I could have used the English word, and it would have sounded almost respectable. In contrast, the Filipino word, exclamation point added for drama, almost terrifies people, with its connotation of riots and violent confrontations.
I know someone who passed the University of the Philippines entrance exam in 1972 but her parents sent her to Silliman University in Dumaguete because they were worried she would turn “aktibista” in UP.
My friend’s parents were not aware that Silliman was also a hotbed of radicalism. My friend did become an “aktibista” there, and was arrested when martial law was declared later in the year. Silliman was closed down for several months, longer than UP.
Today, UP (and Silliman) are fairly quiet, which may be a reason “aktibista” outbursts—like the one last Sept. 17 when Budget Secretary Butch Abad spoke in UP Diliman and was harassed as he left a symposium—immediately grab media attention.
So many questions have emerged around rights and academic freedom, but underlying all the discussions is activism: What forms can activism take, and how relevant are these forms of activism today?
Appropriately, those questions came up as well during a forum at the UP College of Law to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the declaration of martial law. The speakers were all veteran activists: Francisco Nemenzo, Raul Pangalangan and Carol Pagaduan-Araullo.
If anything, the three activists showed how activism can vary, with different political ideologies (which would complicate this column) and different activist styles.
All three are personal friends, so I’m going to refer to them by their first names.
Dodong Nemenzo, the oldest of the three, was known for his activism as a faculty member, college dean and, later, UP president. Raul was a student activist, finished law, became college dean, and is now the publisher of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He remains outspoken on issues involving civil liberties and rights. Carol was steeped in activism throughout her student days, as an undergraduate, and then a medical student. At the forum she quipped about practicing medicine today in a different way: “Iba ang ginagamot,” as chair of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (or Bayan).
I missed Dodong’s speech and about half of Raul’s, but during the open forum, the audience, which was composed mainly of law students, kept referring back to the “Abad incident.”
Dodong was empathic about the need to speak out, but also expressed his distaste for “sloganeering.” At one point during the forum, he referred to a UP symposium in 2006 when Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, former chief of staff of the Armed Forces, was the invited speaker. The general was mobbed and pelted with eggs. Dodong said he had no love for Esperon but disagreed with the tactics used during the protest.
Raul said he was more of a “restrained” type but understood the need for activism that was more outspoken, half-joking about how such activism was important to make people like himself look more “rational.”
Carol was explicit in stating the need for radical activism, asking the audience to understand why the students at the symposium featuring Abad were so angry. Carol herself had played a lead role in challenging the Disbursement Acceleration Program by filing the now famous Araullo et al. vs Aquino case, resulting in the Supreme Court ruling that parts of the DAP were unconstitutional. She said filing that case in the Supreme Court was a form of activism as well. After asking the audience to understand the students’ viewpoint, she did add that she was not justifying the latter’s “exuberance.”
How relevant are the different forms of activism? There was some discussion about the so-called “apathetic youth” today, Raul observed that there seems to be greater interest in particular issues, like gender equality or the environment, rather than the broader social ones. Dodong seemed to be the most concerned about the young’s apathy, asking the audience to get more involved with issues like foreign troops being allowed into the Philippines.
I was asked by the moderator if I wanted to speak and I declined, perfectly happy with a day of listening, and soul-searching. It was a long day, I have to tell you, that started very early with “Umagang Kay Ganda,” an ABS-CBN show where I was a guest together with Charlotte France, the chair of the student political alliance Stand UP, which had organized the protest action against Abad.
We talked before and after the show, and I could understand how frustrated the students were with the DAP, convinced that this was a form of plunder (pagnanakaw) diverting funds from education and social services in favor of “presidential pork.” People watching “Umagang Kay Ganda” were asked whether they supported or opposed what was done to Abad, and I was actually surprised that one-third indicated the former. I had expected a lower figure. A television poll is not exactly a scientific procedure, with political groups sometimes mobilized for it, but the figure is still a reminder that there are many people who are angry, maybe even enraged, over the DAP.
Anthony Taberna, who hosted the segment “Punto por Punto” where Charlotte and I were interviewed, ended the segment with a reference to the Esperon incident, noting how, after that happened, there were no adverse reactions from the mass media. (I checked the Internet and confirmed his observation, but note, too, that within UP, there was an exchange of opposing views involving students and faculty.)
Taberna made a strong point that no matter what one’s views are of a symposium speaker, acts of physical harassment are unjustified.
That’s a view I share, very strongly, and which becomes a point of departure from some of the more radical activists.
At the forum, Raul said activists can express themselves in many ways, and indeed we have seen the entire range, from the Oblation Run (originally a protest run during the martial law era) to the use of street theater.
We all lose when activism degenerates into shouting and harassment. Think about that Abad incident. After all the media coverage, does anyone know what Abad talked about and how his audience responded? Does anyone know what the students were protesting, other than his presence in UP?
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