THE U.P. AT THE ADVENT OF ITS CENTENNIAL: STRUGGLES, DIRECTIONS AND ROLE AMIDST A NATION IN CRISIS
Roland G. Simbulan
Professor and Faculty Regent
(Keynote address before the U.P. System-wide Student Congress, Makiling Hall, Student Union Building, U.P. Los Banos, September 1, 2006)
I am happy and honored to address the 10th U.P. system-wide Students’ Congress in U.P. Los Banos.
The coming centennial of the University of the Philippines less than two years from now, at a time when the nation is at its worst political and economic crisis, has thrown into sharp relief the imperative to urgently assess the role of the University in Philippine society.
The perennial emphasis of every U.P. administration on lifting the university from its financial difficulties in its strategic plans focus attention on government neglect not only of the university but also on the entire educational system. The deterioration of its physical plant, the low salaries of its faculty and employees, and its lack of adequate laboratory equipment – all these actually constitute an indictment of the current dispensation, emphasizing the low priority it places on education because of its emphasis on debt servicing so that it can again acquire more foreign loans, and on the creation and maintenance of a military machine for popular repression.
Many times in its history, the University has seen efforts to re-orient the University from its traditional commitment to liberal arts education towards technical education to meet the manpower needs of the multinational corporations, and more recently for “economic globalization.”
If anything, UP has contributed to the nation a number of Philippine presidents, justices of the Supreme Court, congressmen, senators or cabinet members who were UP graduates. Also the number of UP graduates in the upper levels of the bureaucracy, both past and present, should suggest only that UP has had – and still has – a crucial role in the formulation and implementation of policies advantageous to foreign, landlord and big business interests detrimental to the interests of the broad majority of the people.
It is now less than two years before U.P. will be celebrating its Centennial or 100 years of existence. Our University officials are feverishly preparing for this momentous occasion.
It was exactly on June 18, 1908, that the passage of Act No. 1870 was promulgated by the Philippine Legislature “by authority of the United States.” This is what is now known as the U.P. Charter – “An Act for the Purpose of Founding a University for the Philippine Islands, Giving it Corporate Existence, Providing for a Board of Regents, Defining the Board’s Responsibilities and Duties, Providing Higher and Professional Instruction, and for other Purposes.”
The smoke had not yet been fully cleared, and after 9 years of colonizing and initiating a bloody pacification campaign that turned Samar island into a “howling wilderness”, the invading force –the United States – installed an American Governor General, who appointed the first members of the U.P. Board of Regents in 1908: Newton W. Gilbert as Chair in his capacity as Secretary of Education, David P. Barrows, Leon Maria F. Guerrero, Enrique Mendiola, Rafael V. Palma, Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera and Jose Rosales. Of the 7-member appointed Board of Regents in 1908, 2 were Americans, and this membership would later on be expanded to 12 members in the present composition of the Board of Regents.
For all its colonial origins, the establishment of the University of the Philippines was a far cry from the obscurantist orientation of the Philippine educational system which had been characterized by its sectarian and religious orientation at the heyday of Spanish colonization. U.P. ’s Charter in 1908 promised to give “ advanced instruction in literature, philosophy, the sciences, and arts, and professional and technical training … to every qualified student, irrespective of age, sex, nationality, religious belief, or political affiliation.”
This new orientation formed the core of the University’s traditional commitment to liberal education, even amidst a new colonial dispensation. But from its very inception, the University was an instrument for the cooptation of the consciousness of the revolutionary intelligentsia, as well as for the creation of a new intellectual class. Filipino freedom fighters like General Artemio Ricarte, Macario Sakay, Ipe Salvador, the Pulajanes and the rest of the so-called “insurgent bandits and outlaws” all over the islands were still actively resisting American colonization when the Philippine Assembly, composed of local coopted Filipino aristocrats and their representatives, established the University of the Philippines on June 18, 1908. Nevertheless, the establishment of a secular, progressive university like U.P. with a liberal admissions policy was a big improvement from the Spanish educational system with its feudal orientation, discriminatory admissions policies and medieval curricula.
U.P. was a major force in the consolidation of American colonial control, ending the dominance of the defective, parochial and obscurantist system of education that Spain had established. It helped shape an educational apparatus that conformed with the new colonizer’s world view and interests. The new educational system had the twin tasks of destroying the old culture and of creating a new one supportive of the new colonial order and steeped in the language, values and ideas of the new colonizer.
