Where does radical student activism stand?

Two years ago when I was still in college, I was starting to worry about the apparent lack of a formal debate on whether the paradigm of radicalism still applies to the issues confronting the students and the nation in general. For me then, I saw radicalism as out of date; it failed to make sense once subjected to issues of national concern; sweeping statements and overtly extremist generalization failed to capture the core of the challenges in those years. Although they won landslide victories in the college elections I surmised that students will one day realize that radicalism has been outgrown by time. During my stay in college most students who have political ambitions tend to align themselves with the more popular, then the radical, group.

In my last year in UP Visayas, I was secretly offered by the senior members of the two political organizations in the college to run under their party but i declined both offers telling them that my task as the editor in chief of the college paper was more important and besides I did not want to compromise my principles by being a part of any political organization, but it was more of delicadeza more than anything else having tongue-lashed both parties in the pages of the paper.

Going Against the Current has become a platform where the debate on the decline or radical student activism has been raised and scrutinized. I started it with an impersonal essay on what brought forth this failure of radicalism. But the impersonal tone of the essay was never enough to put emotions at bay, I found out. The merits of the arguments was raised beyond the objective, and as a writer I have all the right to defend myself . One of the more ‘passionate’ if not emotion-laden comments was the one posted by chaps.

Allow me, therefore, to answer point by point the comments posted by chaps in an emotionally detached way as possible:

chaps Says:
July 26, 2008 at 8:54 pm e

It’s so nice of you to tell your viewers the difference between a real student activist(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) and not.

Hear me now. If you know what a real activist is, why did you not become one “real” student activist when you were still a student? Why did you not publish good articles that could be read by students and administrators when you were the editor-in-chief of pagbutlak? Why did you not send to our congressmen that students need insurance? and things like that?

I know why. Simply because you’re not an activist and that disqualifies you to say what a real student activist really is.

If only we can do away with our naivete.

When I was in college, I did what I had to do, silently. When I did a project on helping the people in Mindanao deal with soil erosion and taught them a technology to prevent the degradation of the soil, I did not need a megaphone to do that. When I gathered a pool of lawyers from the Public Attorney’ Office to help abused women in Miagao, I did not have to paint it in red placards.

If you have time, then you may check the records of Representative Darlene Antonino of the 2nd District of South Cotabato and check the letters sent by an unknown student named John Ryan Recabar in Iloilo as regards the need for a universal insurance for students, healthcare for students, and the review of the Sangguniang Kabataan. If this is not activism in its real sense, I do not know what is. If you see it as too passive, then enlighten me what activism is.

In a publication, the readers are at the mercy of the kind of editorial stance the board wants to espouse. I admit that the publication was far from perfect, but it was consistent in its stands. We never allowed any political group to meddle with the decisions the board made. In fact I can proudly say that based on a content analysis done, both parties were given equal space in the paper.

What do you mean by good articles? You mean entertainment articles? Overtly extremist articles? Enlighten me.

For the years of my stint as editor, the paper waited in vain for contributions to make it ‘good’ but nobody from the groups who call themselves activists heeded the call. I never received any letter criticizing the paper except from Teresa Ira Maris Guanzon who decried the paper’s bias because of a slogan of SAMASA on the centerfold of my first issue as editor. I admit it was a lapse in judgment. But it was the first and the last. Was there a pool of really good articles the paper could choose to publish? There was none. Nevertheless, the paper was able to publish despite the bureaucracy in the UP administration. We didn’t have to grandstand and call a radical student organization to rally for the paper cause. For us then, we felt that we need to publish and we had to work to release an issue, no more no less. If indeed you were dissatisfied with the articles, you should have presented and subject yourself to editorial screening. Then you could have actively become a part of true student activism.

How can KMU, Gabriela and others represent the oppressed masses? Because they themselves are the ones being oppressed, and they simply represent themselves. And i think they are empowered because they were given a chance to be heard.

It’s too grand a declaration to say that these militant organizations represent the entire of the underprivileged class. I was a student before, and technically still a student now, but I wouldn’t make such a statement–I am not capable of saying that I represent the student body. The spectrum of poverty, experience, level of knowledge, and opinion of the Filipino people is diverse and no organization can truly capture this multi-faceted identity.

