Like many of us, when I was younger I was always on a search for idols, for role models, who can help me articulate better, and even reinforce, my budding ideas about myself and society.
Lourd de Veyra and Solita “Mareng Winnie” Monsod were two such personages, especially in my second year of college when the campaign to oust then-president Erap Estrada was in full swing. De Veyra and his band Radioactive Sago Project would play at rallies and cultural festivals; their hit Ayoko ng Baboy (I Don’t Like Pigs) was gleefully appropriate for the time. Monsod’s show Debate was a late-night favorite, with her annoyed facial expressions and exasperated gesturing representing our collective annoyance and exasperation at government corruption, ineptitude, and callousness.
Fourteen years later, and my, how far the idols have fallen.
A few months ago de Veyra caught flak from student activists with his post alluding that activists do not do well in school: “Pabagsak kayo nang pabagsak ng kung ano-ano – bagsak tuloy mga grado niyo” (“You keep calling for things to fall, no wonder your grades all fail” – the root word “bagsak” in Tagalog means both to fall and to fail [a class]). Having had some basis, no matter how small, to claim solidarity with de Veyra during the time when we were, yes, calling for “Ibagsak” against a corrupt president, the post was infuriating, and disgusted me no end that my erstwhile idol had sold out his liberal image for the sake of lame play-of-words.
De Veyra may have felt that he was merely echoing a common stereotype about poor academic performance and activism. At the very least he failed to appreciate that the essence of being progressive (which he fancies himself to be) is to give voice to the oppressed, not to be the mouthpiece for populist sentiment. At worse he seems to subscribe to the very backward idea that, in this country, getting an education is, and should be, incompatible with engaging in militant social action.
More recently, Monsod has been exposed to be a thoroughly rightist puppet with her opinion about the current military-caused crisis in Lumad communities. Even before, I knew that, in matters of economics she was firmly on the other side of the fence, but even I was shocked at the brazenness with which she professed her pro-military stance, a brazenness which, I now think, she may have caught (like a disease) from her army bosses.
All critical thinking (some would say all thinking, period) flew out the window as she came to the defense of the army. It is, to put it mildly, rather puzzling why a respected professor of a demanding academic discipline would forsake all rigor to fall back upon red-baiting (the Lumads are also members of the “hard Left” and the NPA) and hearsay upon hearsay (the upper military echelons she hobnobs with swear they respect human rights – that, and only that, is God’s honest truth).
The fall of each was precipitated by their own words and actions. They have revealed how severely limited their knowledge of – and empathy for – the experiences of others are, even as they deigned, from their respective ivory towers, to speak of and pass judgment on something that they, quite frankly, don’t know anything about, and to force their credentials upon people for whom these mean absolutely nothing.
I suppose that if one chose only to move within that narrow space in which degrees, diplomas, awards, circles of friends, travel experience, fandom, are accepted as proofs of credibility, then one would never realize the utter poverty of these measures.
Is de Veyra’s nonchalant swag the proper attitude to adopt in the struggle to win for each Filipino child his or her right to education? Does poking fun at everything make you a sharp, witty commentator, or does it just make you a plain cynic? And let’s see how well Monsod’s academic credentials serve her when (or if ever) she accepts the invitation of slain Lumad leader Dionel Campos’ daughter Michelle to visit her community during the height of a military operation. I doubt if it would amount to much, which makes it no wonder that preserving her laurels means preserving the status quo.
And these make them not just fallen, but false idols to begin with. And in their place will come another messiah, and if we are to believe the poet/prophet Eman Lacaba, they will be of a different class entirely.