Saturday, November 24, 2018


“THERE should be no better place in this country than UP for the expression of ideas without fear, without fear of violent retribution from one’s colleagues or from the State itself.”

This is according to lawyer Danilo L. Concepcion when he took office as the 21st president of the University of the Philippines (UP) on Sept. 20, 2017.

Concepcion’s investiture speech is particularly stirring in the context of his vision of leading the state university in “finding a common ground, a clearing,” which he defined as “a safe, free, and congenial space” within which UP constituents can “work productively to their full potential”.

Yet, recent events have revealed an unlit section in this “safe, free, and congenial space”.

Soon after the Nov. 18 anniversary of the Upsilon Sigma Phi—founded 100 years ago in UP Diliman and counting, among its more than 3,500 members-by-invitation-only, Ferdinand Marcos, Ninoy Aquino, and Concepcion himself—screenshots of Upsilonians’ private chats were leaked online.

#LonsiLeaks, as Netizens call it, shocks, angers, disgusts. Hatred and a particularly virulent strain of masculinity drunk on power and bent on domination and oppression run thickly through the language, the imagery, and imaginaries of the chat threads.

#LonsiLeaks solidifies a lingering disquiet. It is not just anxiety over lurking, imminent violence.

What unnerves is the general glazing over of the roots of violence. Whether it is fraternity-fuelled Othering, presidential jokes about ugly women-critics and lying journalist-critics, or the sex trafficking of women, men, and children, violence is rooted in inequalities of power, which objectify and erase people.

The intersections of human development, human rights, and human security are marginalized even in the the discourse of the search for UP leadership. The “qualifications” bruited about for academic administrators are “strategic thinking” and “resource generation”.

Only the call for “change” emanating from students, faculty, and other resistant constituents surfaces the tears and gaps in the veils of complacence and apathy dangerously disconnecting UP from Philippine society.

Concepcion must see that his administration’s vision of creating a “common ground, a clearing” for UP to chart a path towards “rationality” and “coherent wholeness of purpose” rests on appointing nominees Dr. Rolando B. Tolentino as UP Cebu chancellor and Dr. Maria Diosa Labiste as UP Diliman College of Mass Communication dean.

Scholars and activists, Tolentino and Labiste put people back into the visibility of development. We are parched for leaders who can lead the good fight, who are “makatao (for the people)”.

( 09173226131)

* First presented in SunStar Cebu’s November 25, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, November 17, 2018


WHEN my paper was rejected by a journal, what took the edge of the rebuff was the rebuff itself.

The rejection motivated because it ignited a new way of approaching the problem. All because the editor “engaged” with my writing.

In the age of virtual connections, doesn’t the verb “engage” have an antediluvian ring? Yet, even a dyad, facing each other, has to work with, not against, each other. Talking at the same time means no one is listening.

Each could pretend the other doesn’t exist. That only means the parties are not “engaging,” a Middle English word combining “in” and “gage,” the latter meaning, in French, “pledge” or “contract”.

A social contract honors the principles of engagement: dialogue, argumentation, even dissent. What makes a drawn-out, messy process valuable at the end is the participation of all parties, not just the privileging of a few dictating and imposing the terms of “engagement”.

Despite a century of student activism, some at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu conflate dissent with subversion. When students marched in October 2016 to demand a dialogue with then acting chancellor, lawyer Liza D. Corro, she and some members of the faculty locked the doors of the Performing Arts Hall (PAH) to prevent the activists from “storming in”.

The barricade made a parody of consultation: UP Cebu constituents were at the PAH to participate in the livestreaming of the search forum for the next UP president, yet our acting chancellor refused to face students protesting over facility rental fees imposed without consultation.

In the confusion of people appointing themselves the guardians of the PAH doors, an open backdoor allowed the students to slip in. They marched to the front; made their ear-splitting chants; jabbed with their fists; and walked out.

The acting chancellor might have appreciated that the protest was over in less than ten minutes. But she had slipped out after ordering me to message another teacher to face the protesters, many of whom were Mass Communication students.

On Nov. 29, after the UP Board of Regents’ votes are tallied, UP Cebu’s next chancellor shouldn’t even just focus on the activists, noisy though we may be.

Swathes of silence simmer in the university. To interpret these constituents’ silence as contentment with their lot is to close one’s mind to “endo,” “JO (job order),” and “agency-hiring,” variations of the same iniquity denying fellow workers the rights and benefits of regular employees.

