In Defense of the ‘Juramentados’

I hope somebody posts the UP Law Student Government’s statement on the December 15 incident in his or her blog soon, for you to read and for me to link. I hate to have to post it here.

After reading the statement, my initial reaction was to dismiss it and not make much fuss about this “ka-OA-an”. Later, however, my dismissiveness turned to concern for the law students who were supposedly hurt, “emotionally traumatized” or were inflicted with “emotional and physical injuries”. I do agree with the Law Student Government: injury is injury, no matter the justness of the cause. The right thing to do for the protest leaders was to apologize for the particular students hurt in the commotion. And they did, according to a Student Council officer we chanced upon later that evening.

It is one thing, though, to take responsibility for the particular injuries, and quite another for this Law Student Government to condemn the actions of the activists, call it “mob rule”, and even brand the actions “criminal”. “[I]t is with a heavy heart that we, the Law Student Government, condemn this chaotic incident initiated by our fellow UP students. We believe that their acts have crossed the borderline of freedom of expression as it tramples on propriety, ethics and any notion of reason,” says the statement.

This to me likewise crossed the borderline between simple concern for fellow students and a hysterical response symptomatic of two things: (1) their ignorance of the nature of militant protest actions, and/or their prejudice against such actions and its usual participants, and (2) ignorance or lack of appreciation of the magnitude of the issues being raised by the protesters.

I’ve been in emotionally-charged protest actions before. Yes, things can indeed get unruly, ugly, even a bit violent. Again, in these situations, protesters ought to apologize to those innocent bystanders adversely affected: stranded commuters, vendors, pedestrians. The protesters should do it if only to show to the bystanders adversely affected that they are not the target of the protests. The student council members claim that they said as much to the law students.

It is in the nature of protest actions to be emotionally charged and to inconvenience people. Nevermind his homophobia, retired Supreme Court associate justice Isagani Cruz explained as much in his book on Constitutional Law:

“To be really meaningful, (freedom of expression) should permit the articulation of even the unorthodox view, though it be hostile to or derided by others, or “induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.’ One of the functions of this freedom is precisely, according to the US Supreme Court, ‘to invite dispute.’ Unity is too high a price to pay for the loss of liberty.”

For the Law Student Government officials to demand that the protesters practice “propriety”, and voice out their opinions “in a reasonable manner” (I.e. “No shouting and running in the lobby, and please, watch the door of the theater!”) bespeaks of a profound misunderstanding of the nature of protest. Rallies and demonstrations are necessarily disruptive; they are never polite. If only politely saying to UP President Emerlinda Roman to “please, po, do not raise our tuition” would make the admin change its mind, I’m sure Raffy Sanchez and Paolo Alfonso would have already done it. What these brilliant law students have to realize is that protest is always usually at the tailend of a long process of “paliwanagan”, lobbying, subtle convincing. Protest is an expression of desperation of a mass of people needed to be heard. It is a sign that the system is not working and is lopsided in favor of a few in power.

Sure, freedom of expression has its limits. And the limits are set, according to a law student’s rule of thumb, “when another person’s right begins.” If that is the case, then, why not ask the activist organizations and student institutions involved in the protest to foot the medical bill of those inadvertently injured, or the cost of psychiatric therapy needed to rehabilitate those “emotionally injured”, or require them to reconstruct the theater’s doors? I realize what I’m saying implies some legal process (“compensation for moral damages”?), but were the injuries really, really that serious?

Reading such statements as “we condemn riotous and anarchical modes of activism” exposes some prejudice on the part of its writer. It tells us the writer has a notion of what kind of people the protesters were, and in his or her mind, they were “devoid of reason”, stupid, too emotional or up to no good.

Based on the testimonies of people present in the “attack” of Malcolm Hall and the ensuing march, as well as my observations in the march, the protest action was far from chaotic, devoid of reason, or “anarchistic”.Their charge to Malcolm was a calculated, if a bit desperate, move to stop the Board of Regents from passing a decision that will surely adversely affect all future UP students and make UP education much less accessible to the Filipino youth. Surely, the admin, upon approving the hike WITHOUT the participation in the voting of the student and faculty regents, anticipated some violent reaction among those thousands of students who picketed Quezon Hall amid the scorching sun, marched and surged towards Malcolm Hall, and marched around the Academic Oval.

Again, I do not seek to excuse the protesters from culpability for the supposed injuries. But please, UP tuition to be hiked to P1,000 per unit? Surely those who are ill-afford but deserve to be in UP have every right to make “huramentado”.


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