Human Rights

Justified Imprudence

They are such a polite lot, those worthy scholars of the people under the Association of Political Science Majors or APSM. Angered by militant students’ egg- and muck-throwing of Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, these idealistic (read: naive!) students came up with a statement demanding that the UP student council and their grim-and-determined fellows from Vinzons apologize to them and the public because of the incident. They specifically asked council chair Paolo Alfonso to publicly apologize “for his actions which were subsequently misconstrued as the general behavior of the UP studentry by the greater public.”

What the heck are those UP political science professors teaching these kids?

First, let us state the obvious: The egg- and muck-throwing happened after the forum, after Esperon had left Claro M. Recto hall. If it happened while Esperon was speaking in the forum, there would have been much reason in APSM demanding apology from Alfonso, for Esperon was their responsibility as an invited speaker. He is a guest, after all. We are all familiar with the concept of Pinoy hospitality, and the APSM kids are obviously not beyond practicing this cultural relic of our feudal past.

Should we continue to open our doors to all people, even those of undesirable character, nevermind that known cheats and killers would understandably not expect people to welcome them in their homes? Or in this case, nevermind that considering the humongous flak the military is getting because of its horrible human rights record Esperon should have expected such incidents wherever he goes in the country? Or nevermind that government officials and public figures not nearly as controversial as Esperon should expect cries — or in this case, eggs — of indignation to be thrown their way wherever they go for sticking to a much-hated and discredited regime as Arroyo’s?

There are actually similar situations where controversial VIPs grace events — the National Press Club’s rigodon night, for one — where they know they will be humiliated. In the case of Esperon’s visit to UP, he should have expected to be humilitated, if only for the abduction and continued detention of UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño. I guess, having a thick face gets in the way of those realizations.

What those super-sensitive APSM kids must realize is that they are in UP, the so-called hotbed of radicalism, of impertinence and imprudence. Bold fraternity men with placards to boot run around the campus naked, for chrissakes! Almost every moral norm has been violated in UP, particularly in Sunken Garden and Lagoon, and they are concerned about a simple egg-throwing! They should ask their fellow students in the History department to tell them about the First Quarter Storm of 1970, when militant kids their age stormed Batasan during Marcos’s state of the nation address and threw an effigy right at the would-be dictator’s feet, sparking a quarter-long series of huge protests and confrontations that would be cited as the finest hour of the Philippine student movement. They should ask about the so-called Diliman Commune in 1971, that, while not exactly the type of commune American and European hippies had during the Sexual Revolution, had its share of impetinence with students taking over the campus, renaming Palma Hall as Sison Hall, etc., and playing over DZUP tapes of B-movie actress Dovie Beams having sex with Marcos.

It is way, way beyond any expectations of hospitality and politeness to feel offended when Esperon gets “egged” after he steps out of the conference room.

But what is less obvious but nevertheless must be pointed out to these kids — and especially the administration officials so keen on using APSM to attack the militants — is that the armed conflict that is raging all over the country can never be settled by mere talk. It is the height of naivete to claim that their forum was an “example of the meeting of divergent sides”. APSM supposedly prides itself for making space “where both ends of the political spectrum meet”, but there is no such space. I was once a writer for human rights group Karapatan, and I heard so many, many times the stories of human rights workers engaging the military in a dialogue, asking them to investigate this or that case, or politely pleading to them to pull out of areas where human rights violations occur. Very, very seldom do these dialogues bear fruit. Often these dialogues occur to the detriment of the very ones engaged in dialogue — the human rights advocates, the families of the victims, who henceforth become targets of the attacks they so passionately raised their voices against.

They only have to know the story of Eden Marcellana, human rights worker, and Eddie Gumanoy, peasant leader. They, too, raised their voices. They used words to expose the inequities that they witnessed. Eden, according to those she worked with, had an encyclopedic knowledge of human rights cases, and was especially skillful with negotiations with the military whenever they go to fact finding missions. She held countless dialogues with Jovito Palparan and his murderous cabal, in Mindoro, in Quezon, in Batangas. Her fate is a testament to how the military and the state settle arguments. They can’t argue with her, but they won the argument by pelting her body with bullet and blows.

The militant students only pelted Esperon with eggs and muck, instead of grenades, which some of their youthful counterparts in Palestine or Iran would probably choose. The kids are understandably angry. The question in my mind, though, is why those other kids in the APSM are not.

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