This article does not promise an exhaustive treatment of the reasons for the decline of what the author refers to as radical student activism.
The rain was heavy; it was the last week of June and regular classes have just started. A girl wearing red shirt printed with the name of one of the political organizations in the university and its slogan seemed not bothered by the pouring rain. She was carrying a megaphone and enjoining the student to take part in a demonstration that will be held outside the province’s capitol.
“Ginapanawagan namon ang tanan nga bumulutho sang sini nga unibersidad nga pamatukan ang wala untat nga pagsaka sang tuition kag iban nga bayaron!” (We are calling all the students of this university to fight against the increase in tuition and other fees!)
And with her awkward Filipino she shouted:
“Ang lantarang pambababoy ng rihemeng Arroyo ay nagpapahirap sa bawat Juan de la Cruz! Ibasura ang deregulasyon ng langis”(The blatant corruption of the Arroyo regime burdens each Juan de la Cruz (an epithet for the Filipino people)).
And ended it with the staple:
“Samahan ninyo kami sa labang ito! Makibaka, wag matakot!” (Join us in this fight. Don’t be afraid!)
Some students continued with their talks; some gave the girl a blank stare worried that the rain will soak their bags and books. In the end the group was able to convince few freshmen students who went to the capitol more out of curiosity than the understanding of the issues raised, and of course some students who regularly attend student demonstrations.
What make radical student activism passé?
It’s easier to shout using megaphones and talk about vague terms such as pambababoy (a word that escapes translation to English but is quite similar to the meaning of rape), democracy, kalayaan sa pamamahayag (freedom of speech), deregulasyon ng langis (oil deregulation) but to discuss them in depth and critically is a completely different thing which most of these students who call themselves ‘activists’ aren’t capable of doing. When they say they tackle issues critically they do not mean they have analyzed an issue and considered its merits rather what they mean is that their opinion run counter to that of the government and therefore they are critical of the government which makes them critically-minded, a word they believe aptly describes them–a total detachment from what being critical truly means.
Radical student activism has become obsolete and made unusable because it failed to address the challenges posed by the contemporary time. It might have worked during the Martial Law years when Marcos had all the powers at his disposal. Then a young university student so thirsty, hungry for change could go nowhere but the street because other institutions and state apparatuses were made inutile by the Marcoses.
Students of my generation eschew radicalism because they do not feel it is capable of effecting change in the Philippines. Moreover, they see that most of the time other methods were not exhausted before student activists go to the streets. I can only enumerate here obvious means such as writing petitions, signature campaigns, actual dialog and negotiations with the leaders, writing letters to the concerned institution. Sadly these were hardly, if at all, used
Have these student activist leaders gone inarticulate, unable to properly express themselves in front of authorities that they cloak themselves with noise, shouts, and megaphones? Have they lost words to write their opinions and to substantiate them with research that they turn to placards and sweeping slogans, easily seen, bigger impact, less cerebral?
Furthermore, a student demonstration is effective only as long as it is visible, conspicuous. It is therefore laughable and useless to talk about the plights of the urban poor or such a vast topic as corruption in the national government and stage it in the provincial capitol ground. Without sufficient media coverage, the exercise is nothing but that of futility. Passers-by have long been saturated with the same talk. They see it as nothing but nuisance that disturbs the flow of traffic or worse just plain noise.
I know student activists will retort this by saying that these actions of ordinary citizens are symptomatic of the chronic apathy and indifference of the public but they will never accept the fact that the public has already gone tired of rallies and demonstrations and want to go on with their lives. Filipinos want change badly, of course; nevertheless, they want to use other means and I’m sure rallying is not anymore one of them.
If radical student activism is on a decline there is no one to point fingers but to radical student activists themselves. Sometimes, instead of going to rallies with their cause being the forefront they attend rallies for personal reason that can range from political grandstanding to a personal belief that rallying bestows on them the spirit of the masses unburdening their conscience of the guilt they feel for being privileged, their education paid for by the poor Filipino people despite their families’ annual income amounting to several million pesos.
No matter how groups of radical student activist deny it, time has made radicalism a thing of the past. UP, a bastion of free thinking and creativity must be in the forefront of change and its students should not put themselves to shame by being frozen in a dogmatic approach to tackle a problem like what radical student activists most likely and usually do.
Activism used to have a positive connotation then it became the opposite due to overuse and misuse. A real student activist does not take issue passively. He does not take it passively as to do a very passive and almost automatic act of carrying a placard and shouting with a megaphone. He does not see an issue as another reason to go to the street.
The real student activists are a group of freshman students who finds ways to empower and make better the life of the people in Barangay Lumangan, Miagao. He is someone who writes a letter to his congressman and tells him the need for a bill that will provide insurance for students in case of an accident. She is someone who does a research on student consumption and presents it to the university administration that will help in the facilitation of student loans.
They are the real student activists.