Serve the People, Ang Kasaysayan ng Radikal na Kilusan sa Universidad ng Pilipinas: A Book Review


To present-day activists of the UP community, the book is a must reading. For no progressive movement could ever develop and achieve victory without drawing lessons from history .

For the un-initiated or to the mass of UP students and faculty, the book is a wealth of information and knowledge, from trivia about the names one sees in the halls and buildings, to the lives of the people you see around you, to the history of our beloved university.

BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
CULTURE

(Bulatlat.com)

Reading the book, one could not help but marvel at the colorful history of the premier state university in the country. The book, a collection of writings about UP’s storied past particularly its history of activism, brings the reader into the different periods in the university’s history: from its establishment to 1960, the turbulent times of 60s up to the declaration of Martial Law, the repressive period of Martial Law up to 1983, 1983-92, 1993-2000, and 2000 to 2008.

The writings about the first period 1908-1960, especially that of Dr. Elmer Ordonez and the editorial of historian Renato Constantino showed UP’s transformation from a tool of American colonization to an elite university enamored by its academic freedom; the growth of nationalism in the university right before the second world war and how it became a spark that ignited a student movement resisting the repression of the 50s and early 60s.

Writings about the second period showed the gestation of the national democratic movement not only in the university but in the whole country and the important role the faculty, students, and community of UP played in the process. It described the birth and blossoming of the Second Propaganda Movement culminating in the First Quarter Storm of 1969 up to the declaration of Martial Law. The writings also described the transformation of UP from an elite university into a university for the masses. An important feature of this section is the article of Prof. Judy Taguiwalo on the development of the militant women’s movement amid the semi-feudal society prevailing in the country.

The third period 1973-83 showed how the UP community tried to cope with Martial Law and how their defiance slowly gained momentum until the rise, once again, of activism and the protest movement of the late 70s and early 80s. It also chronicled the development of the progressive cultural and propaganda movement of the times that played a key role in breaking the climate of fear that Martial Law has tried to impose on the population.

Although there are still events and processes, which occurred during that period, that could still be added to the chapter, especially during the years from 1976 up to 1980. What Dante Ambrosio and Tess Vistro described as a relatively calm period punctuated by lightning rallies is true from 1973 up to 1975. It was a period of recovery and painstaking work, and, as Ms. Vistro described, a time of building networks.

By 1976, the influence of activists had already spread across a substantial number of student organizations – regional, varsitarian and academic organizations, fraternities and sororities, cultural groups – that some activists decided to shift their focus to organizing students in other universities at the university belt, and in urban poor communities. Inside the campus, protest actions were steadily intensifying such that the Metrocom and military agents could no longer contain these, especially with the eruption of the boycott movement. Big mobilizations replaced lightning rallies. LIghtning rallies were then being boldly held at Rizal avenue.

UP students tackled both university issues – such as the call for a return of the student council and the student representative to the Board of Regents, and against tuition fee increases – as well as national issues, such as ” Sahod itaas, Presyo ibaba”, “Ibagsak ang Martial Law”. Activists explained to the general population of UP students that “UP is a microcosm of Philippine society”.

The activists in UP played a key role in the struggle of the urban poor of Zone One Tondo Organization and the Batilyos of Navotas, as well as the establishment of the League of Filipino Students, the first chairperson of which was a UP student. By 1978 there was a reemergence of gigantic mass actions at Rizal Ave. and Plaza Miranda that were always attacked by the Metrocom. But these persisted until it was able to break the climate of fear that has gripped the country since the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. Activists from UP played a key role in all of these. There are more left to describe but it would take a separate article for this.

The section of the book dealing with the fourth period 1983-93 is very interesting as it not only describes the state of activism among the students then. More importantly, it described the equally important role and development of the progressive movement in the communities within UP and the union of employees.

Writings about the fifth period 1993-2000 showed the difficult times during the period, that of discernment and struggles, unities and contradictions that led to a break in the student movement within the university and beyond. This section also manifested the comprehensiveness of the book as it contains articles describing the further development of the progressive cultural movement and the growth of the movement of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals within the university.

The last period 2000-2008 presented the state of the activism in the UP community now and the numerous issues and challenges it is facing especially amid the period of neoliberalism and crisis. It showed the different important issues and challenges confronting the UP community namely, the RGEP, the phenomenal increase in tuition and other fees, the new UP charter and the commercialization of the state university.

To give a human face to the development of activism in UP, the book chronicled the lives of some of its martyrs.

The epilogue of Prof. Judy Taguiwalo described the thread that permeates in all periods in UP’s history, which she described as the struggle of the university within the university versus the prevailing reactionary character of UP as an institution being as it is a tool of colonization and the status quo.

Comprehensive

The book is profoundly comprehensive in content and style. It chronicled the periods in the development of activism from the beginnings of the university up to the present. And it did this using different forms: essays, testimonies, editorial, poems.

In the process of describing the development of activism, no sector was left without being described: the movement of the students and faculty, the sons and daughters of the UP academic community, the communities within UP, the non-academic employees, the women, gays and lesbians. And of course, no progressive movement could flourish without the development of the progressive cultural movement.

But the descriptions tend to center on activism in UP Diliman. As it is, the book is already 458-pages long. Perhaps future books could also describe the history of the radical movement at UP Los Baños and Baguio, as well as other units in the UP system.

There were also overlaps in the descriptions of certain events in some articles. This , perhaps, could be attributed to the fact that the book is a collection of writing about UP by different authors. On the other hand, the overlaps provide the reader with more than one perspective about certain events.

To present-day activists of the UP community, the book is a must reading. For no progressive movement could ever develop and achieve victory without drawing lessons from history .

For the un-initiated or to the mass of UP students and faculty, the book is a wealth of information and knowledge, from trivia about the names one sees in the halls and buildings, to the lives of the people you see around you, to the history of our beloved university.

An alternative centennial?

At the beginning of the book, a question was posed regarding whether the book intends to present an alternative history or a different or counter presentation of history from the one being presented officially by the UP administration. The position of the editors of the book is that it is a counter-history.

But the question being posed could also be viewed from another perspective.

How can the relevance of a university be measured? How can the relevance and impact of a center of learning be measured?

Will it be measured in terms of how it expounds on current knowledge and maintains a current system, especially an oppressive one? Definitely not.

The relevance and impact of a new idea is measured by how it revolutionizes thinking and ways of doing things. Albert Einstein is an important figure in science. But would he have attained this level of importance if he merely expounded on Isaac’s law of motion? Definitely not. Einstein’s theory of relativity is significant because it revolutionized the thinking during that time, which, in turn, revolutionized science.

The same could be applied to a university. A university’s significance or impact in society is not measured simply by the number of times it imparts the same knowledge over and over again. Neither is its impact measured by the number of students it produces, especially if they end up merely doing the same things to maintain the oppressive relations in society.

The significance or impact of a university in society is measured by the revolutionary ideas it generates and the way it radicalizes current thinking, the number of revolutionaries it produces in all fields -arts and letters, natural and social sciences- and its contribution to revolutionizing society. Taken from that perspective, we could therefore say that the book “Serve the People, Ang Kasaysayan ng Radikal na Kilusan sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas” is the true history of UP.

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