Mar 222013

The University of the Philippines Amidst a Nation in Crisis: Its History, Role and Directions



A. The Colonial Beginnings of the University


The contradiction between its progressive and reactionary aspects was created by the very conditions in which the University was established. The American colonial government realized from the very beginning of its rule that it required not only a corps of civil servants to man the new bureaucracy, but also an entirely new generation of men and women who could run the enterprises that the integration of the Philippine economy into the world capitalist system would make both possible and necessary. The educational system that was a legacy of Spain was singularly incapable of doing either, and the culture that it helped create, with its extreme emphasis on the privileges of race, its rigid heirarchism and discrimination against women, were counter-productive to those purposes. The new regime had to create a new culture, and this was an undertaking that could be realized only through a public school system steeped in the language, values and ideas – in the very culture – of the new colonizer.


The new educational system, and most specially the University which formed its apex, therefore had the twin tasks of destroying the old culture and of creating a new one supportive of the new colonial order.


From its inception, the University was an instrument for the cooptation of the consciousness of the revolutionary intelligentia as well as for the creation of new intellectual class. Ricarte, Sakay, Ipe Salvador, the Pulajanes, and the rest of the ‘bandits and outlaws’ all over the islands were still resisting American ‘pacification’ when the Philippine legislature, composed of local aristocrats and their representatives, established the University of the Philippines on 18 June 1908. Its mission was ‘to provide advanced instruction in literature, philosophy, the sciences and arts, and to give professional and technical training’.


A more or less national system of education developed in the Philippines only during the years of the Spanish conquest. However, the Spaniards, through the Jesuits, had opened the Colegio de San Ignacio in Manila as early as 1585. The Colegio del San Ildefonso and the Colegio de San Jose were founded in Manila in 1601. In 1611, the Dominican order founded the College of Our Lady of the Rosary, whose name was later changed to Colegio de Santo Tomas, and which served as the basis for the founding of the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas in 1645, which up to the end of Spanish sovereignty, was the central educational apparatus of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines.


It was apparent that U.P. was established as an alternative to the Catholic-dominated University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo de Manila and other religious-oriented institutions. U.P. was, in the first place, a secular institution with a liberal admissions policy. The U.P. was in this sense a progressive cultural force vis-à-vis the Spanish educational institutions with their feudal orientation, discriminatory admission policies and medieval curricula.


The U.P. thus served to undermine the enclaves of Spanish colonial and feudal culture in the country. The subversion of this culture, however, was clearly in support of the efforts to integrate the Philippines fully into the global capitalist system.


The 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 Spain had established.


The educational apparatus had to conform with the new colonizer’s world view and interests. As the Philippines passed from one colonial master to another, the educational system likewise changed and acquired a new orientation.


Protestant missionaries proliferated in the University and the archipelago in accordance with President William McKinley’s mission to ‘civilize and Christianize’ the Filipinos. The first U.P. President, Dr. Murray Barlett (1911-1915), was a Protestant minister and a doctor of divinity. This is entirely consistent with the capitalist-expansionist ethic, Protestantism being the religious expression of capitalist ideology.


The First Academic Units and the Context of their Establishment


The very first academic units established were ‘professional’ in scope but combined technical and vocational elements. The U.P. College of Medicine and Surgery was the first to be created (1907) as the Philippine Medical School, which then served as the infirmary/hospital for Americans fighting Filipino ‘insurgents’. This was followed by the U.P. College of Agriculture (1909) which helped open up manifold agribusiness possibilities for the various American trading companies gaining a foothold in the islands; second, the U.P. School of Fine Arts (1908). It was only in 1910 that the U.P. College of Liberal Arts was established.


One of the first professional colleges in the real sense of the term was the College of Law. The college traces its beginning to the law courses opened in1910 by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) which led the introduction of American culture and the capitalist ethic into the country. George A. Malcolm, who became the first permanent dean of the College of Law, spearheaded these efforts.


Earlier, the new colonizers had established the Silliman Bible Institute, the Philippine Normal School, the Philippine School of Arts and Trades and the Manila Business School. These institutions were to train the theologians and ministers, the teachers, skilled workers and office personnel of the trading establishments then sprouting up everywhere in Manila. The U.P., together with Silliman, was at the apex of this colonial educational system. These institutions were to supply the projected professional manpower needs of the new colonial order.


The capture of the intellectual elite, was also ensured by the ‘pensionado program’ instituted earlier, in 1903, most of whose graduates later became teachers at the U.P. The pensionados accelerated the production of captive Filipino minds and sensitivities, by serving as teachers and school administrators in the colonial educational system.


