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Secrets, a mystery

/ 10:19 PM February 02, 2012

I have a double treat for readers today. First, with some reluctance, I’m going to share some of the best kept secrets not just in the Philippines but in the world. For the second part of my column, I’m going to ask you to help a team of scholars to solve a mystery of great importance for the Philippines.

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Let me start with a background to the secrets I’m going to divulge. Early in January one of our new anthropology graduates, Dante, came to visit me to ask for advice about jobs. At one point, he told me how surprised he was to find, in the classified ads, an opening in the Asian Development Bank which stated that they wanted applicants with a social science degree.

I told Dante such ads are quite common, especially from United Nations agencies and non-government organizations. I paused and then told him, “That’s one of the best kept secrets in the world: a social science degree is an advantage when it comes to jobs. The problem is deciding which job to take.”

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That incident, plus an ongoing Jobs Fair at our College of Social Sciences and Philosophy in UP Diliman, convinced me I had to do a column about the job prospects for social scientists. At the Jobs Fair there are all kinds of private companies, as well as the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) and the Presidential Management Staff (yes, P-Noy’s PMS) with “headhunting” booths. SM has two booths, and its staff told me they would have liked to see more of our social science alumni applying because they have many job positions, mainly for human relations training, that need to be filled up right away.

One of the staff said their problem for trainers was especially acute when it comes to getting males. I sighed, since we have many more women than men among our social science students.

So, male or female, if you have a degree in the social sciences, do come to the job fair, which ends today, Friday.

The difficulties of the headhunters are ironic considering that Filipino parents, including my own, usually try to block their children from taking a social science degree, thinking there’s no future there. If they do allow a child to take a social science, it’s usually psychology, as a pre-med degree, or political science to prepare for law school. But many parents are unaware that our college’s degrees—anthropology, history, sociology, geography, linguistics, political science—do very well as a pre-med or pre-law degree. Do note we also have philosophy and graduate demography degrees.  Still another social science is economics, which is taught by another unit at UP.

Early this week Chito Gascon spoke at our college, the first of what I hope will be a series of alumni talking about how the social sciences shaped their lives. Chito was a philosophy major and student leader, and had to interrupt studies because he was drafted into the 1986 Constitutional Commission to represent the youth. He came back after the Constitution was completed to finish his philosophy degree and then went on to law.

Over at anthropology, we’ve produced several graduates who went on to medicine, prepared with a heavy dose of lectures around ecology, genetics and even anatomy, plus courses on society and culture. So here’s still another secret: while everyone’s jostling to get through psychology’s quotas, our anthropology department, which also has a quota but which doesn’t get filled as quickly, is able to give more personalized attention to smaller classes.

The social sciences have a strong tradition of liberalism, which means our graduates learn to think out of the box and to challenge tradition, so they end up teaching, doing research, or in management, administration, marketing, or opening up their own business.

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Social scientists are flexible, able to move into all kinds of niches and when they can’t find one, they end up creating it.  Who would have known, for example, that “trendspotting” would be an occupation. These are people hired to look at what’s going on out in the streets and in shops and to predict what could become a profitable trend in fashions, in food, in furniture. Not surprisingly, anthropologists do very well in this area.

My own world is that of development and public health and, again, we lack social scientists who can give fresh insights into health problems. A health NGO I used to work with has been looking for several months now for a deputy director, again preferably with a social science degree.

So, there, I’ve spilled the beans on the social sciences but I have to warn you, we do have strict quotas on admissions.  Gone are the days when the social science departments could be a waiting area to transfer to other units, or a dumping ground for people who fail in other colleges.  Finishing a social science degree isn’t easy either, our faculty constantly goading students to ask questions, and to be bold with possible solutions.

I’m not saying there are no jobless social scientists.  You have them, as there are jobless engineers and biologists and chemists, but I’ll dare say we have more options to fall back on.

The mystery of impunity

Now to the mystery I’m hoping some of you can help us, a bunch of social scientists, to solve.

I’m involved in a Unesco project to look into impunity and the killing of journalists in the Philippines. Our project leader is political scientist Dr. Clarita Carlos. Other team members are former constitutional commissioner Florangel Braid, Dr. Amado Mendoza, Dr. Rolando Tolentino, lawyer Jose Diokno and myself. We’re assisted by a team of journalists gathering case studies.

The reported numbers of assassinated journalists vary, depending on who does the counting, but we definitely have the dubious distinction of killing the most journalists in the world, the numbers shooting up especially with the Ampatuan massacre two years ago when 32 journalists were brutally murdered, together with 25 other people.

In Mexico, another country with many murders of journalists, the killings are blamed on the drug cartels.  Journalists are silenced because they speak about these syndicates. In the Philippines, the killings seem to relate to politics, but we still want to understand the impunity involved, why it’s so easy for politicians to hire assassins, and for the assassins to pull the trigger. In one recent case, the assassin entered the house of the journalist, greeted her politely, then shot her point-blank. Tell us what you think about why we moved from a time when journalists were revered, considered almost untouchable; when we recognized that even if we disagreed with the journalists, their dissent was vital for democracy.

Note that we consider as journalist anyone who works in print or broadcast media, even if they don’t have a degree in journalism.

We have some theories around the impunity involved in these killings, but I don’t want to bias you so I won’t share them yet. You can post your hunches in Inquirer’s blog but there’s a tendency for a “mob effect” and rumbles on the site, so I’d prefer that you e-mail me.  I’ll share your thoughts with the team and later, when we get our work done, we’ll send you our findings. Help us solve the mystery, and maybe we can begin to find more effective ways to stop the killings.

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TAGS: anthropology, culture of impunity, featured column, jobs, Media killings, opinion, social science
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