Monday, January 16, 2006

THE OTHER VIEW: The Academe and Elite Politics

By Elmer A. Ordoñez
The Manila Times
Saturday, January 14, 2006

IDEALLY the university is a place for research, teaching and extension (off campus) service and occupies a traditionally revered (now tenuous) position as the "conscience" of the nation, sometimes "agent of social change."

At least this was how UP presidents (like Rafael Palma, Bienvenido Gonzalez, Salvador P. Lopez and even Jose Abueva) saw academe's role. Palma, Gonzalez and Lopez ran afoul with the powers that be and were eased out of office before the end of their terms.

Left intellectuals actually see academe as part of the "ideological state apparatus" of the ruling class which (together with the coercive agencies of the state) manages to reproduce or perpetuate its hegemony.

Hence, the first president, an American, Murray Bartlett, said at his investiture that the state university's function was to produce Filipino English-speaking professionals and bureaucrats. Scholars, called pensionados, were sent to the US and came back to serve in the
colonial regime.

After Osmeña and Quezon there was a succession of presidents who studied law in UP like Jose P. Laurel, Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino and Ferdinand Marcos. More recently two other presidents were in UP—Fidel Ramos (MA) and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (PhD). The executive
departments, judiciary and Congress at some time were dominated by UP alumni.

The UP itself has had at its helm and faculty mostly its own graduates. Study abroad (mainly US schools) for most of them rounded up their Western education.

The postwar US-sponsored scholarships (like Fulbright, Smith-Mundt, Ford, and Rockefeller) for faculty and administration in top US schools ensured a continuous supply of "properly oriented" faculty and researchers easily co-opted by the elite-controlled national government.

Hence, it is not surprising that select units of the UP like its schools of economics, public administration, agriculture and fisheries were awash with grants and various forms of aid. UP Los Baños boasts of its higher number of PhDs than those in some units like science and
engineering in Diliman because of the "generosity" of funding agencies, including the IMF-World Bank.

Hence, it is also not surprising that a former UP president (who had long advocated a federal system of government) was asked to head a handpicked constitutional commission (itself composed of many allies of the regime) which would do the bidding of the appointing power.

Expectedly the proposals were tailor-made for a President now struggling to survive.

Tinkering with the 1987 Constitution (by no means perfect) at this stage runs the risk of abolishing provisions for broader representation in Congress like the party-list and reviving parity rights (this time for all foreign investors) by opening up the national patrimony and sensitive areas like media and education for TNCs. The elite see party-list representation as superfluous, even dangerous to their interests, but they also know how to use it by forming surrogate party-list groups.

Neoliberalism is now the dominant thinking among economic planners and managers, many of whom are UP products. Hence, free trade, liberalization, globalization and privatization—even as these have wrought havoc on local manufacturers, farmers, fisherfolk and other productive forces in the country.

Now come two controversial proposals: no-election in 2007 (ensuring the tenure of a perceived corrupt and illegitimate regime) and abridgment of civil liberties by coining the phrase "responsible exercise" of freedom of speech, press and assembly—when there are enough laws (like those on libel and public order) to check "irresponsible" exercise of those rights. The elite at this point seem inclined to more repressive measures and fascistic methods reminiscent of the martial-law period.

The academe would do well to steer clear of dubious projects of the regime fighting for its survival in the face of growing opposition from those below. While tainted by the prostitution of some of its best minds, the university still harbors people (faculty, students and workers) who understand the roots of the impasse we are in and have aligned themselves with the interests of the vast majority who live in poverty and misery because of elite politics—marked by patronage, corruption and plain misgovernance.

In 2008 the UP constituency will celebrate its centenary and may well take the opportunity to reconfigure themselves—not as ideologues and subalterns of a decaying elite-controlled state but as scientists, intellectuals and artists in the service of a long-suffering people.

Copyright (c) 2001 The Manila Times

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