PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte will not accept an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of the Philippines, quashing uproar from alumni and students of the state institution.
“With due respect to University of the Philippines, I do not accept [awards]even when I was [still a]mayor…As a matter of personal and official policy, I do not accept awards. That’s not in my character,” Duterte told reporters after a command conference in Bohol as part of preparations for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings next week.
“I am not rejecting it . . . I simply declined,” Duterte added.
Earlier in the day, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the President would likely accept the honor.
Abella, however, clarified that UP had yet to send official communication to the Palace.
The honorary doctor of laws degree is conferred by the UP Board of Regents, as a matter of tradition, on the sitting Chief Executive.
Abella stressed that the President was not salivating over the UP honorary degree. “It’s not something that he runs after,” he said.
Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, the President’s son, echoed this.
“Being elected as President is enough recognition. No other recognition or honorary degrees could eclipse that,” he said in a statement.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo insisted that the President’s critics have yet to prove allegations of human rights violations.
“The allegations on human rights violations remain just that, allegations. The ground for the opposition, therefore is baseless if not misplaced,” Panelo said in a separate statement.
Duterte, a lawyer, finished his bachelor of arts degree in political science at Lyceum of the Philippines in 1968 and earned his law degree from San Beda College in 1972. He passed the bar exams the same year. He was a city prosecutor in Davao before joining politics in 1988.
UP students and alumni expressed strong opposition on Wednesday to the decision of the school’s Board of Regents to grant Duterte an honorary doctor of laws degree.
The decision was made on Tuesday by members of the board, chaired by university president Danilo Concepcion and co-chaired by Commission on Higher Education Chairwoman Patricia Licuanan.
The Board of Regents serves as the highest decision-making body of the university and is composed of members representing alumni, faculty, staff and students.
The heads of the education committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Sen. Francis Escudero and Rep. Ann Hofer of Zamboanga Sibugay, respectively, are also members.
Licuanan said the conferment of the degree on Duterte would be “in keeping with tradition” of UP.
Previous presidents were also given the honorary degree, except Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who turned it down.
Aside from the President, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd will also be given honorary degrees.
‘Bad taste in the mouth’
The decision drew the ire of students and alumni, with the hashtag #DuterteNotWorthy making the rounds of social media on Wednesday.
Benjie Allen Aquino, a business administration and accountancy student and the incoming chairman of the University Student Council of UP Diliman, posted on his social media account that granting Duterte an honorary doctorate degree “leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”
“It is an offensive, unpleasant, and a wretched injustice to the thousands left for dead by extrajudicial killings,” said Aquino.
He described Duterte as a “misogynist, sexist, homophobic, mass-murdering, fentanyl-addicted, human-rights-violating strongman.”
Political science student and incoming USC councilor Cassie Delura said: “The condemnation of the UP students of President Duterte’s policies have been publicized many times. Just because this decision is customary means that the current President is deserving? No. I do not think so.”
UP alumnus and former Akbayan representative Ibarra Gutierrez said he was also not in favor of giving Duterte the same honor granted to the late South African president and political prisoner Nelson Mandela.
UP Student Regent Raoul Danniel Manuel, in a statement, blasted the decision of his fellow members in the Board of Regents and said the public “must not turn a blind eye to the deeds of the current regime by giving it such recognition.”
Theodore Te, Public Information Office chief of the Supreme Court, a former UP law professor, blasted the UP board’s decision and said Duterte did not deserve an honorary law doctorate because he had “encouraged impunity” and had “weakened the rule of law.”
Manuel also lashed out at previous presidents who were given the same honor, such as former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd.
“This is not the first time that UP will confer such honors to a president for the sake of tradition. Six years ago, Noynoy Aquino was given the same degree despite his incompetence, lack of accountability on corruption, and human rights violations committed during his term,” Manuel said.
“Other presidents were offered the same regardless of their respective contributions to the worsening of the country’s economic and political system, to the dismay and embarrassment of the UP community,” he added.
Escudero did it?
The minutes of the 1,326th meeting of the UP Board of Regents stated that it was Escudero who moved to grant Duterte the honorary doctor of laws degree.
Escudero denied this but admitted he did not oppose the move.
“I did not move but I did not object when it was proposed given that it is a UP tradition that Philippine heads of state…are offered honorary degrees when they are invited to be a commencement speaker [which is also a UP tradition],” Escudero said in a text message sent to reporters.
He even quipped that every honorary degree recipient has been “controversial and never unanimous” most of the time. “I guess that too is part of UP’s long history and tradition.”
Escudero said it was up to Duterte to accept the honor, which is “not given unilaterally and needs to be accepted before being conferred.”
with DEMPSEY REYES AND JOMAR CANLAS