Philippinensian to our home. I leafed avidly
through its pages. Gazing at the photographs of student leaders at that
time, I thought I could also be like them in UP. I soon realized that it was
an impossible dream. Still, some years later, enrolled at the Lyceum of the
Philippines, the influence of UP intellectuals there -- notably Sotero H.
Laurel, who was the president of the Lyceum, and Dean Jose A. Lansang of the
school of journalism -- reinforced my nationalist orientation and honed my
analytical skills. Yes, you could have that experience outside of UP – just
as today our young people continue to be taught by UP products in many of
our institutions of learning, at least those UP graduates who have chosen to
commit themselves to this country (and they are many).

The youthful hope of being able to enter UP fired me up to study hard
even as I continued to help my parents and siblings with the work on the
farm. Thus, finishing high school as class salutatorian was a cruel blow,
because being valedictorian would have entitled me to a UP scholarship. That
was one of my earliest frustrations in life and I remember it with pain to
this day. But then again, my parents would not have been able to afford the
other expenses entailed by having a son in UP, even on a scholarship. (Let
us note that more than half a century later since then, the new UP Charter
now explicitly mandates the University to take affirmative action to enhance
the access of disadvantaged students to its programs and services.)

There are thousands upon thousands of poor boys and girls for whom the doors
of the state university failed to open in the last 100 years. Former Chief
Justice Artemio V. Panganiban was one of them in the early 1950s, who
although he had been granted a UP scholarship had to enroll instead at the
Far Eastern University. As the head of the FEU student council, he recently
reminisced, he "specially prized" the friendship of fellow student leaders
from UP because they were trained to think and behave independently and
upheld student rights at the risk of their own studies and careers. In my
own encounters with UP student leaders at the time, I held most of them in
high regard for their intellectual keenness and boldness in taking the
initiative. I also encountered some who annoyed others by their
intellectual arrogance and hubris, and yes, frivolousness.

My first experience of student life in Manila was at PCC – the
quintessential college for the poor, with its overcrowded classrooms in
cramped wooden buildings. It was at various student conferences, held
annually, that the budding politicians and fledgling writers among us met
each other. At a YMCA conference held in Baguio, I was put in charge of the
daily newsletter, one issue of which came out with two steamy poems by UP's
Sonny San Juan (now a staid but unrepentant academic in America). This
earned me an upbraiding by the conference adviser, a well-known guardian of
conservative politics.

At another conference, I met other UP students among them the writer
Pete Daroy, who invited me to a colloquium in Diliman which I was too
intimidated to attend. Then Jose Ma. Sison invited me to join several small
group discussions with members of the Student Cultural Association of the
University of the Philippines (SCAUP). Being unfamiliar with the UP Diliman
campus, I would meet somewhere else with the poet Jun Tera and he would lead
me to Little Quiapo and other nooks. In the group were Luis V. Teodoro,
Vivencio Jose, Ferdinand Tinio and Reynato S. Puno, now Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court, who was the group's authority on issues surrounding the
RP-US military bases agreement. From those SCAUP discussions emerged the
publication of the Progressive Review, a radical quarterly, and subsequently
the Kabataang Makabayan which was organized in 1964.

So much for the musings of a frustrated UP alumnus. Allow me now to
begin my main discussion by paying the highest tribute to those who gave
their best efforts and sacrificed their lives – most of them in the prime of
their youth – to the revolutionary cause. While many of these heroes had
studied in UP there were others, more numerous in fact, from other schools
and from all walks of life, who contributed to the national-democratic
revolutionary movement since the mid-1960s and early 1970s.

Similarly, let me salute the thousands of activists today, the older
and the young, from UP and elsewhere who, with commitment, enthusiasm and
hope, carry on the revolutionary struggle shoulder to shoulder with the
masses -- through its multifarious ramifications, means and methods and up
to its highest form.

Regardless of how some people, or perhaps a good number of people, may
view its continuing relevance to our national life, or its prospects of
succeeding in its avowed goals, the national-democratic revolutionary
movement is undeniably alive. It is persevering to advance and to win. In
the process of waging life-and-death struggle against the forces seeking to
destroy it, the movement is endeavoring to establish a genuine state of the
people from its basic units in the countryside communities. It has had its
ups and down, its ebbs and flows. It has suffered setbacks from serious
errors committed at various levels of its leadership, the most serious of
which took place in the 1980s. A painful campaign was launched to rectify
the errors, which has been largely successful, although some manifestations
do appear now and then indicating that lessons from the past have yet to be
completely comprehended and assiduously applied.

There are those who believe that armed struggle has become passé in this
day and age. They include some who used to be involved in it and who still
yearn for revolutionary change in our society but have opted to contribute
towards that end only through peaceful and legal means. Certainly that is a
positive, worthy undertaking. Having been part of the legal democratic mass
movement all these years, I have found rich meaning in my own work in the
parliamentary arena despite its numerous pitfalls and limitations. But let
us listen to the insight of Angel Baking, editor of the Philippine Collegian
in 1940-41, twice jailed for political offenses. In a university convocation
at the Abelardo Hall on January 23, 1970, shortly after being released from
prison the first time, the grizzled revolutionary said:

"Not all those who desire revolutionary change in the existing order
subscribe to armed struggle, and the majority perhaps to this day, believe
they are contributing their share to the over-all revolutionary struggle
through peaceful and legal means. But this does not negate the reality of
the armed struggle going on in our midst, and whatever settlements might be
arrived as resolutions to the basic conflicts in our society can no longer
be said to have been resolved independent of this armed struggle. This is an
important aspect of our concrete historical situation which renders
theoretical discussion of means academic."

