My alma mater, the University of the Philippines, is known for two main storylines.
UP is the alma mater of Filipino activists and rebels who courageously took on thugs and tyrants. But it also produced some of the country’s greediest and worst politicians, including a brutal dictator whose downfall we’re celebrating this month.
What we like to describe as the “University of the People” whose graduates proudly vow to “serve the people,” can also be referred to as the “University of Plunderers” whose slogan could very well be “screw the people.”
That’s why it has always been hard for many UP alums like myself to fully embrace what UP has stood for.
Well, thanks to Duterte, the spotlight is suddenly on the UP many of us are truly proud of.
Thanks to Digong’s latest infantile tantrum, we have the opportunity to focus on and celebrate the UP alums like me strongly identify with: the Activist UP, the UP of the young Iskolar ng Bayan who stands up to bullies and doesn’t easily get intimidated.
Duterte was so offended that UP students had the audacity to hold a protest against a government known for its record of slaughter and lies that he threatened to kick them out.
“UP…they want to walk out,” he said. “You do not go to school anymore. That’s the people’s money.”
What was Duterte thinking? Did he really think you can intimidate students from a university that led some of the toughest battles in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship?
Doesn’t he know UP students don’t scare easily? That standing up to thugs is part of the UP student’s DNA?
Video clips shared on Facebook showed UP students marching with banners and picket signs in the corridors of Palma Hall. UP students have been staging such protests for decades — even when doing so was illegal and dangerous.
During martial law, when UP bore the brunt of the Marcos crackdown, what those anti-Duterte protesters did would have immediately landed them in prison or worse.
But UP students back then fought back with creative acts of defiance and rebellion. Marching in the open was illegal. So they staged lightning protests that usually involved marching from the third floor of Palma Hall to the second floor, yelling slogans and unfurling banners before quickly putting those away and dispersing quickly before police arrived.
The protest would be long enough for the activists to let other students know that there was a resistance movement against the dictatorship.
Eventually, as the movement against the regime grew stronger, the protests became longer and more daring.
By the time I entered UP in the early 1980s, activism defined UP culture. UP students were always prepared to face off with bullies. They simply don’t back down.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit it took me a while to embrace this view. A UP-led campaign in 1984 helped.
That year, led by our student council chair Lean Alejandro, UP students staged a series of weekly marches on Mendiola toward Malacanang. I was then editor of the UP Collegian and about an hour before the start of our third march, on July 6, 1984, I had a meeting with Lean who said there were reports the dictator had had enough.
“They’re going to disperse us,” Lean said.
“So do we go on with the march?” I asked.
It was a dumb question from someone who was supposed to be a UP activist, and Lean answered immediately: “Of course.”
Of course, we were not going to back down. Of course, we were not going to let ourselves be intimidated by a thug. Of course, we were going to march despite the threat of violence from a bully.
We got tear-gassed that afternoon, forced to disperse before regrouping near Espana. The dictator won that round. He showed us who’s the boss.
But not for long.
The following week, on July 13, UP students were back. This time there were more of us, including delegations from other schools and other sectors. We know what happened afterward. An even bigger demonstration finally kicked the dictator out.
Lean is famous for the quote: “The line of fire is the place of honor.”
It’s not a perspective that would be embraced by all UP students or students from other elite universities for whom the place of honor is the corner office or the corridors of political power or the presidential palace.
But in times of repression, when thugs are once again in charge, you can expect the UP aktibista to step forward to take his or her place in the line of fire.
That’s what those UP students who annoyed Duterte did. I couldn’t help smiling when when I read the follow-up INQUIRER.net story on how the UP students reacted to Duterte threat to kick them out: “You drop out.”
That is so UP, so defiant, so totally unafraid to take on a thug.
“Sige lang,” I thought. “Sulong lang (Keep going). Patuloy ninyo lang ang kwento natin.”
Visit the Kuwento page on Facebook.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.