University of the Philippines

[OPINION] The contradiction that is UP

Edward Joseph Maguindayao
[OPINION] The contradiction that is UP
'UP is not the messiah that will save the nation. UP is not a perfect institution...'

In a meeting of Deans and Directors on October 17, 1972, then-University of the Philippines (UP) President Salvador P. Lopez relayed the highlights of meetings with former President Ferdinand Marcos on the fate of UP after the declaration of Martial Law. President SP Lopez had reminded President Marcos that “no university would be able to operate as a university if it does not enjoy a measure of academic freedom.” Fast forward almost half a century later, and President Duterte, in one of his televised conversations with Cabinet officials, threatened to defund UP.

Public opinion on UP varies from one moment to another. Whenever there are rallies or demonstrations, UP is put in a bad light for “always complaining” regardless of who is in power. However, whenever there is a breakthrough, such as a UP graduate topping licensure examinations, or UP going up the world rankings, UP is cheered on loudly by the general public.

Being the national university, UP is mandated “[to] perform its unique and distinctive leadership in higher education and development.” This clarion call resonates not as a bragging right, but as encouragement to lead the charge in setting academic standards in various fields of knowledge through instruction and research. This is the reason why much is expected from UP, be it a major contribution to the body of knowledge, or projects of national significance. Much is expected of every individual student.

This stereotyping of the UP community, however, does not stop at lame jokes, but can go as far as red-tagging. In a strong statement, UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo said that “the threat to defund UP stemmed from a misunderstanding that UP does nothing except to recruit communists.” The “misunderstanding” is more often deliberate, and not a product of scrutiny and informed opinion. Oftentimes, those who discredit and attack UP are merely parroting what many others have said. Now that misinformation and disinformation have been ubiquitous tools used by some supporters of the administration, it is not surprising that criticisms of UP and its constituents have been taken a step higher.

What critics forget is how their hasty generalization is just one of many. Time and again, it has been said how UP is a microcosm of the Philippines: it has a distinct, self-glorifying culture; it caters both to healthy and toxic clashes of ideas; it embraces everyone regardless of gender, race, and religion but has bigots, sexists, racists, xenophobes, and misogynists; it has its share of intellectuals, public servants, scientists, writers, and thinkers but also has despots, criminals, traditional politicians, and dictators; it becomes united when most needed but is always ready to check on itself whenever lines are crossed; it is committed to humbly serving the people but also has a predisposition to arrogance and pride.

But if the President expects UP to be a rubber stamp of his policies, then he is terribly mistaken. The UP community will not take any policy sitting down without intense scrutiny and with one thing in mind: the Filipino people that both UP and the government (that is, regardless of the administration) have pledged to serve selflessly. The UP community will not take the abuse of power and the wanton disregard of the law lightly. The UP community will not take for granted mediocre government policies and projects funded by taxpayers’ money. The UP community will not tolerate attacks on its long-held tradition of academic freedom.

The long history of UP’s activism is not rooted in just being recklessly negative. Rather, it stems from the desire for every Filipino to be free from the bonds that oppress them – poverty, inequality, corruption.

Sure, UP does not have the monopoly of the best and brightest. UP is not the messiah that will save the nation. UP is not a perfect institution, with students and the administration often clashing due to differences in opinions. UP is not always a haven, and there will be times when one may wonder why they even entered the university in the first place.

But since its humble beginnings in Padre Faura, UP has survived world wars, the Marcos regime, and all other crises that have plagued the nation. UP and its collective will, empowered by a community willing to put the nation above self, will remain and will stand firm, speak truth to power, defend what is just, and fight for what is equitable – no matter who sits in the halls of power. –

Edward Joseph H. Maguindayao is a graduate student at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He finished his undergraduate studies at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. His views do not necessarily reflect those of UP’s.