Sometimes, indeed, it has been necessary to set aside the consideration
and discussion of theoretical or academic issues due to the urgency of
continually defending one's life and fundamental rights against vicious,
murderous attacks. But through it all the movement lives on. As the
Macapagal-Arroyo regime itself acknowledges, it remains the most formidable
and most consistent challenge to the sense of security and the survival not
only of the current government but of the entire ruling system that
continues to rot and decay.

What was UP's role in the beginning of this movement – or rather, its
self-renewal in the 1960s and 1970s, for the present revolutionary struggle
stretches back to the 1930s -- and how can it continue to be a relevant part
of this great collective effort towards radical transformation? I need not
go through many details of how the national-democratic mass movement spread
nationwide after the formation of the Kabataang Makabayan in 1964, with key
founding leaders mostly coming from UP, and the consequent flowering of
national-democratic oriented youth and student organizations in secondary
and tertiary level schools and in communities of the urban poor across the
country on the heels of the First Quarter Storm of 1970.

While the resurgent revolutionary movement will always be associated
with the student activists, it is important to remember that even earlier,
UP was already a seedbed of new ideas, where nationalists and freethinkers
like Teodoro Agoncillo, Cesar Adib Majul, Ricardo Pascual, Leopoldo Yabes,
Renato Constantino and others did research, published their books, engaged
in intellectual combat, and took promising young people under their wings.
Books written byAgoncillo, notably "The Revolt of the Masses", and
Constantino's "Dissent and Counter-consciousness" and "A Past Revisited"
were among the staple readings of the activists. Academic freedom, so
strenuously defended, ensured that acrimonious debates nevertheless produced
good fruit on all sides. Even we who did not enjoy the luxury of these
sharp discussions vicariously benefited from it.

Student activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s thrived on any and
all issues: foreign monopoly of the oil industry and oil price hikes, the US
war of aggression against Vietnam, the presence of US military bases, graft
and corruption, foreign domination of the economy, police brutality and
fascism, even beauty pageants. In 1971 UP experienced its own Diliman
Commune – spurred by the students' support of jeepney drivers striking
against the increased cost of fuel and police intrusion into the campus --
when for nine days the campus was barricaded with classroom tables and
chairs and activists operated DZUP round the clock. Students dropped out of
school to go fulltime into mass organizing, supporting labor strikes and
other revolutionary work. The movement very soon spread to other schools,
then to the provinces.

And when Ferdinand Marcos attempted to solve the political crisis by
imposing martial law in 1972, UP students and faculty alike were put to the
test. Would they resist, putting theory into practice, or would they search
their books anew to justify compliance if not subservience? Historic
choices were made, the nation moved forward, while some were left behind.

Armed only with their theories and a few unreliable weapons to defend
themselves, the students who fanned out to the countryside found that they
would be learning their own lessons from the peasant masses, much more than
they would be teaching. At the same time, the sincerity and dedication of
these youth, almost all in their teens, inspired the people, who then found
their own ways of supporting and undertaking the struggle for change, and
making it their own.

It has become commonplace to point out that the issues that spurred
student unrest and militant protests forty years ago are still burning
issues today, but they have become part of the landscape, so to speak. We
remember how three-centavo increases in the price of diesel would spark
strikes in protest; today gasoline is still rising from sixty pesos per
liter but many now simply resign themselves to walking or taking the train.
The US war of aggression billed as a "war on terror", domination of the
Philippine economy, its renewed military presence since 2002 – it's the
same, and yet not quite the same. If in the past hackles were raised by the
"Americanization" of UP, today it's about "commercialization of education"
and "privatization" of the University that critics within and outside UP say
are some disturbing aspects of the new UP charter.

Under RA 9500, aside from its usual academic, research and service
duties, the UP as the National University will have an enhanced
fund-generating corporate structure, orientation and operation. It is also
mandated to "regularly study the state of the nation in relation to its
quest for national development in the primary areas of politics and
economics, among others", identify key concerns and formulate responsive
policies on these and give advice and recommendations to Congress and the
President of the Philippines. Is this not the responsibility of the National
Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), to which many UP economic
professors have been seconded or named to head it over the years? Can the
UP give advice and recommendations that would be counter to established
policies or programs of the government?

What to do with this charter now will be a big challenge to the UP
community. How will it maintain the highest possible level of academic
excellence and academic freedom, and without impairing these roles ensure
the financial viability of the corporate entity that it will now become? I
share the apprehension of many of you that the reorientation and expanded
roles of the UP will surely align it to serve the requirements of global
capital via neo-liberalism or globalization with its three prescriptions:
liberalization, privatization and deregulation. The destructive impact of
unbridled globalization over the last 18 years in every part of the world
has been widely acknowledged: first among the poorest countries, such as
those in Africa, then among the less-developed countries including the
Philippines, and now in the heartland of capitalism itself, the United
States. What then is the sense in proceeding along this perilous path?

