WE are a society polarized between supporters and critics of the government. The division has become too personal, with the polemics not only targeting the flaws of government and our leaders, but even more so the flaws of the people on the other side of the political divide. Ad hominem charges are being hurled not only in social media, but even in real political activities such as in rallies and mass mobilization. Words such as “stupid,” “idiot,” “Dutertard” and “yellowtard” are deployed like they are on sale.
An analysis of the discursive politics would reveal that while insults are heaped equally on both sides, the pattern of criticism from those critical of President Duterte has an air of superiority, of being decent, and of considering those who support him as lesser in status, intelligence and rationality. Trolling and fakery tend to ascribed by Duterte critics to people who support him.
It cannot be denied that the demographics of Duterte supporters are mainly dominated by ordinary people, while those that are perceived to be against him are mainly from the upper classes of society. This view was given clear and compelling representation during the anti-Marcos burial rallies–which also became venues for anti-Duterte expressions–which were dominated by the elite, including elite schools.
And the University of the Philippines, despite its purported nature of being a state university that is supposed to have preferential treatment towards educating the children of the poor, was seen painted in that canvas of privileged voices. UP students, the “Iskolar ng Bayan,”were collectively seen as part of those voices that attacked the President, and many of them have also been seen, rightly or wrongly, as the same voices that heaped insults on his supporters.
The term “Iskolar ng Bayan” has always been a rallying call that served as more than the self-affirmation by students of UP and its alumni towards what makes them different. It is a symbolic construct that enlivens and animates. It is an exhortation, aptly emblazoned in that banner unfurled at the end of every commencement rite, reminding every graduate to “serve the people.”
This is a tacit recognition of the fact that every UP graduate, whose education has been subsidized by the state—for even those who pay tuition fees are taught by teachers whose salaries are paid for by taxpayers—has an obligation to serve the people.
However, the people have long been unaware of that contract. Demands for UP graduates to serve and give back, and be held accountable, while being articulated in pockets of self-reflection and criticism mostly by UP alumni themselves, were never widely held by the people or the “bayan.”
But that may soon be over.
The people whose taxes have been used to finance the existence of UP are beginning to articulate what can be called as a taxpayers’ assertion of what is owed to them. The inclusion of UP students among those that will benefit from the P8.3 billion appropriated by Congress, whose tuition fees will be shouldered by tax-payers–even if, as Senator Legarda said, it will prioritize only those poor and needy–may have just triggered taxpayers to demand for more accountability, and for UP students to behave accordingly as wards benefiting from taxpayers’ money.
UP, despite its having a tradition of internal dissent, is seen as part of the voices who seek to undermine the President, and demean those who support him. It is unfortunate that many of those who support him are the taxpayers who are now conscious that they are being asked not only to finance its operations, but to finance its students’ education. As one person articulated it, it is problematic for him to help send UP students to school, when those same students call him a “Dutertard” and a mindless idiot for supporting the President.
This is what is emerging, a new kind of taxpayer demanding benefits for every tax money spent–in roads, bridges, infrastructure, corruption-free and efficient public service, a taxpayer who could also demand to hold UP accountable.
It is not that UP is being subsidized, for it has always been subsidized. It is because the debate has become personal.
It is in this context that taxpayers may begin demanding from SUCs, including UP, and more so UP, more accountability, not only in its curriculum, in its financial management, which would be a direct attack on the autonomy it fiercely protects, that it doesn’t even allow the police to interfere in its own affairs.
It will definitely embolden taxpayers to expect from its students who benefit from taxpayer’s money to begin to serve the people. And that could include being required to serve government, to expecting them not to bite the hands that pay for their education by according them the respect of not being called idiots.