Read the first part here.
The new millennium saw the Philippines still navigating the shifting ruins of post-1986. Just a year into the 21st century, shockwaves once again rippled through the country as President Joseph Estrada was ousted and Gloria Arroyo assumed power.
Arroyo promised to bolster the economy through methods that would soon prove inimical to public interests. In UP, these manifested in budget cuts and the commercialization of campus lands and education, all of which still persist at present.
So bereft of its public character is the UP that newly-elected chancellor Dr. Fidel Nemenzo would lead that much is expected of his dedication to fulfill his promises.
𝗕𝗲𝗱𝗿𝗼𝗼𝗺 𝗼𝗳 B𝗮𝗿𝗼𝗻𝘀
Dr. Emerlinda Roman became UP president in 2005 and ceded the chancellorship to faculty regent Dr. Sergio Cao. Their tenacity to put the onus of funding on their constituents would prove to be a bureaucratic challenge for a Diliman facing enormous budget cuts. Their measures also caused a reduction of employees and wholesale dismissal or contractualization of janitors.
Vendors along the Academic Oval faced eviction due to “unfair competition” with private concessionaires. Narry Hernandez, President of Samahang Manininda sa UP Campus, recounted: “Talagang sobra ang laban namin noon. Ang higpit-higpit ng mga patakaran nila.”
In 2006, Cao withheld the Collegian funds on supposedly legal bases, so regular publication was stalled for months at a time when the paper was slamming the UP administration’s policies. Nonetheless, the Collegian revived Rebel Kulê, asserting its refusal to cower to the administration’s demands.
Stifling the press served to assist in the administration’s sinister plot. Anticipating protests, the University Council cancelled the 2006 Lantern Parade, citing “threats to persons and property.” Yet this move soon proved to make way for the Board of Regents’ (BOR) clandestine approval of a 300-percent tuition increase, the highest since the 1989 institution of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) which saw tuition rise from P40 to P300.
Cao’s indifference to sectoral pleas prompted the search committee to depict him in a “bad light,” based on consultations. Yet the BOR reappointed him during an executive session, where staff were requested to leave the room and minutes were not recorded.
“Kasi baka consolidated yung ranks nung mga faculty around Cao. They cannot afford na biglang maiba ang chancellor,” student representative to the committee Rainier Sindayen reasoned in a recent interview with the Collegian, saying the administration, then, could not have a weak link in its chain.
Roman and Cao held positions simultaneously, as if fine-tuned to maneuver the university like a well-oiled corporate machine. This coordination produced a UP Charter retaining the BOR’s powers and provisions for commercialization of UP assets, yet providing for staff representation in the BOR and the prohibition of outright sale of UP properties.
But with Cao’s successor, Dr. Caesar Saloma, sectors’ assertions for greater representation found their way into the room. With Saloma’s consultative brand of leadership, these sectors saw an opportunity to thaw out what in Cao’s term had been a rather cold relationship.
𝗙𝗹𝗼𝗼𝗿𝘀 𝗼𝗳 O𝗽𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁𝘂𝗻𝗶𝘁𝘆
Founding Secretary-General of the All-UP Academic Employees Union Melania Flores served as Saloma’s vice chancellor for community affairs and recalled how, unlike its predecessor, the Saloma administration recognized and welcomed the mass movement. “Na-obliga [si Saloma] kasi strong ang mass movement at naipasok din yung mga agenda sa loob ng administrasyon,” she said.
Saloma listened to students. “We were able to work with him on the issue of Code of Student Conduct and working out the logistical and administrative concerns in accepting the UP Tacloban students who were displaced post-Yolanda,” recalled former Student Regent (SR) Krista Melgarejo.
He joined campaigns to amend UP Code provisions prohibiting unpaid students to enroll and played a role in developing the National Science Complex. His efforts to strike compromises between BOR orders and sectoral demands, however, tended to border on inaction, as he had little to say about STFAP revisions and utilization of UP’s idle assets.
He supported the Socialized Tuition System, which would replace the STFAP but would also eventually fall short of making education more accessible. He also took no definitive stance as the UP Town Center took over the lot of the UP Integrated School.
In 2014, the BOR voted against Saloma’s reappointment and selected Dr. Michael Tan, who hails from the social sciences, as the next chancellor. Tan planned to create “nurturing and enabling spaces” that would foster a sense of justice and bring about “a shared culture of academic citizenship.”
An anthropologist, Tan understood national minorities’ struggles and welcomed them, with 3,500 individuals from different regions taking sanctuary in Diliman in 2016 and the Lumad bakwit school staying at present. In 2017, he suspended tuition and other school fees collection in Diliman until “the government [was] clear about their [Free Tuition Policy].” But while Tan’s six-year chancellorship had been relatively responsive to sectoral demands, it also had its shortcomings.
As it presided over a deteriorating campus, it saw the reduction of the minimum number of required General Education units—often called definitive of UP education—from 45 to a minimum of 21. Fires also razed several campus buildings, opening discussions about the long-neglected infrastructure and emergency mechanisms in Diliman. Meanwhile, a UP community caught in the ruckus of warring fraternities has yet to be guaranteed concrete steps to resolve such a longstanding issue.
𝗣𝗼𝗱𝗶𝘂𝗺𝘀 𝗼𝗳 P𝗿𝗼𝗺𝗶𝘀𝗲
The promising strides Saloma and Tan took to bring the chancellorship to the sectors were limited by the pressure they had to bear under the BOR. To confront the trappings of bureaucracy is a task Nemenzo must undertake with due decisiveness, particularly now that a barbarous government remains adamant to enter the university.
In envisioning “UP Diliman as a modern research university with a public mission,” Nemenzo seeks to invest in interdisciplinary collaboration and stand for academic freedom to fulfill “UP’s dual role as knowledge producer and social critic.”
While open to leasing UP’s lands, he is intent not to let “commercial interests ... define [UP’s] education and research agendas” and swears to “implement a compassionate policy” toward sectors on campus. He must exercise caution in treading so thin a line, especially where UP’s most vulnerable sectors—informal settlers, vendors, jeepney drives—have yet to have genuine representation at higher decision-making bodies.
His promises are to be set against a rubric distinguishing him from his predecessors: his claim to militant activism. Nemenzo must not pay mere lip service to an honored past but rather contend with a present gripped by the same, if not heightened, problems.
Rarely do those in the corridors of power identify with those who often question their legitimacy, and Nemenzo strikes radical candor amid an office that has long been steeped in reaction. Should he waver, the decisive steps must come from the ones that ushered him into power—the community not limited to podiums of rhetoric, but firm in struggles fought on roads of resistance.●
First published in the Collegian on March 1, 2020.
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