Thus, began the contradictory, albeit dual, character of the University. The University helped consolidate colonial rule by contributing to a number of Filipino colonial intelligentsia and a class who became Philippine presidents, justices of the Supreme Court, congressmen, senators and assemblymen who were U.P. graduates for the formulation and implementation of colonial, neo-colonial and pro-landlord and pro-comprador policies detrimental to the interests of the broad majority of the Filipino people. But on the other hand, the University also unleashed the liberating power of knowledge to Filipinos. It helped create conditions for the nurturing of nationalists and progressives who assumed leading roles in the Filipino people’s struggle for national and social liberation. This dual character of the University exists even today as the University’s traditional commitment to liberal education is besieged by the forces of market-driven economic globalization that seek to re-orient the University from this progressive commitment. U.P.’ s dual character has thus produced its hallmark of excellence –in producing the country’s excellent oppressors as well as excellent liberators of the Filipino people.
In recent years, attempts to improve the “global competitiveness” of the University by integrating this goal into its short and medium term plans, have only exposed the fact that the plans of UP are in the contest of the integration of the University within the international capitalist market and attuning of the University’s existence to the demand of private corporate enterprise. “Resource generation”, the privatization on non-revenue raising units such as UFS, the UP Printery, janitorial services, etc. and the commercialization of UP’s assets as well as the proposed tuition fee and miscellaneous fee increases fall within this context.
“Globalization” or the global village as popularized by World Bank technocrats is after all a catch word to entice Third World Countries to open up more widely their economies to the penetration of TNC capital in search of cheap labor and material resources. These are all being implemented within the globalist guidelines of the World Trade Organization(WTO) , which is controlled by the Group of 7 capitalist countries.
The World Bank concept of globalization is sugar-coated with such technologies as the internet which has facilitated the centralization of production and the international movements of capital. It must be remembered however, that the move of Third World Governments towards globalization includes the policy of the privatization of state corporations, which has been made a basic conditionality of the International Monetary Fund(IMF) for its loans to developing countries since the late 1980s. Privatization of government corporations in the eyes of the IMF will contribute to the raising of revenues for its debtor countries to enable them to amortize their loans properly. As is known, the Philippine government has been automatically allocating around 40% of its annual budget to service its foreign debts.
In relation to UP, the Philippine government’s letter of intent to the IMF assures the Fund that internal cash generation, including receipts from privatization, of the 14 major public non-financial corporations, including UP, will be a major concern for the government.
Observe the wording of the Philippine government’s letter of intent to the IMF:
“The internal cash generation of the 14 major non-financial corporations is targeted to be about 1.3 percent per year… This level of cash generation will result from comprehensive structural measures, including a reduction in the size of the public corporate sector, tariff increases, receipts from privatization, and improved cost recovery and collection efficiency. (Memorandum of Economic and Financial Agreement, March 6, 1989, paragraph 12)
The above underlined phrase as translated into the operation of UP spells the commercialization of UP assets and the increase in the tuition fees of UP students through the so-called Socialized Tuition Fee Assistance Programs(STFAP). Added to this is the rationalization program being implemented in the government bureaucracy, including U.P., to reduce the level of rank and file employees by 30%.
The de-emphasis of our administrators on programs in the arts and the social sciences (except for developing a strong program on English for global competitiveness) and emphasis on business and engineering is alarming. This bodes ill for a developing nation like the Philippines. In this era, where the study of the interactions of nations and cultures should be undertaken both on the particular and general levels of analysis, in order to discover aspects of disharmony and exploitation and possible areas of cooperation, a fetish for academic technological programs places the Philippines under the mercy of the global corporations with their advanced technological capacity. Even if we would give priority to the basic sciences, this must be accompanied by a similar emphasis on the arts and social sciences. After all, even the basic sciences are highly specialized studies and are incapable of providing that wholistic outlook for a human being to build a just society. Concepts of justice, democracy, equity, nation, beauty are not forged and refined in the laboratories of the material sciences but in the discourses of the arts and the social sciences. And a people like the Filipinos, who are often at the losing end in the marketplace of the world, very well need the human sciences ( as the Germans call the cultural disciplines, including the social sciences) to assert their role in the making of human civilization.
