Honor or insult? | Inquirer Opinion
Thursday, August 16, 2018
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At Large

Honor or insult?

I graduated from UST, but I majored in the Varsitarian.” Quoting a distinguished alumnus of the University of Santo Tomas’ student paper, publications director Lito Zulueta led the guests—“Varsi” alumni all—in the cake-cutting ceremony marking the paper’s 90th year. The cake-cutting was led by National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, who is but one of the many distinguished personalities who, as young men and women, spent the better part of their days in college coming out with a newspaper (in my time a weekly, but now a monthly), magazines and other supplements.

Another National Artist, novelist and essayist F. (for Francisco) Sionil Jose, had also shown up, but he left before the cake-cutting. Still, the presence of two national luminaries at the anniversary bash is but an indicator of the quality of the training that the Varsitarian provides. It drew students from all over the university, and not just journalism majors, although my husband, who took up fine arts and was a photographer/artist at the “V,” complains that nonwriters are often forgotten when time comes to celebrate.

I had often felt that my training in journalism may have taken place in the classroom, but my skills, values and especially ethics were honed at the “V.” That night, as we joined our voices in singing the UST Hymn, I felt a deep fondness for the school paper and my contemporaries. I also felt pride in being part of a four-centuries-old institution that had managed to keep up with the times but retained its footing in the Catholic faith and its teachings.

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The next day, news came that the UST Alumni Association, in an act of amazing stupidity and chutzpah, had honored Presidential Communications Operations Office assistant secretary and blogger Mocha Uson as part of its annual gathering.

Truth to tell, Uson was but one of a bunch of alumni recognized for their “government service.” And, responding to indignant reactions, USTAA president Henry Tenedero said they “never thought of giving it to Uson because she’s controversial” but because, “if you’re a Thomasian graduate, we are hoping that this award will inspire you to live [Thomasian core values] more in your public [service]. Whether you’re living it or not is not for us to say.” Or as a snarky commentator voiced out: “They’re giving her an award so she could be deserving of the award.”

Apparently, the UST administration was left in the dark about the honors. The UST rector, Fr. Herminio Dagohoy, OP, told the Varsitarian that he had not been informed of the award given to Uson and that “the only invite” he received was “to celebrate Mass at the alumni homecoming.”

What makes the award to Uson so cringe-inducing, so offensive?

Among the many reactions to the USTAA honors—pro and con—one stands out not just for its reasoned tone but also for its authors, the Bautista family which is truly a family of achievers. The late Felix is a beloved icon of journalism and longtime publications director; his widow Nena is an equally beloved former professor and guidance counselor. Their 12 children were outstanding UST students (summas, magnas and cum laudes, as well as former Varsitarian editors in chief, are scattered among their ranks) and accomplished adults.

Their open letter protesting the award is not to be ignored. “What has she done to deserve the award?” the Bautista siblings and their mother ask. “More pointedly, what has she done NOT to deserve the award? The second question will yield a kilometric list of reasons why she should not have been given the award.”

The reason so many Thomasians—students and alumni—are protesting is not Uson’s past or present personal behavior (including her execrable grammar), but the way she has used her blog, as the UST Journalism Society put it, “to peddle inaccurate information, malign critics of the Duterte administration, and discredit media practitioners who are performing their role as independent monitors of power.” She does not, it said, “in any way represent the Thomasian core values of compassion, competence and commitment.”

Trending now is the hashtag #RoR directed at the USTAA and Uson: Return (the award) or Resign.

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TAGS: Mocha Uson, UST, UST Alumni Association, Varsitarian
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