About the politicians you were talking about, have they even bothered looking the newspapers that people protest on a certain issue? Example: On political killings, they themselves know what’s happening and still, they did not take INITIATIVES to research and give some time to discuss on their own on this issue and make some proper actions. And the reason you’re telling us is they are waiting for someone to send a letter to them telling that someone is really missing or dead? Who are these trustworthy politicians you were talking about? Tell them to watch news and read newspapers.

I do agree with you. We direly need a trustworthy politicians/state men that deliver results. I did not say that they are only waiting for the letter the constituents send. Let’s not be naive. The problem of this country has already gone out of proportion, the reason so complex and difficult to give solution, and this should never just be a concern of politicians. We ask ourselves, aside from shouting the obvious, writing on placards and raising facts known to everyone, what have we done to tackle the issues and provide solutions that deliver? Something that works? Something that goes beyond grandstanding?

In case you do not know, student activists come in different forms and styles, and whatever they do, it’s their democratic right, BUT you may not accept it and you may debunk it if you believe they’re not right(like what you’re doing in this article). Things always change and they can be changed, so… what are you saying about the tuition fee increase?

In any case, I do know. In my first article, I did a critique of radical student activism and pointed the reason why it failed to work, why it failed to change the nation that it wants to change, why it’s on a decline.

Student activism, in it’s real sense, does work and what this country needs.

If you believe that you’re right in saying what a real activist is, then be one and prove to everybody what way is right and effective. Then, it could be adopted.

I’ve already made a reply on this. Allow me to ask you, would you be willing to espouse a more proactive kind of activism?

I believe activists go to streets, shout and make noise because it has been proven effective based on our history(e.g. during Marcos’ regime). Being right is relative you know, but effectiveness rocks.

Yes, I could never agree more. It was effective during that time when it was novel, innovative, but the decline of student activism has been brought about by activists themselves. They have overused the power of free expression of self. Government official ignore rallies as nothing but noise and ordinary Filipinos, after many decades of demonstrations, have gone tired of it. Have you offered a sound alternative? Have you offered a doable alternative? Have you offered a sensible alternative that is more than just plain idealism?

Vietnam? You are telling us why are there no demonstrations, another reason maybe because there is nothing to protest on. – just a small comment. ^_^

It was nice attempt to be humorous. Let’s not be naive. There are no demonstrations here because the government does not allow them, the people are too scared to stage ralles. Is this the end that radical student activists fight for, a socialist state where everyone is treated “equally”, where the right to self expression is subordinate to that of the government, where equality is nothing but a buzzword?

Thanks for the comments.

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4 thoughts on “Where does radical student activism stand?”

  1. Good day readers!

    “When I did a project on helping the people in Mindanao deal with soil erosion and taught them a technology to prevent the degradation of the soil, I did not need a megaphone to do that. When I gathered a pool of lawyers from the Public Attorney’ Office to help abused women in Miagao, I did not have to paint it in red placards.
    …Universal insurance for students, healthcare for students, and the review of the Sangguniang Kabataan. If this is not activism in its real sense, I do not know what is. If you see it as too passive, then enlighten me what activism is.”

    — Honestly speaking, this is the first step of activism. And will it make you an activist? Yes. So will this prove me wrong in saying you’re not a real activist? Yes. So will this tell our readers that I’ve said things in the personal level? Yes. Apologies for the host, and from these statements, we could now talk. Definitely, an activist to an activist.

    — What’s next for an activist? Of course, the next step. Update from time to time where the universal insurance, healthcare for students, and the review of the Sangguniang Kabataan is, until it gets approved – because if not, it might get lost and may be gone forever. Sayang naman.

    And one better way to support these statements is to gather students, enlighten them and ask if they would join you in your actions. You’ve sent these letters because you know that the students really need this and this is really for them (I assume). Because if these are not for them, then what’s the use of sending? Now, can I conclude that you have represented them? How? By doing actions for the benefit of the students which you believe are needed. You may have said “i am not capable of saying that I represent the student body” , but you made an action to represent them and that action definitely aimed in helping.

    Why is there a need to gather students and, in anyway possible, make them join you? Because it’s their/our issue, not only yours, not only mine. And I believe, it can never be done by one John Ryan Recabar only. BUT, he could always lead.