In the proposed new UP Charter pending in Congress, the University seeks to maintain the centralized management of the UP system in the UP system, preserving the highest policy making powers of the Board of Regents as provided for by the obsolete UP Charter of 1908 , which was crafted by the American colonial regime to serve their ends in controlling the education of the Filipinos. No mention is made of the proposal to revise the UP Charter to democratize student, faculty and administrative personnel participation in the running of the University.
The thrust and philosophy of the current UP Plan is the integration of the University within the global system of capitalism, contributing to its advancement by providing for its human resources. Concomitantly, the University is being geared to work very closely with business by the establishment of technology parks and the participation of private industry in the making of its curricula in technical subjects. UP will thus be more and more attuned to the profit rationale of capitalism, which has opened the grounds for the commercialization of the University through the creeping privatization of its assets.
The face of privatization in the cost of UP education has already begun to emerge with the introduction of STFAP in 1988, and is becoming more conspicuous with the proposal of adding one more bracket to the categorizations of students under this program. The moneyed elites are becoming more dominant in UP as in the case of commercialized exclusive schools in the Philippines . As a result, the quality of UP education will suffer which becomes the fate of all commercialized schools. No amount of rationalizing an increasing tuition fee as a form of socialization can hide its true intent – that is, to generate more revenues for the University. And hovering above all these changes transpiring with the UP system is the dark outline of the arch-capitalist institution, the IMF, which is desperately seeking to preserve what it believes is the capitalist hegemony in the world.
Struggle for Faculty Rights and Welfare
During my campus visitations for consultations with the faculty, I have emphasized that it is essential for the academic union of the U.P. system to root and strengthen itself — side by side with the student movement – at the level of departments, colleges and CUs as the mass base of a strong national center. A strong rank and file membership at the unit level is a prerequisite for the academic union’s formal recognition by the administration. Our university has had a colorful history of faculty activism. U.P. ‘s history cannot be written without such faculty organizations such as the Samahan ng Guro sa Pamantasan(SAGUPA), the Samahan ng Makabayang Siyentipiko (SMS) in the 70s; the UP Faculty Organization, Samahan ng mga Guro sa Ikauunlad ng Pamantasan(SAGIP-UP), Association of Faculty, Research and Extension Employees of U.P. ( A FREE UP), and the United Teachers and Employees of the U.P. System (UNITE-UP) in the 1980s. The UNITE UP which was formed during the Angara administration, is the predecessor of the ALL UP Academic Union and the ALL UP Workers’ Union. There is also a Chapter of the Congress of Teachers for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND) in U.P. Diliman.
A University of De-stabilizers?
This University should consider it a distinct privilege and honor to be branded by the Secretary of Justice as a university that produces de-stabilizers and students who like to have sunburned skins in their whole body. The Oblation is not only the embodiment of academic freedom which is the source of independent knowledge, values, and criticism. It embodies our uncompromising quest for true excellence and the naked truth, and also the moral obligation to defend that truth. Yes, we are proud to produce de-stabilizers, social critics who in their strong commitment to serve the Filipino people, are willing to fight corruption, are willing to fight those who cheat and steal elections and who stand against those who make a mockery of the national sovereignty and dignity of this nation. This is why we are not only the University of the Philippines; we are the University of the Filipino People.
Providing quality education for Philippine society is just a component of our larger objective in the University namely, the transformation of U.P. into an agency for the democratization and transformation of Philippine society, a society which is traditionally elitist. For the role of the university is not limited to producing the human power for the national development programs of Philippine society, whether for government, private sector or NGO sector. It includes the traditional function of the university as a social critic.
What is the learning we acquire for? Is it to putter around the peripheries of basic questions that need resolution? What is needed is a university culture that continuously engages in clarifying reality, dissenting, to make the intellectual life of the scholar both exciting and meaningful. Otherwise, we will only be training hirelings of a department store of future clerks, salesmen, junior executives or aspiring apolitical technocrats.
