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