    I actually agree in what you said about you not needing of a megaphone and red placards to help. You really don’t need those things if you want to answer their immediate needs, maybe even their long term needs, because, that is your own form of response to the fact that people are in need of help. And i respect that.

    About the decline of the radical student activism. True. There is really a decline, in number and in impact. Worse, people, especially from cities, see radical activists as annoyance and just noise makers with no effects at all. But please, let us not blame them for doing such. Blaming them won’t simply solve your problem, same applies with killing them. One solution to make them stop would be: Give them what they need. I think all they’re asking for is for the Government to be true to its duties and promises and be held accountable for its actions.

    Radical student activists won’t go to rallies if education budget is not cut, if there is no increase in the tuition, if their concerns were addressed properly, if their petitions and calls weren’t junked, and if their rights weren’t oppressed.

    Honestly speaking, as of now, I only see here two sides of the cube. One, people who are the radical student activists and two, people who hates the way radical student activists act. If we can’t make a square out of this cube, only chaos among our ranks will happen.

    You said: “We ask ourselves, aside from shouting the obvious, writing on placards and raising facts known to everyone, what have we done to tackle the issues and provide solutions that deliver? Something that works? Something that goes beyond grandstanding?”

    First, the ways of the radical student activists as seen by many are making placards, using megaphones to be heard, doing rallies, protesting on streets, and others that are really catchy to the eye, if not annoying.

    How will this work? In the long run, and if you start to believe in them, then there’s a huge chance of making the fight successful. And this is a process, not just a one shot and it’s already there. Solutions that deliver? You just don’t go to streets without a “request” from the government. Example: No to Budget Cut. Junk the Oil Deregulation Law. Dagdag Sahod. They are right in front of you. And without the support of the people doing this kind of actions, the “papers” in the office will not move.

    I think I need to say this. Doing street protests and/or any kind of oral protests could: (1) Give pressure to the “offices” to process their request/s. (2) Show that someone or many are against/pro the issue being implemented or implemented. (3) Show support to a bill/suggestion/any given situation given to/by the “office” (4) Show a united stand on an issue. (5) Make a leader step down. And many more.

    Why do we always see against in their banners? Because, they know that it would not make their lives better and thus, they simply have to say what they have to say. And it just happens that they meet one another also having the same concern.

    Quit generalizing and stop saying that radical student activist only aims in making a socialist state out of this country. And about Vietnam, tell me more about Vietnam. Is the hunger there worse compared with the hunger in Philippines? I’ve seen in the news that subsidies for buses were increased to avoid the hike of the fare due to the global crisis on oil. And to inform you, the jeepney’s fare here has already increased.

    People, when oppressed or being hurt, have the tendency to keep quite at first, then, when they had enough, they would strike back automatically, even if the enemy is big. So, don’t easily judge the people there when they do not protest, if the oppressions (as what you’re saying that the “right to self expression is subordinate to that of the government”) set in their hearts and minds, no one can stop them. As what I’ve pointed out in my previous post, there are no protests in Vietnam maybe because there is nothing to protest on, everything is being taken care of by the government. And this statement is not being naive, and so as I. This is actually a statement of a possibility.

    Going back on the radical student activists. They do not do rallies only. Or talking at the back of the megaphone. Aside from the things mentioned above, radical student activists also do researches, give educational discussions, do room to room campaigns and signature campaigns, assist in communities, immerse in a poor or a rural community, attend public hearings, sponsor school activities, ask for a dialogue, and post papers on the issues faced by the public.

    And to tell you honestly, when radical student activists are not doing things that are mentioned above, they are busy studying, playing computer games, reading pocket books, sleeping and even courting the love of their life. Just like any student or teenager would do.

    You’re asking me: “Would you be willing to espouse a more proactive kind of activism?” If the proactive kind of activism you’re telling me is the same with doing the legal process(through papers) and getting right people to help the right persons. Then the answer is YES. Always been like that. I’ve been through that, and still practicing.

    Now. Would you be willing to espouse a more radical type of activism to prevent its decline?

    This is the side of the cube i want to share. Please learn from this and hopefully you could adopt a system like this.