Only in nominee Rolando B. Tolentino—teacher, activist, public intellectual— do I put my faith in leadership that will listen to the voices, clamorous, discordant, silenced. Listen and engage.

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 18, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Soul search

THERE is more to the search for the next chancellor of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu than a contest between the incumbent, lawyer Liza D. Corro, and the challenger, professor Rolando B. Tolentino.

That is how a newspaper framed the “fight”.

The writer missed the story. When the storyteller misses, the story slips past and disappears.

A university is not a boxing ring. To be sure, there are passions seething or running rampant but these are details, not the story itself.

The story are the students. They are proof of life beyond the campus. The monks in the Dark Ages saw themselves as the keepers of enlightenment. They copied books by hand and preserved knowledge while the monastery walls kept the world, savage and cretinous, at bay.

Monks, no matter how learned, wither. Libraries, no matter how great, crumble. As it was in the Dark Ages and in every period thereafter, the world overruns enclaves of learning and unheedingly proceeds with its business.

So is the academe mere shadow on the wall of history? Covering priests squabbling over parish assignments and plum salaries, I wrote that a church of the poor should nip venality at its seminaries.

Two friends—a former seminarian and a former rector—observed that temptations begin in the seminary, where students watch the priests come to class with the latest car model or dangle a medallion that can serve as the cat’s saucer.

We covet what we see. We become disciples of our mentors. We practice what we learn.

Enrolling last August at UP Diliman, I swam in a raging current of students hoping to qualify for a slot. Free tuition in state colleges has spiked the desirability of UP.

Any of those private high school students I queued with have better chances than others of getting in UP. They are better fed, better educated, better supported. Even in UP, excellence is still a sieve privileging the privileged.

What do we give the young who swim against tremendous challenges? An overweening belief in the individual, entitled to reap the rewards of their striving?

Excellence alone will set UP for obsolescence. Only honor and excellence are UP’s true hallmarks, my teachers say. As I say, too, to my students.

The world is such that we in the academe must connect with the “barbarians” at the gates. We are them. By definition, the Middle English “university” traces its roots to the Latin “universitas,” meaning “the whole”.

As alumna, teacher, and student, I believe that UP Cebu should be led by professor Tolentino as its next chancellor. He can catch the tail of the story, steer UP Cebu to find its soul. All else is a march beyond the pale.

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 11, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Sing the blues

PUKING because one mistook punch for plain fruit juice in a fellowship nearly missed because of a wretched inability to follow directions seems to be just a catalogue of misfortunes snowballing in one’s youth.

So I thought.

One summer decades ago, in a southern city for a workshop, I got lost, first wandering the streets and then finding the house of the writer hosting that evening’s fellowship.

I had no time to eat dinner so when I finally joined our workshop “family,” I thirstily downed several cups of a peach-coloured drink that was the only thing served, aside from copious writers’ talk.

Instantly, I felt warm breathless dizzy. Intending to splash water on my face in the toilet, I knelt before the toilet bowl, which became the repository of everything I could regurgitate, including unruly bits of poetry.

I didn’t end up a mess that night because P, a quiet fellow who worked in a bank and was an intense acolyte of James Baldwin off-work, read my face when I rejoined them.

Hailing a rattletrap tricycle, P whisked me back to the hostel. In his rush to go back, he left his paperback, which had well-thumbed pages of “Sonny’s Blues.” Understandably, this became my favorite of Baldwin’s works.

Yet, ignorance, not liquor, was my real nemesis. Fortunately, no one took advantage of my vulnerability then. I realized this after writing last Sunday’s column, focusing on a friend, raped after she had her first drink in the company of other writers.

The same column connected me with other friends who had their own brushes with sexual violence. This pattern emerges:

The person victimized is a woman. The predator is a male, always a senior in age, experience, and body of works who uses a gathering, such as a workshop, to take advantage of his status and influence to pursue a younger person.

As he is besotted, he assumes that the hapless focus of his self-delusions must also be besotted with him, even if she actively repulses his advances because he is married, repugnant, or both.

The women are overwhelmed, inarticulate, or, in one case, preyed upon by a man and a woman who meld their debauchery to take down their victim.

Language is faithful mimesis to reality: the abuser initiates the abuse. The victim is the object of the abuse; he or she does not “provoke” the violence.

One other feature connects these incidents of violence against women: the survivors tell their stories. To fight predators. To prevent victimization.

Abused for being poor, black, and gay, Baldwin wrote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 4, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”