These are dangerous times, and now more than ever since the Marcos regime, our democracy is in great peril.
One would think there would still be safe spaces like the comforts of your home, or within your circle of intellectual friends, or on your “secret” blog, or inside your head at 2 a.m.
One would think the academe should be a safe space, too. Because universities/schools are supposed to be free marketplaces of ideas, right? Where there is freedom of speech, where students and teachers alike debate ideologies, challenge well-established theories and concepts, discuss what used to be and argue what should be?
That was what I thought, too, especially in higher learning institutions. Until I got red-tagged.
It happened during the second semester of my first year in graduate school, during one of our afternoon classes. We were discussing issues on national security, and the government’s withdrawal from the US-RP Visiting Forces Agreement.
When asked about the communist insurgency in the country, I discussed addressing the insurgency from its roots, or tackling the reasons why there is armed conflict in the first place—the yawning socioeconomic gap between rich and poor, the lack of access to basic goods and services in the countryside, the absence of sustainable programs to support agriculture and other marginalized sectors, the militarization and development aggression in ancestral domains, among others. I also pointed out the importance of continuing the peace talks between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
My professor was an official of a police institution, and most of my classmates were government employees. Somehow, in the middle of the debate, a moot and irrelevant fact was raised—that I was an activist. Suddenly, I was put in the proverbial spotlight, as in a bad detective film where good and bad cops take turns interrogating the suspect.
“Why are you an activist?” asked one of my classmates in an accusing tone.
“Why are you against the government?” asked another.
“Why is the University of the Philippines (where I took my undergrad) producing members of the New People’s Army?”
“Why are UP students learning about communism and Maoism in the first place?”
“You’re a member of Kabataan Partylist and Gabriela Youth.” This was not even a question, but I was compelled to justify my membership in these organizations.
As calmly and as respectfully as I could manage, I addressed their ridiculous questions. I explained that I am an activist because I am one with the people in calling for better governance and better policies in education, public health, agriculture, and the environment, among others. To demand accountability and responsibility from government officials is a democratic and constitutional right.
Why is UP producing members of the armed wing of the biggest leftist organization in the country? Why are UP students learning about communism and Maoism in the first place? The answer to these questions require a more in-depth explanation of the existence of communism, armed struggle, and the CPP. But since the intention of the questions was not to ask for information but to implicate me, an activist, and my university as an affiliate of such an organization, I settled with explaining that UP provides a holistic approach to education. Communism and Maoism are only some of the ideologies we discuss in class, along with other world views and ideologies. We also discuss Tolstoy, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Hitler’s political views. We even discuss Satanism and cults for academic purposes, but we’re not worshippers of Beelzebub, are we?
The academe, given its crucial task of providing quality education, should embrace intellectual diversity and pluralism. But above all, it should advocate for the truth (or truths, as postmodernists would argue). Educational institutions should be places where robust conversations about a wide range of ideas and scholarly viewpoints take place, to liberate minds and create critical thinkers. This is most significant especially in the field/discipline of the humanities and social sciences. Inside the four walls of the classroom, there shouldn’t even be a hint of space for rhetorical fallacies.
Academic freedom breeds critical students, and it is the professor’s task to foster an environment conducive to the exchange of various ideas. Campuses should be safe spaces for such ideas. All the red-tagging of activists and individuals critical of the government that’s going on at the moment — this is emphatically not how democracy should be.
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Odeza Gayl Urmatam, 22, from Camalaniugan, Cagayan, is a communication graduate of UP Baguio.
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