Wednesday, October 17, 2018
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Business Matters

Targeting schools

As if the education sector did not have enough to worry about. Only halfway through the painful K-to-12 transition, the system must still cope with the uncertainties raised by “free” tertiary education. It must also grapple with the challenges of teaching in a “post-truth” environment and preparing students for sustainable careers at a time when advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are threatening to make many jobs obsolete.

Now comes Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., Armed Forces assistant chief of staff for operations, telling media that the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army “had infiltrated” 18 public and private colleges and universities in Metro Manila and were recruiting students into a plot to overthrow President Duterte. The schools named included the top tiers of the country’s educational institutions, among them, the schools where Mr. Duterte obtained his undergraduate and law degrees. How should schools respond to this AFP alert?

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Some suggestions: First, avoid overreacting by assuming knowledge of the agenda and objectives of the general, and allow him the burden of proving his case. Second, clarify the purpose of the general’s meeting with the media, the context of his statements to reporters, and the evidence to substantiate them. Third, for greater efficiency and transparency, address the issue and seek clarification, not only as individual schools but as a community, through the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations and the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges. Or, perhaps, through the Philippine Business for Education, which connects to both state and private educational institutions.

The allegations are serious and demand a serious response.

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General Parlade deserves a chance to explain himself, so that schools can properly determine their response. What does communist “infiltration” of schools mean and what are the measures to assess its spread?  Schools should be a reflection of the larger society and its diversity. It should not be surprising to find them harboring socialist or communist sympathizers.

But believing in communist or socialist ideologies is not a crime. Neither is opposition to administration policies. Would the CPP-NPA want the support of these sectors? Doubtless. Does the AFP have credible evidence of a conspiracy to launch a coup that involves college students and staff? How was this evidence gathered?

Does General Parlade object to films documenting the First Quarter Storm or human rights abuses committed by the Marcos martial law regime? Or to information documenting extrajudicial killings committed during Mr. Duterte’s watch? Should these subjects lie beyond the scope of educational inquiry? Are the materials so incendiary that exposure to them will instantly ignite students into flaming rebels?

The Khmer Rouge episode in Cambodian history has been the subject of intense research and documentation.  General Parlade is correct: The Khmer Rouge did purge millions of intellectuals and professionals in Cambodia. Has he encountered any analysis showing similarities between the formation and orientation of Joma Sison and Pol Pot? Under the Khmer Rouge, anyone wearing eyeglasses could be considered an intellectual and, therefore, liable for liquidation. Does General Parlade fear Filipino students would be receptive to this kind of regime?

I do not recall much concern expressed about the CPP-NPA threat during the Aquino administration. Mr. Duterte believed he could already end the communist insurgency, as he brought “leftist” leaders into his administration. Why has the CPP-NPA now become so prominent and formidable a threat that Mr. Duterte had to warn soldiers about an alleged “Red October” plot for his overthrow and the need to “neutralize” rebels?

This explicit conjunction with Red October makes the Parlade statements dangerous and destabilizing. Unfortunately, Mr. Duterte tends to divide people into “us and them,” and often seeks to energize his political followers by pointing them toward enemies that must be attacked.

Painting a communist red tag on schools makes them and their students vulnerable targets for both state and non-state actors, raising the risk of the violence and destabilization that the military should want to avoid.

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Edilberto C. de Jesus is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

 

Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club.

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