During the first two decades, the faculty of the University was recruited directly from US schools. The ‘Thomasites’, for instance, were mainly teachers imported from various schools in the US. Most of them looked at their stay in U.P. or the Philippines as a stepping stone to better teaching posts once they were back in the US. Before World War II, a significant number of the faculty at the University were still US citizens.


The U.P. was completely dependent on the colonial government in terms of finance and policy. The budget of the U.P. had to be approved by the legislature, in whose upper house were the ilustrados. The U.P. was literally at the mercy of the Governor General and the ilustrado-dominated legislature.  For example, Benton (1921-1923) attempted to secure a permanent and steady source of income for the University for it to be independent. Governor General Leonard Wood and the legislature opposed such a move.


During the American period, the U.P. was essentially functioning as the main expression of a colonial educational policy. While it cannot be denied that some students and professors became articulate bearers of nationalist and anti-imperialist sentiments, they were the exceptions; most of the Filipino students and faculty served as efficient articulators of colonial ideology.


The institution itself reinforced the economic and social system. Agriculturists who graduated from U.P. Los Banos became, consciously or unconsciously, harbingers of efficient exploitation in the production of agricultural export products. The College of Medicine instituted and never recovered from the syndrome of a consumer drugs-oriented medical and nursing practice, thus opening the way for multinational drug companies and imperialist drug suppliers to take root in the Philippine health care delivery system. The U.P. College of Education trained teachers and school administrators who became faithful watchdogs of miseducation, while at the College of Law, a western concept of jurisprudence, alien to Filipino indigenous values, converted the concept of law and justice into commodities to be dispensed by the ruling elite.


Pre-War and Post War Administration

The administrations of the first three U.P. Presidents, from Murray Barlett to Ignacio Villamor (1915-1920) and Guy Potter Benton, assured the total Americanization of the University. Cultural activities and student concerns approximated those of their American counterparts. Attempts by the first Filipino president, Ignacio Villamor, to stress the need to Filipinize the U.P. were immediately stifled by the colonialists. Villamor’s administration witnessed the first student demonstration led by Carlos P. Romulo and Pedro Franco.


The students protested a Manila Times editorial alleging the incapacity of a Filipino head of the U.P. Benton replaced Ignacio Villamor in 1920, thus suggesting the triumph of the Manila Times view. Discrimination was, indeed, more than visible during the period, as American professors and personnel demanded more privileged treatment compared to their Filipino counterparts. As early as 1916, Filipino nurses and doctors had staged a strike over the issue of discrimination.


It was during the time of Rafael Palma (1923-1934) when some amount of nationalist ferment was felt on campus, despite the fact that Palma was appointed by the arch-imperialist Leonard Wood. Liberalism was the watchword on campus, producing such liberal stalwarts as Salvador P. Lopez, Teodora Agoncillo, Leopoldo Yabes, Armando Malay and others.


Palma’s presidency, however, also was host to the Monroe Survey Commission which further tightened the hold of the American colonial education in the country. Despite the Monroe survey, however, Palma was a defender of academic freedom. The University Council recommended that U.P. be made entirely separate from and independent of the political machinery of the government, a move which angered Manuel L. Quezon. A measure of student autonomy was achieved as the student paper was revitalized and renamed the Philippine Collegian. Tuition fees were also standardized.


The earliest political activities of the student council betrayed its parochial enthusiasm, clearly a manifestation of its colonial molding. These were, however, significant in that they were a prelude to genuine political involvement. One of the earliest activities of the student council was its protest against the rider attached to the appropriations bill of 1927. The rider provided a sum for increasing the salary of the members of the Lower House of the Philippine legislature.  The student council expressed its militant opposition through numerous demonstrations, meetings and convocations. The rider provision was ultimately repealed.


During Palma’s administration, the worker’s movement was already gaining momentum, a reaction to the capitalist transformation going on in the major urban center which is Manila. Periodic marches and strikes, coupled with calls for independence by the aroused, exploited factory workers often culminated in heightened anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist calls. Yet the U.P. constituency was never an active participant in the intense mass struggle brewing among the working masses, highlighted by the massive workers and peasants congresses in 1929-1930, and establishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1930.


Palma and his constituents were unaware of, or indifferent to these developments, limiting their political participation to such issues as the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Law (which Palma supported) and, subsequently, the Tydings-McDuffie Law. Outside the University, the Filipino people were launching a rigorous criticism of the American colonial machinery. Those in the U.P. who advocated complete independence, while assuming a progressive stance, were apparently unaware of the necessity to dismantle the apparatus of economic and political dependence erected by the US in the country.


In contrast, among the peasantry in the countryside, unrest was raging: the Colorum and Tayug uprisings – spontaneous anti-feudal actions – Sakdalism, the establishment of a socialist party, and many others, indicated the peasant desire for social liberation.


