Chancellor Nemenzo: No place for 'bigotry, red-tagging' in UP

University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo said that the premier state university is a "safe haven for civilized and intelligent discourse" and has "no place for intolerance, bigotry, and red-tagging."

Nemenzo said this in a statement on Friday, November 20, in response to President Rodrigo Duterte's threat to defund UP for supposedly "recruiting communists." (READ: Academic strike? Duterte threatens to defund UP)

"The threat to defund UP stemmed from a misunderstanding that UP does nothing except to recruit communists. Those who blame UP for breeding communists forget that UP has bred more scientists, artists, doctors, lawyers, diplomats  and civil servants," Nemenzo said.

UP earlier noted that 15 members of the Duterte administration are its alumni, including Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Tourism Secretarty Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones, Science Secretary Fortunato dela Peña, and Higher Education Chairman Prospero de Vera III.

'Inalienable right'

Nemenzo noted that UP education exposes students to  "a wide range of perspectives" and they "learn to think on their own, to think critically, to reason out, and distinguish truth from lies, right from wrong."

"In keeping with its tradition of academic freedom, UP is a safe haven for civilized and intelligent discourse. But it has no place for intolerance, bigotry, and red-tagging. Red-tagging in particular is dangerous, because it focuses on labels over substance and encourages intimidation and violence," he said.

"Academic freedom is essential for the life of the mind and for UP’s dual role as knowledge producer and social critic. We play the role of social critic from a position of evidence-based scholarship and moral courage. This role is  a distinct service to the nation," Nemenzo added.

We play the role of social critic from a position of evidence-based scholarship and moral courage. This role is  a distinct service to the nation.

Nemenzo, who entered UP during the politically repressive Martial Law era, was actively involved in student activism. When he was appointed as the new chancellor of UP Diliman in February, he reiterated his intention to uphold the university's activist tradition. (READ: Pro-student, pro-people: Who is incoming UP Diliman chancellor Fidel Nemenzo?)

The UP chancellor also said, "The choice of faculty and students to express their grievances, criticize the government, and call for policy changes, is their fundamental and inalienable right as Filipino citizens."

He added: "And whatever one thinks of their call to ‘end the semester,’ it should not be construed as abandonment of one’s education, but as a legitimate expression of their commitment to teaching and learning, which has undeniably suffered due to the pandemic and recent spate of typhoons."

On calls for UP to end the semester 'immediately'

Nemenzo also responded to the calls to end the semester in the university, saying that they recognized the "hardship, frustration and fears of our students and faculty" during the pandemic worsened by the onslaught of consecutive typhoons.

"This is why the University has issued a policy on teaching and grading that is guided by compassion and flexibility, while still doing our best to meet the learning needs of our students," he said.

Nemenzo said that they will continue to explore ways to "address recurring and emerging concerns and respond to the different needs and circumstances of our faculty and students."

In a statement on Sunday night, November 15, members of the UP faculty said that recent calamities affected students' access to education due to an "indefinite and debilitating loss of electricity and internet connection, destruction of properties and homes, and loss of loved ones."

The first semester of academic year 2020-2021 in UP started on September 10 using the remote learning system, and will supposedly end on December 9. (READ: Enrolling in UP this semester? Here's what to expect)

'Bastion of critical thinking'

UP alumnus Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla also urged Duterte not to defund the state university.

“I pray that you reconsider the threat of defunding UP. It has 24,000 students many of which will contribute to society, the same way as the leaders we have today,” Remulla said in an open letter to Duterte posted on his Facebook page on Friday, November 20.

“Surely their dissent is loud and noticeable but you have to understand: That is the beauty of the University. It brings together great minds and imbeds in them a burning spirit wanting the country to be their version of a better and most progressive society,” he added. 

Remulla said UP “remains one of the few bastions of critical thinking and liberalism not just in the country, but in the world.”

“That said, the Philippines needs UP. UP also needs the Philippines,” he said.

Remulla, the team manager of the UP Fighting Maroons, said in a post that accompanied the open letter that his parents and all the Remulla siblings are UP graduates. His 3 children are UP students.

“UP taught me to be street smart and to be grounded,” the Cavite governor said. – with a report from Dennis Abrina/

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.