Decoding the Context

Kristel Tejada was forced to file a leave of absence from the University of the Philippines in Manila after she failed to pay tuition on time. Out of despair, she committed suicide on March 15, 2013. She was 16.

Kian delos Santos, the Grade 11 student who was picked up by at least two police officers on August 16, 2017, was gunned down for allegedly working as a runner for illegal drugs. He died at the age of 17.

These cases are not isolated. Both are results of state policies aimed at disciplining its citizens.

The educational reform offered by the government of former President Benigno Aquino III was inspired by the policy of “internationalization”. By insisting that the country remains one of the few that has 10 years of basic formal education, he implemented his neoliberal-inspired K to 12 program which adds 2 years of schooling in the basic education.

Mindless of the misery in basic education – unjust pay for teachers, contractualization of school employees, inaccurate textbooks and antiquated chairs and desks in the classrooms – Mr. Aquino held the grip of his “popularity” capital by executing the K to 12 policy nonetheless. In the higher education sector, private colleges imposed a feast of exorbitant fees such as chapel fee, spiritual fee and cultural fee above the tuition of the students, a school policy which the government claimed it could not directly interfere with. The University of the Philippines, a state university, also reworked its socialized tuition scheme which automatically places the student under Bracket A, assigning the tuition at P1,500 per unit in Diliman, Los Baños and Manila campuses. The student can apply for discounted tuition and fees and be moved to another bracket (B, C, D, etc.) subject to accounting of income and “socio-economic characteristics” of her or his family.

Another policy, the self-declared policy on drugs of Mr. Rodrigo Duterte, was heavily inspired by his strongman populism since the presidential campaign. By insisting that the country is doomed with illegal drugs, he himself initiated an anti-narcotics war, which the police force claimed has killed 3,451 “drug personalities”, as of July 26, 2017.

As persistent as he is, Mr. Duterte got allergic with the notions of human rights and accountability. What he often asserts in his public statements is his compliance with his sworn in duty of “protecting the people”, no matter how vague and contentious such phrase is. For him, his promises during the campaign, including the cleansing of illegal drug users need to materialize because he believes these promises legitimize his presidential power. In the cities and provinces, the killing spree has instilled fear and discipline among the populace that becomes the lone subject of relentless investigation.

No matter how popular these policies are, the dilemma lies in the way it nurtures discipline, abuse and impunity.

Lest we forget, catch phrases like “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (no one gets poor if there is no corruption) and “tunay na pagbabago” (real change) are as good as empty rhetoric which only serves at the behest of the leader. Once the leader gets into the realm of power, the populace is left with no other option, but to be one with the very “political system” that impedes its political being.

As a result, the leader has now the capacity to reshape this system through its policy. The other institutions of state power are now embedded into the system that the leader promulgates in order to enhance his or her hold of power. Simply put, the leader and the existing institutions of state power like the schools and the police are expected to defend the system that legitimizes their might over the populace because it is also the very system that fuels their existence.

When the leader is more than willing to invoke his political capital to the populace in exchange of protecting his institutions of power, the dilemma becomes clearer: impunity. If the president has the ultimate popularity capital to condone and even defend the abuses of the schools and the police, the very same bedrock of democracy, the masses – significantly comprised of the economically depressed sectors of society – is taken out of the picture.

The message, too, is clearer, and it is addressed to everybody especially the youth: abide by the rules, or suffer the consequences.

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