For UP this may still be the mid-semester, but for the rest of the Philippines it is already the season for graduations and finishing the academic year.

I was reminded of this fact when, one morning, I caught a quick feature on a local morning talk show about a commencement ceremony in a private school in Quezon City that has recently stirred up controversy.  The salutatorian, later revealed to beKrisel Mallari of the Sto. Nino Parochial School, had, through her welcome address, very publicly called the school to task for allegedly giving valedictorian honors to a student who did not deserve it; it was implicit that it should have been her instead of the other girl.  Her speech was promptly cut off by teachers.

The reactions of members of the public to a “viral” event very often tell us more about our society in general, than the viral event itself.  The show’s hosts (there were three of them) were very quick to castigate the salutatorian and her actions, yammering away all at the same time, in usual talk show host fashion, about how the student had done wrong, that sure, they believe in free speech, but this was unbecoming, that she had shamed her school, and that couldn’t she have looked for “the proper venue” to air out her complaints, besides, look, theDepEd has all these rules and regulations about how private schools should be run.

I did not hear the salutatorian’s speech, and I have no way to say if her complaints are valid or not, but there and then I wanted to find her and shake her hand.

If only to slap the public awake every now and then, this girl deserves our congratulations.  Indeed, I first heard of this incident in a context that was quite related.  In my Philippine Institutions 100 class we were considering a passage that Jose Rizal wrote in his annotations of the Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas:  “This is the eternal division that is found everywhere, in all kingdoms and republics: the ruling class, productive class and servant class; head, body and feet.”  I use this passage as a take-off for a discussion about class and social stratification, and how these are manifested in Philippine society, both in the past and present.

I asked the class:  “Rizal could very well have said this without batting an eyelash, given that he belonged to an affluent portionof society, but what do you suppose members of the lowest class would say?”  One student answered that they would probably want change, but that the pervasive attitude nowadays was that of dawat-dawat, or to just accept the way things are, lest one be labeled as a troublemaker.  Another student then raised her hand and said, “Well, what about that salutatorian who gave that speech?”  Unlike the talks show hosts, most the students nodded and expressed at least mild admiration, and not condemnation.  Not a one made a fuss about “the proper venue” or rules and regulations, and I gave a grateful internal sigh of relief that there may still be hope for UP and the Philippines yet.

This is not unlike the controversial visit of DBM Secretary Butch Abad to UP Diliman some time back that was met with protests, after which no less than UP President Alfredo Pascualordered an investigation into the matter “in accordance with the University’s rules.”

The so-called rule of law was a bogey raised as, first, a clearattempt to scare students to toe the line, and second, in order to legitimize Pascual’s moves to intimidate.  This invocation ofrules, regulations, and proper venues serve not so much to createa just or equitable society than a subservient one.

People who use rules, regulations and proper venues for narrow interests and at their convenience, while selectively turning a blind eye when it suits them (calling for fire and brimstone to fall upon a gaggle of “hooligans” while keeping mum about the more despicable target of that “hooliganism”?  Tsk, tsk!) is but one of the groups of persons who fetishize these rules and regulations.

The second group can do so simply because they can afford it. There are those among us who, because of their social station, find that proper venues are open, accessible, and sometimes actually work!  To transgress these lines are acts that belong to the realm of the poor and the desperate, two things that, fortunately for these people, they have never been.  Like Rizal, they too would probably not bat an eyelash at the “eternal division” of classes, “that is found everywhere, in all kingdoms and republics”.

From there an unforgiving bureaucratization is just a hair’s breadth away.  Just one example:  go and ask any government employee who is right now wrestling with the Performance Based Bonus, the Strategic Performance Management System, and other evaluation mechanisms that reduce performance to crude ranking and bald competition, coupled with a great deal of forms and formulas that must be followed down through to the last decimal place.  The monetization of creativity and the other impulses that make us human does not make sense to me, but it must make proper sense to the number crunchers behind this neoliberal push.

Ironically enough, people who insist (to the death!) on the rule of rules must either be uncreative, or quite lazy.  After all, if there is already a fixed set of statements by which we are prescribed to live by, then why question anything else?  Why wonder about how things turn out?  Why expend brain cells when the manual already tells you what to do and how to behave?  The rules are supposed to work, are they not, and the reason why some things don’t turn out well is probably because somebody somewhere forgot to cross her t’s or dot her i’s or pass the proper paperwork in the first place.

The apologists of socialized tuition are firm believers of this, saying that simplifying the process and turning UP’s STFAP into STS will cure the malady – Kristel Tejada just happened to miss the deadline on some requirements.

Right now I cannot say for sure what will come of the Ms. Mallari’s grievance:  will she get the justice that she wants or will it be revealed that it is utterly baseless.  Nevertheless, her speech and the reactions of the public are occasions to mull over how we look at rules, regulations and proper venues.  And beyond this, it is also an occasion to mull over how we can challenge them, stir up a little trouble like that salutatorian and UP Diliman’s hooligans, and break them apart and change them once they begin working against the interests of the majority, once they begin to be used to subjugate than to benefit, once we discern that the numbered rules and neat regulations exist fornothing more than for the system to remain, in Kafka’s words, “more rigid, more vigilant, more severe, more ruthless.”

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