A call to engage

QWERTYMAN - Jose Dalisay - The Philippine Star

I wasn’t going to start this column on this note since I had another topic in mind, but it occurred to me that these two concerns may after all be related and have a bearing on one another.

You may have missed it since it was just local news, but a few weeks ago, elections were held for the University of the Philippines Student Council (UPSC) in Diliman – historically, the breeding ground of young hopefuls destined for national politics. It’s always been a tight and sometimes even bitter contest of personalities and platforms, strategies and tactics, rhetoric and resources. Given its superior organization, organizational and ideological discipline and progressive platform, the student Left has held an advantage in these elections over the past few decades, but vigorous and sometimes successful challenges have arisen from centrist parties appealing to more student-oriented causes.

The outcome is often eagerly awaited. But last month, something incredible happened. The “abstain” vote won, leaving the posts of chairperson, vice chairperson and many councilors unfilled – and they will so remain.

It would be easy to read this as a sign of apathy, especially given that only 36.7 percent of the student body voted this year, but those “abstain” votes sent a clear and deliberate message: we don’t want any of you, we want something or someone better – could we please have some real change around here?

I could understand that; as a teacher (I still teach optionally, even if I’m retired), I’ve opened the classroom door to scores of student candidates asking for five minutes to make their campaign pitch, and almost invariably, it’s the same familiar litany of complaints over this and that (the same ones we ourselves mouthed half a century ago) – valid complaints, to be sure, but thoroughly tired and uninspiring. And when you ask, even in your mind, “So what are you going to do about it?” you can hear the answer coming: “Elect us, and we’ll show you!” I let my students raise the difficult questions (that’s what I train them to do) and share their discomfort and embarrassment when they don’t get the specific and well thought-out answers they deserve.

Now, put that scene on “pause,” and let me report on another UP matter (even if you’re not from UP, this likely concerns you because UP accounts for about 20 percent of our national budget for higher education).

Last week, on the occasion of UP’s 116th founding anniversary, president Angelo A. Jimenez formally presented a set of 10 “flagship programs” to the media and the public which his relatively new administration will seek to undertake – not necessarily complete, but at least initiate – over the remaining five years of his tenure. These programs were the result of year-long consultations with the university’s academic and administrative leaders. They cover academic excellence; inclusive admissions; research and innovation; Open Distance e-Learning (ODeL); Archipelagic and Oceanic Virtual University (AOVU); active and collaborative partnerships; arts and culture; expansion of public service offices; Quality Management System (QMS) and Quality Assurance (QA) and digital transformation.

Jimenez (or “PAJ” as the university community calls him) was quick to explain that rather than being new or distinctly separate programs, these are really thematic priorities that pull together many existing threads from UP’s wide range of teaching and research expertise. For example, the AOVU concept whereby UP will undertake a more comprehensive but also more coordinated study of our marine resources – our “blue economy” – draws on UP’s longstanding experience in marine science, fisheries and maritime law, with the added emphasis on our archipelagic geography as a strength rather than a weakness. This will be supported by such innovations as UP Los Baños’ new PhD offering in Environmental Diplomacy and Negotiations aimed at developing leaders from around Southeast Asia who can bring good science into environmental conflict management and sustainable development.

There are many aspects and details of the 10 flagship programs that deserve deeper discussion – and some will certainly be challenging if not controversial – but some key themes resonated with me most strongly as a former administrator, a teacher and a UP fanatic since my childhood days when my mom (UP Educ. 1956) indoctrinated me by playing a record of “UP Beloved” and “Push On, UP” over and over again on our turntable.

Likely of greatest impact to most Filipinos was PAJ’s pledge to democratize UP even further by adopting policies that will bring in more students from underrepresented and marginalized sectors of the country, to correct the lopsidedness of UP’s student profile now favoring private and largely metropolitan high school graduates without necessarily compromising UP’s high admission standards. One way would be by engaging more UP student and faculty “Pahinungod” volunteers to help in teaching disadvantaged students pre-UPCAT, and also by providing sustained support to such students who pass the UPCAT but decide to stay out because of the high expenses of studying in a UP campus (a budget has been set aside to support 350 of these students under the Lingap Iskolar program).

But the key word of the day was “service,” which has been added by PAJ to UP’s traditional motto of “Honor and Excellence.” (I know there’s been some grumbling, in typical UP fashion, over the process by which that decision was arrived at, leading me to sigh and ask, “Is that even a fight worth picking? Isn’t ‘service’ the one thing we can all implicitly agree on?”) Jimenez wants UP to be more engaged with the people, with communities, with other universities, citing programs such as UP Tacloban’s response to the seasonal red tides that render mussels unsafe to eat but still useful as extracted material for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Above all, service should be a mindset that impels UP students and faculty members to find meaningful roles on their own in their community, whether local, national or global. It struck me that perhaps this was what our student politicians needed to find and articulate, beyond sloganeering about often abstract issues – how can I serve you and our people, as I am, where I am? What can I do for you?

That “abstain” vote should be minded by the administration as well, and not just in UP. Our youth are seeking to be engaged and inspired – but their cynicism will abate only if they see, in their elders, the exemplars of the integrity and accountability, aside from ability, that any prospective servant of the people should bring to the job.

*      *      *

Email me at [email protected] and visit my blog at www.penmanila.ph.

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with