There are people who will never fail to unwittingly mention student activism and violence in the same sentence.
Just last week, hundreds of students at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) staged a protest against a proposal to increase the school’s tuition by as much as 2,000 percent. The students threw armchairs and tables down to the ground floor where they set these on fire as a symbolic protest to represent the conditions that PUP students go through.
The protest action was branded by some, including the media, as a “riot,” a “barbaric” (sic) act that reveals a complete disregard for “order” and the peaceful means of airing grievances.
Why did they have disrupt classes just so they could denounce the proposed tuition hike? Why did they have to burn school property? Why did they not just… traipse over to the management building and request an audience with the Board of Regents? Surely they could easily settle the matter over… over a nice pot of coffee with the President and his cohorts?
From there, it would be easy to jump into a new set of questions: Why does student activism have to be violent? Aren’t students supposed to bury their noses in books and do what taxpayers tell them to do?
Quite a number of variations of these questions are flooding my Facebook newsfeed lately, and from people I otherwise call my friends. Honestly, I am a little, uh, verklempt. This brand of rhetoric against the protest action is valid only if you assume a number of things:
1. That the PUP adminsitration has tried to proactively engage the student body in a discussion of the proposal;
2. That the proposal to hike tuition fees is a wise policy, i.e.it will not void efforts to demand greater state subsidy; and
3. That student protests, even at their most truly violent, will resolve nothing.
A few days ago, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Emmanuel Angeles categorically declared that no tuition hike willl be approved or implemented in PUP. This position by the CHED became known only during a dialogue with Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond Palatino.
We must marvel now about how the PUP administration could have come up with a proposed policy that CHED easily dismissed as rubbish. It is vastly amusing that the school’s administration could shamelessly propose a policy which, in the first place, does not have any merit.
Shamelessness, coupled with stupidity, on the part of those who should know better is a form of violence, too. And maybe, just maybe, it is ultimately worse and more dangerous than setting school armchairs on fire.