The State University and its studentry did not realize the significance of this ferment. What attracted the activism of Wenceslao Q. Vinzons and other student leaders were peripheral issues which skirted the demand for total independence and social liberation.


The 1939-1951 period was unremarkable for the U.P. The Japanese period passed silently towards ‘liberation’, which brought heavy destruction to the physical plant of the old Manila campus. The Diliman site, where the University was soon to transfer, was a US military camp until 1949.


It is remarkable how the academic community perceived the independence of the Philippines in 1946. It was as if nothing had happened; in the academe, no innovative programs and educational policies were enunciated to lend some credence to the authenticity of the July 4, 1946 affair. The 1950s witnessed sectarian efforts to destroy the liberalism that was a legacy of the Palma years. The Catholic Church group on campus emerged as the main force of reaction.


Continuing Americanization and the Cold War


The administration of the weak Dr. Vidal A. Tan (1951-1956) was supposedly to transform the university into ‘an instrument of national progress and as a center for international cooperation’. In reality, however, the University became an American conduit of anti-Communist propaganda and an instrument for continuing cultural colonization. The cold war was at its zenith, and the US needed to ensure Philippine collusion in its strategy of global hegemony. The intelligentia was a prime target for neutralization, through cultural imperialism; in the U.P., nationalism was never a byword during this period despite the eminence of Claro M. Recto.


Under Tan, new ‘assistance’ arrangements flourished, in cooperation with foreign agencies and foundations which were mainly American-dictated. Some of the cultural imperialist undertakings which coopted and neutralized the academe of their nationalist and liberative potentials were the following: FOA-PHILUSA for books, supplies and equipment; the ICA-NEC grants; U.P.-Cornell agreement to secure the College of Agriculture; U.P.-Michigan for the Institute of Public Administration; U.P.-Stanford for the ‘rehabilitation and improvement’ of the College of Engineering, Education and Business Administration. Under such programs, agents of US imperialism in the guise of exchange professors and academic technicians swamped the campus.


For his part, Tan persecuted or allowed the persecution of well-known liberals in the faculty. There was no evidence that he frowned upon the activities of intelligence agents among the faculty and student body.


It was during the Tan administration and in the interim presidency of Enrique T. Virata that the USAID and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations made steady inroads into the University in the US cold war campaign to capture and coopt the sympathies of the Filipino intelligentia. For example, in 1954, the Asian Labor Education Center (ALEC) was established as a determined effort by the American CIA to crush and later prevent the rebirth of the progressive labor organizations, such as the Congress of Labor Organizations (CLO).


Fellowships (Fullbright-Hayes, Rockefeller, Ford) ensured that Filipino academics would regard study in US universities as fashionable and as passports to entry into the corridors of power. This period saw a new version of the ‘pensionado’ scheme, designed to produce a fresh generation of colonized intellectuals to replace the old guard. This period produced such cold warriors as Cesar Virata, Jaime Laya, Gerardo Sicat and the rest of the ‘new technocracy’ as deans and directors of major academic units of the University.


The nationalist and liberal Vicente Sinco (1958-1962) made serious efforts to institute intellectual integrity through curricular reforms such as the formulation of the General Education Program. Sinco, however, was hampered by the dominance of McCarthyite politics. Defending the U.P. against witchhunts used up most of his energy.


Students and teachers, however, staged protests against the Commission on Anti-Filipino Activities (CAFA), patterned after the McCarthyite House Un-American Committees of the United States Congress. CAFA witchhunts were directed against the editors of the Philippine Collegian and the Philippine Social Sciences and Humanities Review for their publication of ‘leftist’ articles.  Demonstrations were also held protesting the ‘loyalty checks’ undertaken by the CAFA on U.P. professors.


The Sinco administration also saw itself under scrutiny by a ‘survey mission’ from the US which recommended measures designed to influence the long-term development of the University. The ‘Hannah Survey’ of 1958 was under the auspices of a major agency of American cultural imperialism, the International Cooperation Administration (ICA, forerunner of the USAID). The survey group was headed by Dr. John Hannah, President of the Michigan State University and other American university officials, ostensibly to critically analyze the University and higher education in the country.


Completed in the record time of sixty days, the survey recommendations guaranteed further the Americanization of the educational system. The Hannah survey defined ‘crucial’ areas and established the criteria for the ‘improvement’ of higher education in the country within the ideological limits of what the Americans saw as essential for ‘enlightened citizenship and leadership’ in a ‘free and democratic society’.


