The ides of a university

Intelligence-gathering, when conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, becomes less of an undercover op and more of wish-fulfillment in that it could really use some intelligence. After identifying 18 universities and colleges as alleged hotbeds of recruitment for the Communists, the AFP backtracks—sort of—admits that the institutions on its list have yet to be “validated.” One of those colleges, Caloocan City College, actually does not exist. There is a University of Caloocan City which used to be Caloocan City Community College, though it acquired university status in 2004, but a Caloocan City College—nada. Which makes one wonder if this faux pas is a failure of intelligence or a failure of intelligence.

Of the 17, none have admitted the accuracy of the AFP’s accusation. The 17 include the University of the Philippines in Diliman and Manila, Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle University, the University of Santo Tomas, Far Eastern University, two campuses of the University of the East, Lyceum University, Philippine Normal University, Adamson University, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, University of Makati, University of Manila, San Beda, Emilio Aguinaldo College, and Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology.  The basis of inclusion in the list was the screening of martial law films in these schools.  That’s it. That’s all there is. If the evidence strikes you as flimsy, as not even constituting a preponderance of evidence, which is the amount of proof a reasonable person will accept as sufficient to support a conclusion, then you are obviously a civilian and considerably less paranoid than our gallant men in uniform.

What would John Cardinal Newman have thought of all this? He, after all, idealized universities as bastions of liberal education.  Newman decried specializations, degrees and programs recognizable to us as those in commerce, or nursing, or journalism, which he believed encouraged narrow thinking. It was Newman’s belief that universities instill in their students habits of mind rather than specialized knowledge. By 21st century standards, Newman’s views betray ivory-tower thinking, which opens him up to criticism of ignoring the utilitarian function of education. Today’s job market requires specific skill sets that can be acquired only through specialized study, but overall, I think Newman remains relevant.

Set aside for the moment the government’s “red-tagging” of educational institutions and concentrate more on the issue of academic freedom. This is a right recognized by the Constitution as pertaining to all institutions of higher learning. Succinctly, academic freedom has four aspects:  who may teach; what subjects may be taught, how these shall be taught; and who may be admitted to study. If UP, Ateneo and the rest elect to show martial law films to its students, they are certainly free to do so in deference to academic freedom.

In fact, if you study the Constitution more closely, you will find that in section 3 of article XIV, schools are tasked to “inculcate patriotism and nationalism, foster love of humanity, respect for human rights, appreciation of the role of national heroes in the historical development of the country, teach the rights and duties of citizenship, strengthen ethical and spiritual values, develop moral character and personal discipline, encourage critical and creative thinking, broaden scientific and technological knowledge, and promote vocational efficiency.” In other words, there can be no serious study of Philippine history and respect for human rights if the curriculum glosses over martial law and the depredations of Ferdinand Marcos, his families and cronies. Impressionable youth cannot appreciate the role of national heroes without juxtaposing them to their historical villains.

Not all the lessons a university or college has to offer are taught in the classroom. Not all the knowledge that may be imparted to students comes only from books. Not all learning is fostered by recitation or lecture; sometimes, learning is in the doing, and sometimes, that doing takes place outside the classroom. My generation was lucky enough to have come of age during the decaying years of the Marcos dictatorship and in attending rallies and street protests, we learned a lot about the duties imposed by citizenship, the importance of human rights, the need to fight for what you believe in, the realization that democracy is not something you deserve but have to earn. The years diluted those lessons, and if showing students cinematic renditions of their history revives those lessons, then by all means colleges and universities should be free to do so.

“Red-tagging” shows shades of history repeating. It was a tactic employed during the Marcos era and it is a tactic being used now. It is old hat, an old refrain, been there, done that. If the AFP had studied their history, they would have known that, but it is a failure of the instruction they received that is responsible for their thinking. They, above all, would have greatly benefited from a liberal education. G



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