Historical revisionism


The University of the Philippines has renamed its business school after Cesar Emilio Aguinaldo Virata, finance secretary and later prime minister under the Marcos dictatorship. Critics, and they are many, ask: Is it legal to start with, there being a law that prohibits the “naming of public places … and institutions after living persons”? Had the university authorities been truthfully briefed about naming practices in elite universities abroad? Was the honoree truly worthy of the honor, apparently unprecedented in UP, of having an entire academic program named after him?

But what should have bothered the critics instead is a deeper question: What is this way of thinking that has emboldened the UP business school to even think of suggesting this, and has given the university’s governing board the gumption to approve it? Such effrontery does not arise in a vacuum.

It is easy to say that there is a vacuum in our collective memory. Stated simply, the renaming would have been unthinkable in the afterglow of the 1986 Edsa People Power uprising. It is possible only because Edsa’s allure has waned. The ineptness and/or corruption of Marcos’ successors have prevented genuine change, and many Filipinos now look wistfully at the Marcos years as “the good old days.” If national amnesia is the problem, then the academic beatification of Virata is even more objectionable because it rewrites history. It’s no different from the victorious US forces renaming city streets after the leaders of the Partido Federalista, those Filipinos who first collaborated with “the Great North American Republic” after the true revolutionaries had fallen.

Yet it is more than just a problem of forgetting. The renaming is just a symptom of a deeper problem: the drastic shift in people’s mindsets away from looking at Virata’s place in history and toward looking at him as an individual. It is now possible to extol Virata’s personal virtues and be oblivious to his lending his sterling reputation to deodorize the Marcos dictatorship. The UP Board of Regents had this to say: “Virata has served UP, the Philippine government and the country for many years and with clear distinction.”

It used to be that great men and women were acclaimed as agents of history, embodying causes larger than themselves, but, yes, mere actors on a stage. Today individual merit and innate goodness are extolled regardless of their impact on the greater good. There may be nothing intrinsically wrong with that, except that an examination of the historical record will show that some Nazi butchers were actually loving husbands and exemplary fathers at home. To applaud their adherence to “family values” is to exalt personal virtue and ignore historical fault.

Sad to say, this debate should not really be about Cesar Virata, whose intelligence and integrity are beyond question. Indeed, Virata is the victim twice over, the first when he lent his personal prestige as the veneer for dictatorial plunder, and the second when he lent his name to an intellectual shift that is curiously lost to the business professors.

UP’s defense has been shameful. We renamed an academic program, not a building, says its spokesperson. It is so unbecoming the premier state university to split hairs when faced with grave moral questions, even worse because academic programs are more important than buildings. So the legal prohibition on naming after living persons is bad for buildings but okay for academic programs? It does not make sense. Worst of all, the text of the law seems to apply just the same to programs and buildings alike.

Another argument is “we consulted the constituents in the college.” Ignore for now the posts in the social media from alumni and students denying precisely this. Even assuming a bona fide consultation, this is one choice where there are stakeholders outside the college, namely, the other members of the UP community who have invested much of their lives fighting the Marcos dictatorship. If their sacrifices are about to be diluted, surely they are entitled to be heard on this issue.

Saddest of all, UP officials seem cocky that bureaucracy will prevail over popular outrage. It will be the greatest disservice to both UP and Virata if a debate of this magnitude is reduced to procedure and technicality. This debate is no less about UP’s role in historical revisionism as it is about a technocratic style of governance that, come to think of it, Virata would have relished.

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  • mad_as_Hamlet

    * * * * * * *

    The present officials of the country’s premier state university are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of engaging in “name-laundering.”

    They should all be hanged to dry. Then folded, spindled and mutilated.

    – – -

    • Spidekick

      hahaha nice one mad…
      i didnt know you were capable of losing your civility once in a while

      • mad_as_Hamlet

        * * * * *
        Ha ha ha . . .thanks Spidekick! “But it’s really nothing personal,” as the hangman said to the convict, when he tightened the noose.

