Monday, April 11, 2011

The Commencement Exercises in U.P.

By Krista Melgarejo

Chairperson, UP Mindanao University Student Council 2010-2011

In his article entitled “Parents and Activists”, Constantino used the term commencement instead of graduation, to refer to the moment when one has finished schooling. By definition, the term commencement is synonymous to beginning or start. In this context, we can say that when one finishes his/her formal schooling, he/she must now enter the world that he/she has prepared for four or so years. This is the period of transition wherein he/she now leaves the comforts of the academe in order to face head-on the social realities of his country.

For the past few days, rumors have been spreading like wild fire about an exchange of opinions between two parties regarding a petition urging the University Student Council and other concerned groups not to hold a graduation protest. I’ve already heard rumors about this petition about a month ago, but I was only able to confirm it last week when I finally received the petition.

The USC councilor referred to the blog obviously stated that it was her personal opinion and she was willing to talk to the concerned parties personally because she believed that this internal problem can be solved. But what I still do not get is why people keep demanding answers from the council without even attempting to send us a letter for the dialogue. Please, do let us know if you want to talk. The office of the USC is always open.

First, let us talk about the essence of a protest action or what we’d like to call as the “rally”. What is a rally? A rally, or what I would rather call as a mass action, is the highest form of parliamentary struggle. This is the venue wherein people like you and me and other oppressed sectors champion our rights and welfare. It is in this form that we have reinstated important student institutions and protected our basic rights from the bourgeois class, who continue to dominate the economic and political scene.

Second, what is the function of the “rally”? Basically, the rally is always a political activity, a venue to convince people to join the cause we’re fighting for. Activists don’t just do that because they were automatically programmed to do it. Constantino says, the youth (or activists, for that matter) are materialists, rather than idealists for the reason that the movement was out of a material basis. It is in the current social conditions that have driven the social movement onward and progressing throughout the years.

Third, rallies are far different from riots. Rallies have a specific objective (ie. Highlight a specific campaign or call) while riots are mere activities in order to create chaos. Rallies are forms of expression, a right that is provided in our 1987 Philippine Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights while riots do not. Thus, relatively, rallies are peaceful compared to riots.

Fourth, mass actions, like what has been stated before, are political activities. But such activities can take on various forms, and be used in different ways. Mass actions have not only been a venue in order to campaign against anti-people policies or anti-people personalities, but they have also been used to let people heed the call of a certain cause, like serving the people. Again, the office of the USC is always open. We are ready to clarify this issue with the parties concerned.

The commencement exercises in the University of the Philippines have been a tradition, usually with the call upon the graduates to serve the people. No, it is not upon the activists’ objective to ruin the graduation rites. Rather, such form of mass action takes the meaning of the term “commencement” to a higher level of analysis. A call upon the graduates to become a hero of the masses, to be somebody who’s willing to change the society, to be somebody who’s willing to take the masses’ cause to a higher level. As Antonio Tagamolila puts it, the youth can use their intellect to serve the masses or let it be used by the ruling classes. What path do we choose? It’s either change or go with the status quo.

Hypothetically speaking, if such were to happen again in UP Mindanao, I am in no place whatsoever to trample the right of any Filipino citizen to freedom of expression. That’s why I cannot promise you to stop anyone from doing so. You’re addressing the wrong body. Remember, my mandate as the USC Chairperson goes beyond that of the studentry, we also have our obligations to the Filipino society. I may be the student representative, but there are, what we call limitations. Think of it like this, when a student is found guilty for cheating in an exam beyond reasonable doubt, should the student representative still defend that student?

What about my right to a peaceful graduation? Don’t I deserve that? Now I pose these questions: Doesn’t the farmer deserve his right to claim the land he tills? Doesn’t the worker have the right to call for a higher wage? Doesn’t the youth have the right to free education? I’m not saying that just because their rights have continually been violated means that I have the right to ruin your graduation. The tradition of the graduation protest in UP has become a means to challenge the graduating class to defend the rights and forward the struggle of the society who have supported your schooling in the university. As former chief justice and now UP Board of Regents member Reynato Puno said during the commencement exercises in UP Manila last 2008, "To be from UP is to accept a sacred trust of leadership and service to the people." It’s not a mere return of investment to them. Rather, being part of this society, it’s your moral obligation to do so.

As Marx puts it, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” If serving the people was what the social conditions called for during the 1970’s, such call is all the more relevant today. As more and more members of our society continue to suffer the harshness of poverty and injustice, shall we continue to ignore their call?,


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