The UP is thus forewarned of the risks it faces as it sets out to forge
its path through the neo-liberal terrain. For now the adherents of
neo-liberalism are dominant both in the Macapagal-Arroyo government and
within UP itself, and they are much more optimistic than me. Still we all
know that the road will not be easy to traverse. The militant activism that
underwent the ups and downs of ideological and organizational struggles in
the last decade, even as it was able to mobilize a significant part of the
UP community to oppose tuition fee increases and commercialization of
education, can build up strong opposition. The debates, the struggles over
policies and programs will play out in the UP, as they have in the long
tradition of the University, with the "iskolar ng bayan" and their
supporters in the UP community vigorously asserting their right to have a
bigger say in how the university will be run.

Undoubtedly, all these issues provide a legitimate basis for militant
activism to persist and spread throughout society and specially within the
campuses of colleges and universities, including the UP. On the other hand,
the University can maintain its social relevance only by continuously taking
part in the dynamics of the larger society. It must do this not only through
the militant participation of the UP community in political questions of the
moment, but also through the concerns that guide its teaching and research
activities – among the most important of which, today, are the delineation
and affirmation of our Filipino identity in the midst of globalization, and
speeding up the broad democratization process.

In this regard, there have been criticisms that the present-day
national-democratic activists tend to sound outdated in their political
sloganeering. One such criticism from the UP, way back in 1993, referred to
the activists as "a dwindling breed who isolate themselves by ranting
obsolete slogans and re-enacting the First Quarter Storm." The old slogans
of the 1970s, for instance "Imperyalismo, Ibagsak!", may grate on the ears
of many people, but this cannot negate the continuing validity of the
slogan's message. Even if US imperialism now sports a new name, its
essential exploitative character has not changed – in the era of neo-liberal
globalization this has only worsened. It is true, however, that more
creativity on the part of the new generation of activists would be highly
appreciated. I have personally witnessed the emergence of new cultural forms
or themes of protest in street marches, rallies and cultural presentations
all over the country. It seems to me that the cultural activists are now
becoming more adept at comprehending the social and economic conditions and
the struggles of the people and are expressing these in various ways that
appeal to a broad audience.

Another criticism raised against present-day activists is actually an
old, recurring complaint -- that they tend to be arrogant and
self-righteous, a weakness that turns off many people (especially from UP!)
who would otherwise be more open to the movement's analyses and proposals.
Already in 1970, Angel Baking pointed this out in his lecture at Abelardo
Hall, and he suggested that "the recognition that the masses are really the
most powerful controlling elements in a revolution, the most stable base and
the profoundest source of revolutionary wisdom" should be an effective
antidote to such self-importance. "All too often," Baking observed,
"intellectuals without firm links with and faith in the masses tend to go
astray, unable to maintain the clarity of their vision and the steadfastness
of their affiliations."

Apparently, Baking was aware that the "diverse distractions and
preoccupations of students" and the periods of lull in their activities
might make it difficult for them to maintain their revolutionary ardor and
momentum. "To solve this difficulty," he counselled, "it would be necessary
to relate in a sustained manner the activities of students to the problems
and struggles of the masses especially of the organized and revolutionary
masses. This would dissolve the psychological barrier which makes student
activists think there is no value in their work if it is not dramatic enough
to attract wide attention." In effect, Baking was saying, and I concur,
that a sustained relation between the activism of the youth and students and
the work of the revolutionary masses would make the former more relevant and
enhance the latter.

In that same speech Baking paid rhapsodic tribute to the masses of the
people that he pledged to serve even as he endured bitter disappointments
and crushing failures. "In the most difficult of times," he said, "it is
the revolutionary masses that never lose sight of the revolutionary goals
and keep intact the hard core of unity and organization. It is their ardor
which keeps aflame the fires of revolution even when everything seems lost.
The reassuring warm hand one feels on the shoulders during darkest moments
of temporary defeat is often the hand of a peasant worker. This is a tested
lesson derived from revolutionary experience...." It was this lesson that
he wanted to get off his chest, as soon as he could, to the young people who
were eagerly listening to his every word.

As I come to the end of this talk I think of Ka Angel Baking, UP
engineer, intellectually gifted, who gave up a promising career in the
foreign service to serve the Filipino people through revolutionary struggle,
enduring imprisonment for almost two decades, and lending his brilliant mind
and experienced hand in the movement's self-renewal. If during his time they
were but a handful to take the difficult path of revolution, the two
succeeding generations have produced a bountiful harvest of capable,
intensely motivated patriots who have taken up the challenge to carry on.
I am now nearly the same age as Ka Angel was in the early 1990s when I used
to visit him and ask for his advice. I am proud to have marched along the
same road with him, and I can say to him now with confidence, "Tumula ka,
Abe. Be glad, comrade, because the youth will not fail us."

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