        Seriously, the UP officials responsible ought to have been considerate, decent and law-abiding enough to have seen the propriety of murdering Mr. Virata first, or of politely asking him to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of that UP building. After all, R.A. 1059 expressly prohibits the naming of, among others, public buildings, and other public institutions and places after living persons. Had they done either successfully, why, they can even bury him there and call that building the “Cesar E. A. Virata Mausoleum, Business, & Call Center”. And I bet the public would have taken everything in stride.
        – – -

  • joni_depp

    Ninoy Aquino founded the NPA, along with Kumander Dante and Jose Maria Sison, at Hacienda Luisita in December 26, 1968. The NPA committed many atrocities and killed many Filipinos and, yet, Ninoy Aquino is now considered a hero. That is historical revisionism!

    • captainramius

      What? Ninoy Aquino founded the NPA I do believe Ferdinand Marcos aka James Ryan in Swiss Bank Account is still alive …

    • Paliwaweng

      …you are lying, you are a cabal of these known dissidents, then now denying your clandestine partnership with Jose Maria Sison?

      • joni_depp

        You obviously are ignorant of history. Ninoy was a self-admitted scoundrel. Frankie Sionil Jose has chronicled how Ninoy, along with Buscayno and Sison, founded the NPA at Hacienda Luisita.

  • les21reago

    Should in naming VIRATA emboldened historical revisionism in this country then NO FILIPINO name would qualify at all and we might as well resort to NUMBERING?

  • eight_log

    To me changing building names, street names, hospital names etc as what happened some years ago was pure historical revisionism! Naming a course after some great minds in the field should never be a historical revisionism …. rather it is history in the making!!!!!

  • Islaslolo

    Let us ignore for the moment to whom the UP business school is being named for or the motivation of the UP officials in doing so. This unprecedented action is both unwise and lacks historical perspective.

    As an earlier commenter had said “renaming colleges after people, dead or alive, is so ephemeral …” What happens then if another truly deserving person came along or another set of UP officials decided to rename the UP business school?

    Let us follow the practice of elite universities abroad in honoring their alumni and faculty members with their names, pictures and a brief description of their contributions and achievements posted at college hallways or alumni area. Or awarding deserving persons with honorary degrees.

    Take for example the Stanford School of Engineering where I toured my nephew late last year to encourage him to apply there for graduate studies. The prominent alumni and faculty members “who have profoundly advanced the course of human, social and economic progress through engineering” are posted as Stanford Engineering Heroes. Some of them have also made substantial financial contributions, directly and indirectly, to Stanford and the engineering profession. But Stanford did not name its School of Engineering to one of them. And surely, there will be more Stanford Engineering Heroes that will come in the future.

    Same with UP: There will surely be alumni and faculty members that will make significant contributions to UP, our country and its people in the future. Let us honor their achievements too.

  • Paliwaweng



    Section 1. The naming of sitios, barrios, municipalities, cities, provinces, streets, highways, avenues, bridges, and other public thoroughfares, parks, plazas, public schools, public buildings, piers, governmentrcrafts and vessels, and other public institutions and places after living persons is hereby prohibited, except when it is a condition in a donation in favor of the government. Any ordinance or resolution adopted contrary to the provisions of this Act shall be null and void.

    Section 2. The naming of streets, highways, avenues, bridges, and public thoroughfares, parks, plazas, sitios, barrios, municipalities, cities, provinces public schools, public buildings, piers, governmentrcrafts and vessels, and other public institutions and places after living persons except those made pursuant to existing Acts of Congress, which are still in effect on the date of the approval of this Act, are hereby declared null and void and the proper authorities are hereby directed to make the corresponding changes within six months after the approval of this Act.

    Section 3. This Act shall take effect upon its approval.

    Approved: June 12, 1954

    • isidro c. valencia

      Is UP an autonomous institution?
      Is Republic Act superior to the act of UP Board of Regents?
      Maybe my idol Sen. Miriam Santiago or UP President can answer. Perhaps our intelligent bloggers / loggers.

  • markus32

    Logic 101:

    Virata : Aguinaldo

    What good have they done?

    History will continue haunt them, the Filipino youth of tomorrow surely will be enligthened..

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