Bitterness and alternative paradigm: A response to The Rise of Reactionary Students

It makes me see a glimmer of hope in this debate because once again we learn that intellectual debate in this university is far from dead. Although I do not personally know the writer of the article The Rise of Reactionary Students her/his courage to make use of real identity instead of some pseudonym speaks something about the writer-the readiness to stand by the words she/he has written.

Language is paramount in this debate inasmuch as it is an essential part in this exchange of thoughts. It occurred to me, however, that reactionary is not the right word to call students who badly want change as much as radical student activists do. None of us want to either maintain or revive any past regimes, as what radical student activists call past administrations. If there is a common ground we all stand, it’s our thirst for change, hunger for reform. The call for change is not a monopoly of radical student activists. We ALL want change. Nobody wants things to remain as they are. Nobody wants the Philippines to remain where it is now.

When I wrote the Decline of student activism I thought of it as a response to a prevailing paradigm most student activists take, especially in the University of the Philippines. A well-worn paradigm, in fact too worn out that it becomes somewhat automatic, something that the word critical will never capture because it is never at all critical–radicalism: we raise the tuition because rounds of inflation have made the former 300 or 200-peso-per-unit tuition unable to sustain the expenses for maintaining the best institution for higher learning in this country.

The automatic responses from radical student activists are that it is anti-poor, it is making the university elitist, it is disenfranchising poor students to study in UP. We see it must be very nice to have everything for free but we know this will not make sense because business will suffer, and the consumer themselves, eventually. We want to have free education, at whose expense? You say the money is lost because of corruption in the government. True, a fact we all know and something we should not overlook.

But while trying to fight corruption we cannot afford to continuously wait for the government to clean itself off corruption before we try to give solution to the apparent decline of a UP education. The problem is urgent. Let me ask the writer of the response to the Decline of student activism, where else do you think the money for tuition go? I do not suppose you see the former two hundred pesos per-unit you pay before as a token of appreciation to UP nor was it a donation. It was used to maintain the University, to keep it going amid budget cuts. I am with you when you believe that the state must not abandon UP, but it is also true that UP will not be a competitive university if it solely relies on the government.

I never saw it as cocky and a sign of arrogance to write down what I believe in and to let other students read an alternative paradigm that is rarely tried-a proactive kind of student activism which is dynamic in the real sense. It was easy for radical student activists to lambast passive students, for indeed they exist in the university and there are many of them. Nonetheless, radical student activists calling students who prioritize their studies over radicalism, rallies, and demonstrations, passive and unconcerned is too childish and an insult to the word critical that they fondly call themselves.

Forgive me if this sounds already too personal but being poor was never an excuse to leave my class and do something for a more “noble” cause-rallying in behalf other poor students. When I was in college I saw myself as a student, more than anything else. I thought I was doing a disservice to the Filipino people if I didn’t do well in class. I came from a poor family; my parents were barely able to come by after sending all their children to college in a far place to gain knowledge, learn independence, struggle with life. We were poor but I never saw this fact as an obstacle to do my best in class. Like any other poor UP students I missed meals because of my parents’ failure to send me money on time, but I saw things proactively. I never saw it as an excuse to do grandstanding and to put ALL the blame to the government. I thought I was already privileged to study in the best university in the country.

I felt rage inside me when I encountered radical classmates of mine then who proclaimed that they were fighting against tuition increase and for greater state subsidy when at the same time they could barely pass the exam (and they seemed to be proud of it), when they seldom attend classes (and they seemed to be proud of it), when they hardly give any sensible argument in class (and they seemed to be proud of it).

Before one can become a student activist he/she must be a student first. But it seemed that they have forgotten that very fundamental fact.

I sensed bitterness in the words of the writer when he/she said:

It really is a sad thing that when we achieve a lot and gained the audience to listen for, we sometimes believe what we say is the ultimate truth. It doesn’t always conclude that when we graduate as cum laude, magna cum laude or even summa cum laude, we are always correct and have the right to mock at the freedom of the other people. Making judgments to people who fight for a cause Andres Bonifacio has started is blatantly and consciously arrogant.

I sensed that you are bitter because this writer has gained audience to listen to him. But let me assure you that I do not profess to hold ultimate truth; at the end of the day, the students will have to judge whether they will take a well-worn path of radicalism or espouse a new paradigm to achieve change. Let’s give them that choice.

Most of radical student activists never realized that in order to gain a mass audience they have to be believable. If you want to capture a critical and intellectual audience, giving them over-generalized slogan will never work, shouting at them emotion-laden rhetoric is inutile if they see that you do not walk the talk, that you do not deliver result, that your assumptions are obsolete, out of date. The radical student activists during the Marcos years were believable, worth listening to, true student activists because they had proven their ability as students first before they embarked on the truly noble kind of activism during the 70s. Before they became radical activists they were critical students in class who recognized that they were indebted to the Filipino people and must be true to their responsibility of being academically excellent.

By all means I can assure you that I know where the demarcation line between sensibility, rationality, critical-mindedness and naivety, partiality, empty rhetoric lies. I do not see anything wrong in this kind of debate because it allows our readers to subject our beliefs, biases which we think as universal to scrutiny and challenge them further to make sure that they stand the test of critical thinking. The decline of radicalism will continue unless the people who espouse the concept do not think out of the usual responses to the different kind of crises our time poses to us.

The real student activists may not be effecting change with megaphones or placards but surely I know they deliver results. You see them in the students who share their knowledge in writing and Journalism to the students in barangays in Miagao, in the Pahinungod volunteers who thought of educating the students in far-flung areas setting aside for a while personal ambitions, in the students who do well in class and dedicate their efforts for the future of this country. And you call them reactionary?

Lest I forget, your style of writing is commendable; I’m not a firm believer of originality since in a post-modern age, the concepts of style, ownership, property are blurred. And it must have been easier for you to pattern your discourse using the original point of reference, which is the essay Decline of radical student activism, I do not see that as a form a plagiarism since post-modernity made the concept practically impossible.

1 thought on “Bitterness and alternative paradigm: A response to The Rise of Reactionary Students”

  1. i remembered what my brother told me when i was just 7-8, nung 70’s until early 90’s (during his time sa UP) student activists were really excellent.. so in high school i really admired them, telling myself that one day i’ll be like them..

    although that admiration led to me a big disappointment.. when i entered UP, pinilit kong hinanap ung sabi ng kuya ko na “excellent” (he meant by excellent ung really intelligent na nangunguna talaga sa class, not only passing the exam but toping it).. i had classmates who are activists, like what you said sir seemed proud pa that they are fighting for us and for the Filipino people, and always absent in class, pero they can’t pass the exams.. how can they win the fight of the Filipino people if they can’t win their own fight in class (exams)..

    don’t criticize me or people like me to have that kind of perception towards people like you. instead ask yourself, may gnanawa ba ako para maging ganito ang pananaw ang ibang isko at iska sa amin? i’m sure hindi lang ako ang nadisappoint nyo.. marami kaming bumilib at naniwala sa inyo dati, at marami pa ring kabataang Pilipino ang naniniwala sa inyo.. don’t give them the kind of disappointment na binigay nyo sa amin.. ^_^

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