July 31, 2004  (STAR) CRAZED By Patricia Chanco Evangelista - I used to be an idealist. I wanted to save the world and slay dragons. In third grade, I listened open-mouthed as the teacher spun the story of Martial Law in the 1970s. My dad used to talk about racing his old red Galant down EDSA to block the approaching tanks. I grew up idolizing Ninoy Aquino and wishing that I’d been born early enough to be part of the People Power Revolution. Nowhere else in the world has the flame of activism burned brighter than on EDSA’s concrete pavements in 1986.

Activism by definition is the "involvement in action to bring about change." The naked man with his face lifted to the sky that stands at the entrance of the University of the Philippines symbolizes what the university stands for. Freedom: to learn, to act, to speak. This is probably why UP is known and celebrated all over the country as the cradle of activism and liberal thought.

I went to UP knowing all this, proud of these traditions. I went to UP knowing that I was going to be part of a culture that allowed people to speak out and stand up for their rights. I knew this, and was glad.

In UP, it was a shock to discover that activism had evolved into a mockery of its very essence. True, there is always need to voice out concern, but that need is balanced by an acceptance of circumstances and a willingness to work towards mitigation.

Today’s student activists rally in the streets, raise banners and declare anything mildly foreign as manifestations of the Philippines’ degradation. They refuse to work with the system because "the system has failed" – without showing how the system must be made right.

They complain about deterioration in the quality of education. They complain about bad facilities and having to pay fees to drop classes. They complain that the university does not receive enough money from a government spending more on military than education – something manifestly untrue.

When others find means to augment resources, they claim it is an abandonment of duties. Never mind that resources are limited, never mind that other matters must also be considered.

Ask them why. It is the government’s responsibility, they’ll say. It’s the government’s fault.

They complain about poverty and welfare and lack of opportunities. They complain about exploitation and globalization and losing the Filipino identity. They talk about joblessness and unemployment and Filipinos abused overseas.

When others choose the risk of migration over the difficulties at home, they say that the choice shouldn’t exist. Never mind that the country just emerged from a financial crisis, never mind that it’s not a problem that can be solved with sheer will.

Ask them why. It is the government’s responsibility, they’ll say. It’s the government’s fault.

I used to be a brat when I was a kid. Daddy, I want this; Mommy, I want that. We weren’t rich; obviously they couldn’t give me everything, but we made do. It wasn’t the best, but hey, they tried and I was happy. What they couldn’t give, I sought for myself.

It was pretty funny when I put this picture side by side with what constitutes student activism. We want this; we want that. Everything begins and ends with a sense of entitlement, without stopping to think about today’s realities and how they can be dealt with. There are thousands of NGOs all over the Philippines who do work within or outside the system, who still defend their causes yet serve the people. They believe there is hope even if compromises have to be made.

I had a professor who said that UP is what it is for no other reason than its culture of activism. It is what makes UP popular, and what makes UP what it is. I was stunned when he said that the moment we stop rallying on the streets, the moment we stop opposing the government, is the moment we become nonentities and become the same as any other university. He said the cause does not always matter; it is the act of pursuing a cause.

It’s strange, when I thought people rallied because there was a cause, not that they took up a cause so they could rally. It’s stranger still when they call those who see that there is hope in the current situation naïve, when they themselves are unable to face the harshness of truth.

I agree that there are legitimate causes. I agree that it is terrible that people are compelled to leave because of economic situations. I agree that we are dependent on foreign investments and that we are a third world country.

It would be wonderful for the government to be able to provide jobs for every citizen. It would be wonderful for everyone to get free education.

But I grew out of my idealism. I believe that changes cannot be made overnight, but they can and will happen if individuals go beyond complaint and into action. What passes for activism today shames the very history from which they were born, a history that sees activism as a final means when all else has failed – not a recourse of every day. There is a place for idealism, and there is a place for reality.

I still want to save the world and slay dragons. I don’t intend to do it standing on a soapbox brandishing a sword.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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