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What makes UP special?

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2021 - 12:00am

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana argues against exclusivity, pointing out that Ateneo, San Beda, La Salle don’t have their own Ramos-Nemenzo/Soto-Enrile agreements. For Sorsogon Governor Francis Escudero, the same question. Why UP only? But his view is inclusive – better an accord with all universities.

The University of the Philippines is special, no doubt. None more than UP can boast of a long and storied history as incubators of the dissent so vital to reform, coming at the cost of engagement with security forces of the state. It is this pedigree, and the recognition of their role in nation building, that cemented its pride of place. To honor this, our leaders benevolently make the special effort. Call it what you will: kid gloves, wide berth, arm’s length. Even a “De-militarized Zone.” UP has earned it.

Its own congressional charter states that “UP has the right to be treated in a manner consistent with its institutional requirements as the national university by the service-wide agencies in the exercise of their respective jurisdiction.”

The crucible. Independent of its history or legal mandates, UP is special because any university is special. What they would call indoctrination is actually education. Openness, autonomy, critical thinking, all these are essential ingredients for universities to attain its mission. And what is that mission? Go no further than our column title: the search for truth.

For true learning to flourish, ideas and propositions are challenged, second guessed. Universities instill a temperament of curiosity, inquiry, verification, skepticism, criticism, provocation. The value to society of diverse views is critical. Knowledge, information, decisions are precisely forged in the mayhem of clashing truths and contradictions, from all directions.

We need these spaces for learning. Safe spaces, open spaces, free spaces, sacred spaces. We need to secure and preserve and protect them, peacefully if we can, aggressively if we must. It is a fragile environment where alternative perspectives are courageously expressed and unfailingly respected.

Seatmate, soldier. The UP-DND accord was necessitated not just by the excesses of state security forces in the past. It was an acknowledgment, even by our defense and security establishments, that the mere prospect or presence of state security forces on campus was enough to scare, intimidate, coerce the community and diminish their academic freedom.

Reasonable men may support this move. Sen. Ping Lacson sees how universities, not just UP, have become hotbeds of recruitment, not just dissent. And students are getting killed for this. Without expressly saying so, he believes that stopping the discourse will end the recruitment, their taking up of guns against the government and protect them from themselves.

South Korea shared that belief in the 1980s under Gen. Chun Doo Hwan, stationing garrisons by university gates. They were under martial law. Greece, in 2019, under new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, revoked a 40-year-old university asylum law and plans on state security divisions on university campuses. His administration has been called center-right to far right to authoritarian.

In loco parentis. This is yet another reason for these agreements. And it has been affirmed by the Supreme Court as applicable not only to minor students in their custody. Per Justice JBL Reyes: “While in the case of parents and guardians, their authority and supervision over the children and wards end by law upon the latter reaching majority age, the authority and custodial supervision over pupils exist regardless of the age of the latter. A student over twenty-one, by enrolling and attending a school, places himself under the custodial supervision and disciplinary authority of the school authorities…” Withdrawing from the agreement would pose untold complications impacting the university’s substituted authority under the law.

Sec. Harry Roque, UP stalwart, has brokered a dialogue between Sec. Lorenzana and UP president Danilo L. Concepcion on how to proceed. Sen. Lacson himself acknowledges that if the intent is to muzzle academic freedom, then the DND would be overstepping. As reassurance, Sec. Lorenzana has guaranteed the unimpaired exercise of freedom of expression on campus, even though one of the terms of the accord they disavowed was that “members of the military and police shall not interfere with peaceful protest actions by the UP community in their campus.”

Reality bites. With a population of approximately 109.6 million as of 2020 (based on UN population fund data), about 77 million of us need to be inoculated for 70 percent herd immunity. We have a corps of only 617,239 health workers to administer the 154 million vaccine doses needed. Even if the vaccines were to magically appear in March, at rough calculations we would need to jab over 500,000 a day for 300 days. The scale is colossal.

The Department of Health is looking to draft midwives and pharmacists to augment capacities. Sen. Richard Gordon would enlist dentists, veterinarians, medical technologists and even those with no medical background. For all recruits, the silver bullet is vaccinator training.

But even before the training on vaccine logistics and administration, there is the training to convince, persuade, cajole. We’ve seen even in First World countries already in the happy midst of rollout that not everyone shows up for their shots.

Our own statistics are discouraging. According to Pulse Asia, 47 percent are refusing vaccination. 21 percent are undecided and only 32 percent are willing. 32 percent is a reverse herd.

Studies have shown that community health workers are the most influential to the grassroots on health decisions. We should already be seeing not just time and motion drills at the LGU levels. Let’s get the health workers talking to the populace on the safety of the vaccines. The efforts at convincing the Filipino should not be limited to the spectacle of inoculating our leaders.

The public mood for or against vaccines can’t be pegged to our experience from dengvaxia, or from measles. These are decisions we make for our children for which we are naturally more cautious. The COVID-19 vaccine is for ourselves. And the messaging that needs fixing is on safety. How safe are the vaccines and are we getting the safest?

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