The Philippine state and its political and economic system have only experienced a state of decay and decomposition: politicians are like vultures feeding on the carcass of a moribund Philippine society. But among the outstanding features of Philippine political life over the last two decades in the 1980s and 1990s has been the development of strong community and sectoral organizations put up by real development workers and their supporters from U.P. and other schools and universities. Some of you have probably lived, laughed with them, ate with them. Whether organized as components of broader political movements or as independent initiatives aimed at promoting self-reliance and self-sufficiency, these organizations have, over the years, significantly advanced the cause of popular empowerment. They play a crucial role in advancing Philippine grassroots politics now and in the future development of this country. They facilitate the articulation of grassroots demands, and help crystallize popular visions. That is why they are the targets today of state-sponsored violence, a phenomena of which we should not be surprised since this is a historical response of a moribund state and sick social order of the Philippine oligarchy to a surging and effective popular movement of the masses.
The democratizing potential of our non-government and people’s organizations all the more become significant because of the historical weaknesses of the traditional elite party system in the Philippines, which is moribund, corrupt and decaying no matter how they deodorize it with such proposals as a parliamentary form of government. Many times, I have suggested the closer links of U.P. in partnership with dedicated community organizers who continue to play a key role in the expansion and consolidation of people’s organizations nationwide. This brings us closer to the vision of U.P. as a real University of the People. If the people and their organizations have not taken the historical initiative, then it is the task of the people’s scholars in our University to help them discover the roots of inertia and find ways and means of overcoming them. Hence, the value of studies on the power structures of the elites that paralyze the masses and the search for new structures that will allow self-activity from below.
Solidarity with the Filipino People
In these times of national turmoil and crisis, it is imperative for the University’s faculty, REPS, admin staff and students to collectively join hands in resisting repression and state violence in the larger classroom of Philippine society. The creeping repression in our midst threatens academic freedom and free speech in the University. The two UP students on fieldwork in Bulacan, Ms. Karen Empeno and Ms. Sherlyn Cadapan who were abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan by military operatives are still missing. In connection with this abduction, the student regent and I have written President Roman about facilitating the immediate convening of the Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) which was created in the 1992 Memorandum of Agreement between the U.P. System and the DILG-PNP/Department of National Defense regarding arrests of faculty, employees and students of U.P.. Both the Faculty and Student Regents are members of the JMG.
If we were not vigilant last February 2006 after the declaration of a state of national emergency, the Arroyo administration would have eventually declared Martial Law and even established a dictatorship. I am proud of the U.P. College of Law faculty and the U.P. Diliman University Council in denouncing Proclamation 1017 and offering the U.P. Diliman campus as a sanctuary to all victims of political repression.
And when I recently attended the Subic Rape Trial in the Makati Regional Trial Court, I saw the commitment of our UP College of Medicine-PGH Faculty like Dr. June Pagaduan Lopez who is daily assisting the rape victim in this high-profile case that will test the provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement(VFA). I was so proud to ba a U.P. Faculty member.
As faculty regent, I also became Convenor of the People’s March (Anti-ChaCHa campaign), Convenor of the Tigil Paslang, and Convenor of the Free KA BEL Campaign. The Office of the Faculty Regent also issued public statements on the extra-judicial killings of advocates, Proclamation 1017, and the proposed tuition fee increases.
Let us forge unity within our ranks, let us strengthen our links with other sectors of the University; and let us forge the University’s solidarity with the struggles of the Filipino people.
The basic character of U.P. as instituted by the American colonizers in 1908 still prevails today. U.P. is still a potent instrument for the perpetuation of the power of the Philippine ruling oligarchy and class, an effective center for the dissemination of the ideology of this dominant class, and a prolific supplier of high level manpower and basic research findings for its ideologies. But U.P.’s history has never been static. Each stage in its history, has been a struggle between the forces of reaction and the forces of progress. The struggle is fundamentally between the dominant efforts to maintain the U.P. as an effective apparatus of the dominant ruling class, and the determination of the progressive forces to develop a U.P. in the service of the masses of people. It is inspiring to note that in the 98 years of the university’s existence, our faculty and students have always constituted a source of alternative progressive thought, whether on issues like state repression, martial rule, commercialization, the U.P. Charter, tuition fee increases, etc.
In a society in turmoil, progressive forces in the University have been gaining ground. A great number of U.P. Faculty, alumni and students have immersed themselves in the service of the Filipino people in their various fields of expertise or for the liberation of the Filipino people. Let us use U.P.’s progressive education so that we can contribute to the final liberation of this country from the decadent forces that dominate it.
I would like to wish your 3-day system-wide students’ congress success by borrowing a phrase from one of my favorite movies, STARWARS: “MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!”
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in Oct 19th 2006