The debates and extensive discussions on the formulation of what should be ‘general education’ for the Filipinos (per Hannah recommendations) never questioned its ideological mainsprings. No one in the U.P. raised a finger against the manipulations of the directions of Philippine education by imperialist interests. The Hannah recommendations legitimized the training of a new generation of Filipino intellectuals in American ideas of culture and democracy. In the guise of a faculty development program, Filipino academicians were sent abroad. Returning home to the Philippines, they became efficient articulators and defenders of those neocolonial values spawned by US monopoly capital. The products of the cold war period, the Hannah ‘babies’, now command the various units of the U.P.


Romulo: Total Americanization


The Sinco efforts at strengthening the liberal tradition were severely compromised by the administration of Carlos P. Romulo (1962-1968). The Americanization of the U.P. went into higher gear despite Romulo’s new formed ‘nationalism and Asian orientation’. Early in his term, Romulo, professed a liberal outlook and stressed the necessity for a secular university; typically, however, Romulo contradicted his own policies by supporting the establishment of a Department of Religion. It soon became apparent that Romulo had been precisely installed in the U.P. to realize American aims by implementing the Hannah survey recommendations.


Well-known sectarians were placed in positions of authority. The scandalous role of Romulo’s secretary, who wielded tremendous influence, was the subject of several mass actions. There was also the unusual proliferation of courses and degree programs and the creation of new academic and non-academic units.


This proliferation was, however, in line with the so-called ‘multi-versity’ concept of Romulo. The University developed multiple functions in modern society and its various units were involved in directing and championing neo-colonial ‘development’.


Complementing the chaotic proliferation of units and programs was the increase in foreign assistance, mostly American-controlled, in the University’s faculty and staff development program. The U.P. was even subjected to intense criticism by the Philippine Congress and other civic organizations on the total Americanization of the institution. Such a critique put to a halt, though never substantially and conclusively, the institution of American-oriented programs in the University.


Lopez: Liberalism and the University in Crisis


The administration of the liberal Dr. Salvador P. Lopez (1963-1974) in some respects broke from the Romulo period’s unashamed obeisance to US interests. The policy of Lopez was to ‘steer the University towards increased relevance as critic of society and agent of change, while remaining hospitable to learning and research as an outstanding center of academic excellence’.


The University articulated a strongly ‘different’ role vis-à-vis Philippine society. The U.P. was redefined not simply in terms of a bureaucracy or a factory, or even a ‘coven of self-seeking careerists, the extension of the interests of the elite or a way station on the road to personal wealth, privilege and power’. With this very strong critique, and under the very stringent definition of what liberal education in the U.P. should be, many innovative policies were instituted.


To democratize the decision-making process in the University, democratic consultations with the faculty, students, and employees were held. For the students, democratization meant maximum autonomy for student organizations and the student press on the principle that students do not surrender their civil liberties when they enter the University. Democratization also meant student representation in the Board of Regents.


A procedure for democratic consultation was instituted in the selection of unit officials (the deans and the department chairmen). Official records were opened up, including contracts with foreign agencies, for inspection by any member of the University constituency. In terms of student welfare, a grants-in-aid program was established for financially needy students.


The highest encomium for the Lopez administration was his recognition of student-faculty activism as essential to reform the University and the country. The Lopez administration, was by far the most progressive in terms of policies.


It was during the early years of the Lopez period that the University constituency, primarily the students and faculty, intensified their examination of the national situation, particularly the conditions that characterize Philippine society. Progressive intellectuals examined the neocolonial state, using heretofore-prescribed frameworks of analysis. Rallies, demonstrations and teach-ins became an adapted form of mass education.


In February 1971, in sympathy with the jeepney drivers who were striking against oil price increases, the students set up barricades at the main thoroughfares of the campus. The barricades prevented vehicles from coming in. The students also took control of the University Press, putting out a revolutionary pamphlet, ‘Bandilang Pula’, articulating the principles of the ‘Diliman Commune’.


As the First Quarter Storm unfolded, the U.P. studentry was at the forefront of the protest movement. This was in sharp contrast to the previous two or three decades, when the U.P. as an academic institution remained indifferent or lukewarm to the issues raging outside the campus. If the older generation can at all call themselves activists, it was a comfortable activism, not the totally committed and outward-looking activism which characterized the 1970s.


That period saw the University as an institution that was really alive, reacting to, and changing the social and cultural milieu. The years 1970-1972 saw a revolutionary transformation within the University as an institution, in step with the struggle then going on outside the University. While the U.P. essentially remained an instrument of maintaining the neocolonial order established by the United States, it nevertheless became an important base of the cultural revolution during the late 1960s and the period from 1970-1972. To some extent, liberalism provided part of the conditions for that ferment. But we should not obscure the role of the progressive leadership of the student movement, the contradictions in Philippine society which led to such ferment, and the heroic sacrifices and principled struggles of the student masses. Liberalism, itself, however, was to prove incapable of effectively confronting the dictatorship that emerged in 1972.


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 May 26th 2005




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