I used to chant this slogan when I was a UP student. It means UP is authentic, a fighter, and a nationalist.
I am usually asked the question: why is UP a bastion of activism? Why are UP students and teachers in the forefront of the struggle that questions governmental policies and activities? Aren’t they supposed to serve the government and be sympathetic to the national leaders since student tuition is being subsidized and professor salaries are paid by the taxes of the Filipino People?
I thought those questions were sincere.
Indeed, UP has spawned many of the social movements that have animated, engulfed, and tortured Philippine society. Jose Ma. Sison started the communist movement and Nur Misuari the Moro Nationalist movement when they were young idealistic professors. The gay movement, environmentalist movement, and even spiritual revivalism also sprung out of the student groups that regularly met at the famed Sunken Garden. UP prides itself on its role in the People’s movement: the Diliman Commune and the First Quarter Storm, its leading role in the EDSA Revolution, and many other politically defining events.
When I entered UP in 1991, fresh from being class valedictorian (ehem!) of the Pilot School of Region 2, the Cagayan National High School, I was enmeshed in UP culture at once. Indeed, as many UP students experienced, it was a “culture shock.” Students do not stand up during class recitations, students do not wear uniforms and they come to school as they are, students can grow their hair or shave their heads in whatever way they pleased. They are told to express themselves.
More importantly, students are encouraged to challenge the assertions of their teachers, students are advised to read beyond the reading lists so they can participate more eloquently in debates, they are told to question authority, to question assumptions, indeed to question everything, even God and their existence. That is quite different from the upbringing of being subservient to authorities, of not rocking the boat, of being passive in community life, of being secure in their spiritual beliefs. This is epitomized by the motto of my college student organization, the Samahan Tungo sa Progresibong Administrasyon: “Do not just float in life, make waves.”
In my freshman year, I became active in many student organizations, from political, religious, academic, varsitarian, and socio-civic organizations, to fraternities and activist organizations. Immediately, I learned how to educate, organize, and mobilize people. I was indoctrinated into such lofty ideals of the rule of law, intellectual integrity, and academic excellence. It is almost instinctive that UP students question the status quo – of why there is a continuing divide between the rich and poor, of how colonialism and imperialism condition the policies of the local elites, of how the media and the ruling class perpetuate false consciousness that keep people mesmerized with the activities of the rich and famous, not knowing that they cannot achieve such glamor given the social inequalities. I helped organize rallies against tuition fee increases, led groups for immersions in squatter and farmer communities, and mobilized fellow students against the repressive contractualization of labor. I was 17 years old at that time, and like many students, I raised so many questions that challenged the basic order of things, questions that were unleashed by UP’s penchant for critical thinking and academic freedom. We were the “sparks of right!”
Thirty years hence, I still ask the same questions. I still rage against inefficiencies, inequities, corruption, and abuses.
My answers to those questions have tamed and mellowed through years. I once advocated for radical change, for the toppling of the status quo with revolutionary fervor, which is of course abetted by my youthful adventurism. Seeing the harsh realities of radical involvement, and having a family of my own, I mellowed down and settled on a “reform” approach, where we find solutions within the system. Right now, I am doing a lot of training to empower our criminal justice actors to become more efficient, effective, and equitable civil servants. When once I was a rah-rah activist, I now serve as an engaged scholar that works within the limitations and framework of the system.
But still, the same critical thinking that prods me to action, the same free spirit that keeps me fighting for the improvement of the country – is an indelible mark of the UP spirit that lives in me.
UP is a safe haven for free thinkers. It is a safe haven to incubate ideas, to create new cultural and political norms, and to kindle the flames of the Filipino spirit. The government and the Filipino people should not fear UP’s authentic (tunay) quest to realize the Filipino enlightenment. The Philippine military should not demonize UP’s fighter (palaban) stance to achieve equality for everyone. The critics should not jeer UP’s nationalist (makabayan) creed to advance the country’s interest against foreign and domestic enemies.
Indeed, every Filipino, young and old, should celebrate UP’s contribution to finding answers to enduring intractable problems – however idealistic, silly, and inconvenient those answers may seem, and however wayward and idiotic some of its graduates may have become.
For when the UP spirit of critical thinking dies, when UP is muffled by the government threat of guns and bullets, when UP professors and students are threatened by throngs of internet warriors who echo anti-democratic ethos, the Philippine society will suffer. When the voice of dissent and the source of light dies, we all suffer in darkness.
UP tunay, palaban, makabayan!
Raymund E. Narag is an Associate Professor in Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Justice and Public Safety, Southern Illinois University Carbondale.