Dutertismo: Defend China, attack UP?
First as tragedy, then as farce,” Karl Marx remarked about the tendency for repetition of “all [the] great, world-historical facts and personages.”
It’s often fashionable among Filipino liberals to compare the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship with President Duterte’s authoritarian populism. The first regime was built on a deliberate and systematic dismantling of formal democratic institutions, while the latter is a cocktail of carefully-curated performative politics and unvarnished Freudian id.
For critics, the Marcosian “new society” (Ang Bagong Lipunan) project ended in the tragedy of kleptocratic despotism, while Dutertismo’s “man of the people” (“Atin to, ’pre”) counterpart is nothing but a dark comedy of poor imitation.
But perhaps, instead of just longitudinal comparisons, it also helps to disentangle the “tragedy” and “farce” within Mr. Duterte’s own algorithm of governance.
How should one understand the President and his cronies’ unabashed defense of a self-avowed communist regime, which is colonizing our waters with growing audacity, going hand in hand with the untrammeled red-tagging of the country’s leading academic institutions, which have served as bastions of patriotism and excellence?
As an alumnus of the University of the Philippines (UP), and an educator who has dedicated the past decade to raising public awareness about our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, I find Dutertismo’s anachronisms heart-wrenching.
This is not to idealize one’s alma mater. If there is anything I learned from years of teaching in other universities, it is that UP is not the center of the universe; neither does it hold a monopoly over academic excellence. If anything, I was immensely impressed by the work ethic and eloquence of countless students in Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University, not to mention foreign students from France, South Korea, and Japan.
And yes, even our premiere university has yet to fully escape the grip of medieval politics, if not outright pettiness on the part of a few academics I once naively respected.
It’s absolutely disheartening to see how once promising parvenus, who gained a ticket to the “promised land” through UP education, have become chief enablers of autocratic incompetence and muses of proto-fascist blabber in public fora. It’s wrenching to witness how once seemingly progressive activists have transmogrified into savvy consiglieres to cartels and spokesmen for goons, if not becoming first-rate crooks themselves.
But by far, institutions like UP have been the century-old training ground for our truly “best and brightest”—not a den of insurrectionary agitations and discredited ideologies.
For starry-eyed provincials such as myself, a UP education provided a magical combination of academic rigor and uncompromising patriotism. I remain deeply grateful to my world-class professors in the UP political science department, where I gained both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. Thanks to great mentors such as Professors Felipe Miranda and Walden Bello, I gained the competence and self-assurance to dare to be among the best in the world in my field of expertise. This may also explain why I have yet to act on the urging of a great mentor who has always urged me to follow in his footsteps through the gates of Princeton. It was in UP that I fully learned to hold my own, to hold my ground, and to hold fast to my convictions regardless of temptations and travails. UP helped me to become a sovereign mind, and to realize the true meaning of patriotism beyond race, class, and color. Through UP, I gained the facility to understand the very soul of Rizal and our founding fathers.
So it deeply hurts to see the incessant assault on the country’s premiere university, which has produced some of our greatest leaders and scientists. Mind you, it’s UP that consistently ranks among leading universities in Asia despite all the budget cuts, calumnies, and harassments inflicted on it.
It hurts even more to see the baseless attacks against our leading educational institutions, many of them close to my heart, taking precedence over the proactive defense of our national patrimony in the West Philippine Sea. How I wish we can have a leadership that focuses on the clear and present threat posed by a communist superpower across Philippine waters, rather than on imaginary ones in our institutions of excellence.
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