    Sir Recabar, it is really a nice observation that you’ve seen the decline of the radical student activism. It may decline now, but soon it will rise again. It’s a cycle. You may not want this, but I’ve noticed that, your beliefs are the same with the beliefs of the true blue activists. Please continue on making comments on my points, I want to learn more from this blog. And please, don’t involve KMU and Gabriela here, no one will speak for them.

    P.S.
    power ranger – stop generalizing the Activists. Our host here is also an activist you know. I’m an activist too and i would like to ask some questions, so that we could answer your comment properly.

    “ruthless opportunism (i recall some recent issue about the gabriela group using the UP buses for their personal agendas. i wonder what became of it)” – Are you talking about the relief operations which happened after the flood? Were you there when gabriela coordinated with UP? Were you listening what they were saying?

    “they seem reluctant to focus on fighting against the wrong things, and instead would focus instead on making stupid childish actions such as burning gloria’s effigy, and stuff instead of making a more effective change.” – fighting against the wrong things? making stupid actions such as burning gloria’s effigy? Please elaborate and specify especially on actions. Please explain ‘more effective change’ and how.

    “kabastusan towards the government of the republic of the philippines” – how? what is kabastusan anyway?

    “pawang kamalian sa pag-intindi sa mga social issues” – what social issues are you talking about? And what’s the right one? Please provide.

    “that is why people who are morally upright never wanted to deal with activist matters, because with activists, the only thing that seems to bind them is their common hatred towards the president” – OMG! I really can’t believe there are people who think this way. Anyway, can’t blame you though, the only thing i can hope is, you learn something from the side of the cube i presented.

    – First of all, not all activists hate the president, not all want her to step down, and definitely hatred towards the president is not one of the binding factors of the activists. It is quite heavy that you simply generalize everything. Since you’re not an activist, I assume you do not know the ways of an activist, may it be a “legal” or street(i place quotation marks on legal, because street is also legal) processes, and both are done by an activist. Activist means being active especially in addressing the problems, by making solutions and doing proper actions.

    – Please. Being the morally upright(whatever this thing means) person/superhero please refrain from saying phrases which is really immoral and I believe more of childish, such as ruthless opportunism, focus on fighting against the wrong things, making stupid childish actions, pawang kabastusan lamang, pawang kamalian sa pag-intindi sa mga social issues, common hatred towards the president in addressing the activists.

    I’ve seen three sides of the cube now. One who is morally upright that makes generalizations and says things which he/she does not even seen or experienced to fully understand.

    Continue to Serve Guys!

  2. the decline of activism is largely because of the new social situations that has arisen that empowered the individual filipino to make an individual effort to change his/her plight in life. collectivist social movement and the like, are only as effective as the time it was first used (during the industrial age). modern times call for modern social movements that does not inspire the wrong things (bigotry, mudslinging, sensationalism, etc), but inspires the right course of action (through legal, sustainable and well-thought-out plans, not rashly ill-conceived measures like taking out vat just to appease the masses).

    the league of activists (which spouts the same canned messages) are fighting the last war, to the extent that it has shown the filipino people their ruthless opportunism (i recall some recent issue about the gabriela group using the UP buses for their personal agendas. i wonder what became of it.), and of course, their embarrassing public display of zealous contempt towards a figurehead who herself, symbolizes the government of the republic of the philippines. they said, hate the sin, not the sinner. but with the activists, they seem reluctant to focus on fighting against the wrong things, and instead would focus instead on making stupid childish actions such as burning gloria’s effigy, and stuff, instead of making a more effective change. pawang kabastusan lamang ang naipapakita nila sa mga bata. kabastusan towards a leader they disagree with. kabastusan towards the government of the republic of the philippines. and pawang kamalian sa pag-intindi sa mga social issues. that is why people who are morally upright never wanted to deal with activist matters, because with activists, the only thing that seems to bind them is their common hatred towards the president.

    yun lang po.

  3. Students activists do not fight for a socialist state sir.. Well, most of them don’t. A socialist state is a very ideal state which is very much impossible in reality. Activists fight for fairness, not total equality.

    I admire the things that you have done secretly sir.

  4. Well, i agree with some of your ideas sir. However, the last paragraph disturbed me. I would like to say that not all student activists are that radical wherein they want a socialist state. I am not representing anyone or any group here but i think that it generalizes student activists.

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