The university, local, and national political landscape has made activism synonymous with skating on thin ice as redtagging rose to silence critics, especially of the government. With the Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) being labeled as a ‘hotbed for communist recruitment’ back in 2021, the University tightened its security measures, even to the extent of altering student activities in the name of safety. In hopes of ensuring a safe environment for learning, the fear of being red-tagged has put students under pressure to water down their social activism rather than the University providing a mechanism to protect them.
Throughout the academic year, multiple opportunities for students to execute their advocacies through activism have come up, such as Mindanao Week of Peace (MWOP) and Pride Month. Despite AdDU’s hard stance on social justice, events on social issues always seem so ‘peaceful’ that they fail to be loud enough to catch the attention of real societal problems. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, activism does not necessarily always have to be ferociously done on the streets, but how exactly should social justice be practiced in the University?
While SAMAHAN and other organizations in the University may argue that they have been doing their best to push their advocacies, many of these events have only been done because external partners summoned them. For example, the ‘peaceful protest’ against the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps would not have happened if the Buklod Atenista resolution had never been created. Hence, it created a restrictive event born out of reactive measures. No action was also taken about the discriminatory uniform policy until Atenews released an article about it. Further, “anti-government” statements were prohibited during the Pride March activity without adequately defining what they meant by “anti-government.” Artists for the art and photo exhibit of MWOP were also reminded not to ‘attack’ political figures since it may ‘cause harm to the University’s image.’ In fact, their culminating activity limited their audience to only a few organizations, which was a missed opportunity to highlight how crucial the event was.
These “advocacies” were implemented, while a discussion-filled event and exhibit on martial law by the Mindanawon Anthropological Society of the Ateneo was flagged and rejected because of its “very political nature.” Due to the event not being approved on late notice, the speakers, who are martial law victims, waited outside the campus on the day of the event and were not granted entry.
With the current cycle of events, activism in the University seems to be kept at the surface level and even reduced to lengthy statements students barely read. If not, it is a string of knee-jerk reactions from its very own student government that would not have been pushed through without external pressure. Activism has always been defined as a public act, an extroverted act that is never meant to be hidden (Svirsky, 2010). So, whenever we assert that we have done something through our statements that are unread or through activities only attended by a few, it is not activism nor proper advocacy but merely a performative action for the audience.
Considering how the University has put social justice through the lens of dialogue and community engagements, one may argue that it’s just how the institution operates. However, diplomatic efforts can only do so much. Even if dialogue acts as a means to an end or an end goal, it still needs to be accompanied by other efforts and symbols of resistance that support the freedom of the students to express their sentiments on various issues.
Ironically, AdDU has a striking history of activism. Its students were at the forefront of fighting against the Marcos regime during the martial law in 1972. This has proved that symbols of courage and freedom of expression on social issues that put demise on the experiences of students and Filipinos alike are critical in nation-building. Hence, suppressing such will only undermine the real purpose of activism and all the more violates the very essence of serving social justice.
Prevention is better than cure, but protecting the students should not be at the expense of their freedom of expression, especially on pressing issues that affect their past, present, and future. The University must redefine its stance on social justice to set a proper foundation on where students should stand on issues. More so, they should be alarmed about activism’s downward direction in the institution. Most importantly, they must revert their focus on better supporting their students to grow into socially and politically aware individuals who live by the Atenean value of cura personalis.
Svirsky, M. G. (2010). Defining activism. Deleuze Studies, 4(supplement), 163–182. https://doi.org/10.3366/dls.2010.0211