What makes UP ‘special’?


    ‘…it is not surprising that an officer and a gentleman who was a product of our military academy and whose whole life was spent in the military as an institution fails to grasp why UP is “special…”’

    TODAY, I will be planting trees in Palawan, Rio Tuba to be exact, as Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation seeks to achieve its target by year end of having planted five million living trees (meaning net of those that were planted but did not survive) all over Palawan. (And the people at Rio Tuba are excited that no less than Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque will be their guest of honor and principal tree-planter!)

    But as I plant those trees I will have something else also in mind: the current brouhaha surrounding the decision of the Department of National Defense to scrap a three-decade old “agreement” with the UP community that effectively made UP an “AFP and PNP-free zone.”

    To be more precise, two “accords” – one signed in 1982 and another in 1989 – barred uniformed personnel from entering the university premises except in times when they were in “hot pursuit” of a suspect, or during emergencies. In all other instances, prior notice was required. The 1989 accord between UP President Jose Abueva and Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos followed the abduction of a UP student while on campus on suspicion that he was involved in the assassination of a US colonel. The student, Donato Continente, was tortured until he confessed to his participation in the killing.

    I was in my 22nd year as a student at UP at the time of that incident. Before you jump to conclusions about my age, I began my schooling at UP in 1968 when I was a student at the Child Development Center.

    I find it puzzling that after all these years of having been honored by a succession of presidents, including Fidel Ramos himself, this administration finds it timely to unilaterally rescind it. The reasoning – that encounters between the CPP-NPA and units of the Armed Forces have led to the killing or capture of NPA partisans who are or were UP students does not convince me; this has been so since the 1960s, and will continue to be the case into the 2060s. Why? Because justice remains elusive for much of our countrymen, and “progress” and a truly better life remains a dream for many.

    Scrapping the accords won’t change that.

    But I am also amused that in an attempt to explain his actions on this score Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is asking what makes UP so special that it thinks it deserves special treatment?

    Lorenzana comes from another special institution, the Philippine Military Academy. But there is a difference between the PMA and UP, a difference that goes into the core of their separate and distinct role and value to the country.

    At the PMA young men and women are molded into future officers. In the way they are molded they are taught primarily to obey. Men can die on the battlefield if soldiers do not simply obey. A war zone is not the place for debates or of motions to divide the house.

    Survival is at stake and because of the PMA’s unique calling, “Sir, yes sir” is taught to be the key.

    You do not challenge. You obey.

    The UP System, in contrast, molds young men and women into future civilian leaders of government and business. To be successful, obedience is not the primary virtue; rather, the ability to think differently, to argue on one’s feet and defend your position, and, yes, to challenge authority and conventional wisdom for the purpose of seeing whether it is worth establishing new authority and new conventional wisdom. Because of its different “calling,” at UP, “Sir, yes sir” is not the most admired response. “Why?” and even “why not?” are the ejaculations preferred.

    You challenge before you obey.

    So it is not surprising that an officer and a gentleman who was a product of our military academy and whose whole life was spent in the military as an institution fails to grasp why UP is “special” – and fails to see that it is not UP per se that is special and that is under assault here; it is the discipline of challenging the status quo that is.

    Tell me: how does society (or even business and Industry) progress unless the status quo is challenged?

    (Now back to my tree-planting!)


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