December 27, 2020 (6:25 PM)

5 min read

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In a community such as the academe, is it a crime to question? 

The Atenews has once again been dragged into the center of controversy after a Facebook post by SAMAHAN President Renz Lacorte called out the Atenews Editor-in-Chief—myself—for a Twitter thread questioning the act of gift-giving. Mr. Lacorte dubbed it as “crossing the line” and as mere “overimagining of things.”

I have been accused of many things, but I wish to clarify that the thread was published on my personal Twitter account, thus it does not and should not reflect the views of the entire organization. 

In our preoccupation with our private thoughts—I, my anthropological take on simple acts such as gift-giving and Mr. Lacorte, his own leadership advocacies—I regret to say that we both may have overlooked more deep-seated social problems. I have nothing against donation drives per se, but to engage in such activities without re-examining our motives and delving into the root cause of labor issues necessitating these forms of assistance is detestable. 

First, it is easy to claim that donation drives are one of the humane and selfless activities expected of more ‘privileged’ people, especially this Christmas season. It is, indeed—but we have to remember that gift-giving is also about the receiver as much as it is about the giver. 

The anthropologist Marcel Mauss once argued that gift-giving is a form of reciprocity or exchange, meaning no gift is ever free. Gifts, according to Mauss, give rise to social bonds and obligations since the gift is irreversibly tied to the giver. Whether we like it or not, asymmetrical power relations exist between the giver and the receiver. We should, therefore, act carefully with respect to our and the receiver’s positionality when we want to engage in meaningful gift-giving. Otherwise, our acts of kindness are but shallow and misguided notions of helping. 

Second, donation drives may be helpful in the short-run, but it does not address the root cause of why material or financial assistance is needed by these workers in the first place. By settling with donation drives, are we not tolerating a system that normalizes the lack of just compensation and benefits for workers? Should not the more proactive action be holding our government accountable for its neglect of workers’ rights?

The country may have experienced economic growth in the past decade, but this growth continues to be exclusive. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), this failed to create decent jobs and had but little effect on the reduction of poverty and other vulnerabilities. 

ILO’s 2017 data further shows that as much as seven million Filipino workers are under contractual working arrangements, which means that their employment is only short term or casual. Worse, they are employed “to fill permanent job needs but are denied permanent employee rights” such as the right to security of tenure, occupational safety and health, self-organization and collective bargaining, and social protection, among others (ILO 2017, 27) (READ: Decent Work Country Diagnostics Philippines 2017). Ateneo de Davao’s labor issue in 2017 is perhaps the closest example of the plight of workers under precarious employment conditions.  (READ: Utility workers question AdDU, Blue Collar over ‘unjust’ treatment)

If our concern for security guards, utility workers and other contractual workers across the country is serious, we must go beyond sharing their narratives and distributing Noche Buena packs. We must be more involved.

If our university administration chooses to stay mum, then should we, the students, also refuse to speak up? We must stand alongside these workers as they struggle for fairer and more inclusive labor rights. We must condemn and boycott companies that practice dehumanizing forms of contractualization. As student leaders and emerging politicians, the SAMAHAN may even lobby and advocate for labor rights, starting from within our university community.

Perhaps a better response to my expressed opinion on Twitter could have been to refute it by giving counterarguments or engaging in an intellectual discussion without resorting to asking for public sympathy, as well as besmirching my name and my organization’s. But that is less relevant now since there are greater battles that have to be fought.

Before we can go on advocating, however, it is necessary to foster safe and respectful spaces for conversations within and among the studentry. Immaturity and impulsiveness have no place in the academe. Instead, we should value and embrace questioning, the healthy exercise that it is, since it ensures that students can think for themselves. Isn’t this at the core of our values as a Jesuit university?

If being critical and posing intellectual inquiries in order to spark a conversation will make me the enemy in the eyes of many, then let me be crucified, for it is in having people think, reflect, and reassess their acts of giving that an independent mind succeeds. 

Reference

International Labor Organization. 2017. Decent Work Country Diagnostics: Philippines 2017. Philippines: ILO Publications. http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro-bangkok/—ilo-manila/documents/publication/wcms_588875.pdfhttp://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro-bangkok/—ilo-manila/documents/publication/wcms_588875.pdf


About Gwyneth Marie Vasquez - Masawa

Gwyneth has a restless mind that never settles for what is given. This serves her well as an Anthropology student, although it sometimes gets her into trouble outside her academic life. She was Atenews's Editor-in-Chief in AY 2020-2021 and her column name, "Masawa" means 'bright and clear' in Binutuanon.




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