Saturday, September 19, 2015

Tango with millennials

AFTER a three-year hiatus to study, I returned to teach undergraduates and found the ground has shifted.

“How do you find this batch?” asked Ian, a former student who became a colleague. Disconcerting, we agreed.

Class discussions this September reinforced the impression. At the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu, junior Mass Communication undergraduates dutifully researched on martial law’s (ML) impact on press freedom.

Our attempts to link pre-ML press licentiousness, ML press censorship and early attempts at media self-regulation were fraught. Half of the class had glazed eyes, an invariable effect of history lessons.

Things dramatically improved when discussion bridged the past to the present. Another group of junior undergraduates named Rodrigo Duterte as the presidentiable to watch in 2016.

Duterte’s political tango (Will he run? Won’t?) tantalizes the young. The controversy over his record of human rights abuses does not.

The man who “cleans” the streets of Davao through his speculated links with Death Squads is deemed by half a class of bright, idealistic youths as the country’s next hope.

My younger son, a freshman in a private university, also recalled hearing Duterte’s name among schoolmates attending the prayer vigils for a slain student, a recent victim of crime.

Unlike Millennials, I have a knee-jerk reaction to vigilantism, which I associate not with the cleansing of crime-free streets but with the purging of dissent and opposition by the power-obsessed.

Even the memory-challenged must associate the month of September with the 1972 imposition of martial law.

The Cebu Press Freedom Week and the Cebu Broadcasters’ Month remind Cebuanos how civil liberties were lost and won again at great cost during the dark years of struggling in the iron fist of the Marcos conjugal dictatorship.

Born in 1976, Ian considers himself a “Martial Law baby”. Fond of the Carpenters, the Abba and Sesame Street, this Gen X member was an activist for human rights, then as a UP Cebu undergraduate and now as a lawyer.

Spanning the mid-1960s till the mid-1980s, Generation X witnessed the rise of mass media and the collapse of the Cold War. What prevented Filipino Gen Xers from getting completely lost in the hedonism of the MTV culture—the penetration of music videos shaped the youth culture at the turn of the millennium—was an anachronism called repression.

Born in 1965, I’m in between trains. I qualify for a front seat in Generation X. Yet I think I managed to squeeze in the last trip for the counterculture Hippie Generation of the 1960s, which opposed the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the Martial Law.

When our family left for work and school early in the morning, we passed a secluded spot where bodies were often dumped. An industrial zone, our barangay’s warehouses and high walls lack eyes and ears, the perfect witnesses for clean-up teams in summary killings.

Once seen, never forgotten. Hogtied and bloated, a corpse rarely resembles the person it was before torture and decomposition.

Millennials, straddling the 1980s till the 1990s, are also called the Generation Y.

“Why?” is a good lens for scrutinizing Duterte, who will never get pass the throwback of my 41-year-old memories of martial law: “Never again”.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 21, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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