[OPINION] Protests remind us that we can do better

Septrin John Calamba
Mindanaons continue to be at the forefront of demanding reforms in the rehabilitation of Marawi, militarization of Lumad communities, and the stalled Bangsamoro Basic Law. We continue to fight today in the same way our mentors fought for our future before.

No administration is immune from student protests. Every now and then, our news feeds are filled with images of students from Santa Mesa burning chairs to protest tuition hikes, activists from Diliman burning effigies and protesters from the university belt resisting the burial of a dictator in the Heroes Cemetery.

About a week ago, we were reminded once again of the importance of student-led protests. The People Power Revolution, one could argue, is the culmination of decades-long organizing that happened in campuses. And what better way to honor the legacy of EDSA than for today’s youth to mobilize and express dissent against a state that increasingly features authoritarian qualities.

Unwelcoming reactions

But this right does not impress a lot people.

On social media, protesters have been described as “gago”, “bobo”, and “salot sa lipunan”. I have had conversations with friends, students and family members who dismiss them as nuisance.

Protesters from state universities are singled out as “walang utang na loob”. To complain about the state while receiving state subsidy is to be an ingrate. The nation is better served, the argument goes, when students stay out of politics, and instead, stay in the classroom.

I find these arguments problematic.

Freedom is not a birthright

I spent most of my student life in public schools. I spent my elementary and secondary days in Sapad, a rural town in the province of Lanao del Norte. I had the privilege of completing my bachelor’s and master’s degree in sociology at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT). I teach in the same university today.

The main lesson I learned from studying and working in public schools is that the freedom we enjoy today is not a birthright. We enjoy our liberties today because there were protesters who cared enough to secure a future of freedom.

I learned this lesson from one of my mentors in Sociology, Professor LC Sevidal Castro, now the alumni regent of the MSU. In the 1970s, she and her colleagues organized a faculty association at a time when employees faced a lot of pressure from the university administration. I learned from her the significance of collective action for the common good.

I learned the value of community engagement from my master’s thesis supervisor, Professor Maria Cecilia Ferolin. She challenged me not only to study but to engage disaster-affected communities.

In 2016, we organized a youth-led disaster management team in partnership with local government units. Together with MSU-IIT’s sociology students, we collaborated with local residents in creating practical solutions to disaster-related problems. This experience made me realize that professors, students and the vulnerable people all belong to the same community.

Finally, my first teacher in sociology, Professor Nimfa Bracamonte taught me that professional knowledge is meaningless if we don’t use it to fight inequality and injustice. Her radical social practice is inspiring.

She organized Badjaus in Iligan City to earn a living and get security of tenure. I witnessed how she passionately made a case in front of city councilors for Badjaos to have access to literacy and livelihood programs. I observed how she organized and built networks from religious, academic, and business sectors. Her message was simple. People in power should give voice to the powerless.

All my role models taught me that staying inside the classroom betrays our commitment to the nation.

Dissent in the South

These role models matter to me now more than ever. We from Mindanao are often stereotyped as being unrelenting Duterte supporters. Duterte may be popular here, but this does not mean Mindanao has no reason to take part in politics.

Mindanaons continue to be at the forefront of demanding reforms in the rehabilitation of Marawi, militarization of Lumad communities, and the stalled Bangsamoro Basic Law.

We continue to fight today in the same way our mentors fought for our future before. Protests are reminder that we can do better.

As a government employee, I am aware of the benefits I receive from the state. As a sociologist, I am aware that the benefits I receive from the state are outcomes of people’s struggles.

University life is most meaningful not because of theory but because of praxis – the art imagining what’s possible and the will to act to achieve our collective aims. – Rappler.com

Septrin John (Badz) Calamba is sociologist. He is an Assistant Professor at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology and is the coordinator of the Centre for Local Governance Studies. He is the secretary of the Philippine Sociological Society.