freedom of expression

[OPINION] This is not about UP

Vec Alporha
[OPINION] This is not about UP

Illustration by Guia Abogado

'[H]arping on UP stuff to counter the abrogation makes the tone of the discourse exclusivist and elitist'

In the past week, both my Twitter and Facebook feeds have been filled with memes about the abrogation of the UP-DND accord. From “UP Fight!” profile picture frames, to witty posts about things that you are more likely to find in UP than an NPA recruiter, to searing remarks about how AFP personnel should first pass the UPCAT before they are allowed entry to our campuses, the display of campus pride seemed endless, as if the issue was all a UAAP heckling hullaballoo. And to be honest, it was exhausting. 

Indeed, the brazen act of DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to unilaterally terminate the accord that has been in place to protect UP activists came as a shock, despite the fact that this falls well within the trend of this administration’s offenses against activists and critics of the government for at least the past two years. Since UP students and faculty have had a long history of falling victim to state repression, during and after the Marcos years, the accord was put in place in 1989 to serve as a layer of protection by having police and military first seek the permission of the UP administration before entering university premises, among others.

Indeed, the accord was specifically enacted for UP, but it sets a message and a precedent that goes beyond our campuses — it represents how safe spaces can be institutionalized. Hence, the abrogation was more than an attack on UP. It was an attack against spaces of criticism and dissent that is integral to any democracy. If the DND can penetrate spaces that are protected by law, what can it do in spaces that aren’t?

But if the abrogation is a democratic problem, rather than a UP problem, then why are we framing it as if it was an attack exclusive to UP? Perhaps, it is really not the intention of my cohorts in the different campuses all over the country to package the issue as an attack on our maroon identity (an identity we take so much pride in). But harping on UP stuff to counter the abrogation makes the tone of the discourse exclusivist and elitist.

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By centering the discourse on our pride and nostalgia, we create an echo chamber of criticism against a legitimate and dangerous attack to dissent and democracy. This echo chamber fails to encourage a more inclusive discussion on how the abrogation of the accord makes UP’s critical mass vulnerable to repression and human rights violations, or how the creation of the communist boogey man among the youth is a great problem both for our legitimate rights to protest and assembly, and for the way that our armed forces deal with national security. 

Social media algorithms are made to create echo chambers that tap into our cognitive biases. It consequently prevents us from seeing things that fall outside our respective circles. This may be the reason why my social media feeds are filled with posts from UP students, faculty, and alumni when the issue erupted. I have studied and taught in 3 UP campuses and made friends and comrades from other campuses, so you can imagine how my feed bled maroon.

But what you see is not what my high school classmates who went to a different school see. Surely, your OFW relatives are more concerned about pregnancy rumors than about how AFP soldiers went inside the Diliman campus in full gear to promote urban gardening. If we insist on keeping the conversation internal to us, if we keep on telling stories that are only relatable to us, then how are we going to reach those who are unconcerned? How are we going to convince them that this issue threatens them, too? How do we make our conversations less polarizing? How do we truly make UP a safe space if we demand everyone to pass the UPCAT first before entering our campuses?

If we truly feel that UP is the bastion of democracy or academic freedom, then we should start bringing the conversation elsewhere. We should be enraged as much as we are when the enemies are at our door as when they are at our neighbors’. –

Vec Alporha teaches History at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She acquired her MA in History from UP Diliman and her BA in Social Science (History-Political Science) from UP Baguio. She is also a host of PODKAS: Conversations on Philippine History, Politics, & Society. 

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