The scholar as a rebel
Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde recently warned university professors that they can be charged for “instigating” students with rebellious ideas. Echoing a talking point commonly used by the Duterte administration, he also castigated students of state universities who “are given free education by no less than the government” and yet are going “against the government that gives [them] free education.”
The context of his statements is an alleged communist plot being hatched in Metro Manila universities to oust the government. But with the Armed Forces of the Philippines itself admitting that the allegations are “unsubstantiated,” the statements instead raise fears of an academe being threatened into silence — and an imaginary plot being used as a pretext for further draconian measures. Lest we allow such a narrative to be invoked anew, we must recognize its danger for the following reasons:
First and foremost, statements like Albayalde’s conflate “rebellion” with “resistance,” and opposing President Duterte with opposing the state. The President may delude himself with the thought that the country belongs to him (note his frequent use of the possessive: “my country,” “my soldiers”), and the police may indulge his delusions, but he is making a mistake. He is not the state, he is not even the government.
Calling for the ouster or resignation of Mr. Duterte is different from plotting to oust the government. While the latter may truly be seditious, the former is a legitimate exercise of democratic freedom. Given what Mr. Duterte has done to our country — from extrajudicial killings to the current economic hardships — is it not a reasonable position to call for his resignation, to call him a tyrant, and to call out the police and military for supporting his authoritarian ways?
Second, they paint those who espouse socialist or progressive views as enemies of the state, when much of what activists are fighting for are vital to our democracy — from voicing the predicament of the “lumad” to warning against the detrimental effects of the TRAIN Law; from highlighting the dark side of capitalism to demanding more rights and benefits for workers. One does not have to agree with the Left to recognize the legitimacy of their voice within the national political discourse.
Third, Albayalde’s statements assume that state universities are accountable to the government. The opposite is true, in fact: State universities are supposed to hold government to account. Indeed, alongside its mandate for teaching and research, universities are meant to be safe spaces for discussing the burning issues of the day and evaluating government policies and programs.
And so when a research consortium of Ateneo, UP and La Salle professors report on the ominous patterns of extrajudicial killings, should we not take heed? When the deans and faculty members of various law schools call the quo warranto proceedings against former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno unconstitutional, should we not listen? And when UP Diliman’s department of history call on the public to oppose the revisionism of Marcos’ martial law, should we not respond?
Finally, these allegations miss the broader raison d’etre of universities: The whole point of learning is to be “rebellious”—that is, to nurture ways of thinking that challenge long-held assumptions, and in the process improve human society. From Galileo to Mendel, Einstein to Marx, Jose Martí to Jose Rizal, the best thinkers of their day were called “revolutionary” precisely because they helped build their societies upon ideas — ideas that were nurtured in universities, and viewed as rebellious at the time of their inception.
The PNP has since clarified its stand, saying it is not cracking down on academic freedom, only those who “take advantage of the students’ idealism to propagate hatred, violence and armed struggle against the government.” Well and good. But in these tyrannical times when students like Carl Arnaiz are labeled “drug addicts” and activists like Victoria Tauli-Corpuz are labeled “terrorists,” who gets to decide which ideas are “radical” or “rebellious”?
Through pedagogy, research, public engagement and yes, activism, universities have served the people and protected our loftiest democratic ideals. They must be defended, not intimidated, by our military and police force.
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