UP Diliman campus (Ederic Eder)
UP Diliman campus (Ederic Eder)

The spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), in elaboration of the AFP chief-of-staff’s tale of a “Red October” leftist-rightist conspiracy to oust President Rodrigo Duterte from power, said last week that the country’s university and college students are being “brainwashed” into activism and radicalism.

He claimed that this is being done through, among other means, film showings on Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime, “reenactments,” of that dark period of Philippine history, video conferences, and forums.

Furthermore, he continued, these academic activities are being used for “communist recruitment” of students, by which he means as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and/or the New People’s Army (NPA).

For his part, the Director General of the Philippine National Police (PNP) threatened to file charges “for contempt” against university and college professors who propagate “false information.”

He did not say whom these professors would be in contempt of, unless he meant the police, much of which is truly contemptible. While apparently clueless about the fact that there is no law under the provisions of which critical professors can be charged with any crime, he had the audacity — the unmitigated gall — to volunteer to “educate” students on what they should know about the country so as to develop among them a “sense of nationalism.”

What’s obvious from these statements is the AFP’s hostility to anything, like film showings and “reenactments,” that would only reiterate what volumes of research, eyewitness accounts and the testimonies of survivors have already established about the corruption, brutality, lawlessness, violence and sheer madness of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime.

Apparently as well, neither the AFP nor the PNP leadership has even the faintest idea about what a university education is, let alone what it consists of. What is even worse is the PNP offer of “educating” students, which arrogantly and wrongly presumes that the police are more capable than any university of teaching students about anything.

Both the AFP’s and the PNP’s claims aren’t surprising, however. First, because their vast pretensions at knowledge and intelligence are so characteristic of the incompetent despotism they serve; and second, because the political dynasties that have transformed this country into the economic and social laggard of Southeast Asia have done it before — attacked the main intellectual resource of the country that any remotely sane regime would value.

Of the 18 universities and colleges the AFP has named as alleged recruitment centers for the CPP and/or the NPA, it is the University of the Philippines (UP) that at least twice in fairly recent history has been similarly targeted by government.

During Marcos’ martial rule, hundreds of UP professors, students and alumni were arrested and detained. Many were tortured and some even killed — the exquisitely ironic term was “salvaged” — by their military captors.

The reasons for this outrage ranged from their having known such personalities as Jose Maria Sison, who is a UP alumnus; writing critically about the Marcos regime; adherence to Marxist philosophy; being members of the CPP and/or the NPA; or having committed rebellion and inciting to sedition “wittingly or unwittingly,” as the one-size-fits-all arrest orders signed by then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile put it.

Bizarre as these were, they were merely the stated reasons. The real, hidden reason was that some UP constituents were perceived to be part of the burgeoning demand for the democratization of political power and the economic and social changes that could rescue Philippine society from the poverty that has been the lot of the majority for centuries.

The regime’s military goons never understood that one can love a country while being critical of its self-anointed leaders, and assumed that these professors and students were the indispensable brains that was driving the movement for the changes which, more than the prospect of his losing the presidency by 1973, Ferdinand Marcos and his accomplices could not abide. Implicit in that assumption was the suspicion that knowledge is somehow — their limited vocabularies could not coherently articulate it — the indispensable handmaid of change.

The same contempt for both knowledge and change informed the Philippine Congress’ Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities’ (CAFA) earlier assault on UP. In the early-1960s, CAFA launched a widely-publicized series of hearings on some UP professors’ supposed “Godlessness” and, therefore, their being “communists,” on the simple-minded, imbecilic assumption that one cannot be an atheist or agnostic without being the latter.

CAFA focused its attention on the UP’s then College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Philosophy, where what was in vogue was Logical Positivism, not Marxism. The differences between these philosophies were apparently beyond the comprehension of the clueless members of the CAFA, and they proceeded to present as proof of the existence of a “communist conspiracy” in UP the publication of certain documents in its learned journals, among them one on the history of the peasant struggle for land, as well as some of its professors’ quite public agnosticism.

It didn’t quite end there. Some professors were actually charged in court with violating Republic Act 1700, the anti-subversion law that was then still in force. (It was repealed in 1992, during the first year of the Fidel Ramos presidency.)

UP stood by its faculty by affirming its commitment to academic freedom, which includes its professors’ right to believe and profess what they think to be true, as a Constitutional right and as indispensable to the mandate of an institution of higher learning. It naturally led to expositions on the role and value of a university in a society that would be free, as well as to the full development of the human potential.

Crucial to the achievement of that function are freedom of inquiry, the nurturing of the critical faculties, and the training of free men and women for the lifetime of learning that is the fundamental aim of education rather than that of indoctrination.

Indoctrination, otherwise more widely known by the Cold War era term “brainwashing,” is indeed one kind of “education,” although not in the sense that the learned gentlemen of this country’s soldiery and police — whose mindsets are still frozen in the1950s — understand it.

Far from furthering radicalism, activism and rebellion, indoctrination in the guise of education makes obedience, conformity, silence even before the worst injustice, and a focus on self-advancement rather than the social good supreme virtues. It is this kind of “education” that has produced the corrupt, self-aggrandizing politicians and civilian and military bureaucrats that infest government.

Indoctrinated in the vice they mistake for virtue of kowtowing to what passes for authority; uncritical of, and uncaring about, the worst injustice; and mindlessly driven solely by self-interest and the defense of their domestic and foreign bosses, they are the truly brainwashed, but don’t know it.

In contrast, the really educated value and encourage free inquiry, independent thought, and openness to ideas. These capacities are indispensable to the transformation of young men and women of promise into the committed writers, artists, doctors and scientists the world needs.

Far from being merely about gainful employment and survival, education demands that everyone be responsible for the advancement and liberation of one’s community and the rest of mankind. The authentic university’s capacity to impart to its students the love of learning, and to develop the knowledge and understanding of society and the world for the sake of their country and people is what the brainwashed flunkies of despotism and unreason are against; it is what they hate the most.

First published in BusinessWorld. Photo by Ederic Eder.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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