by: Jhio Jan Navarro
Silence is not always for comfort. It can be poisonous as construed by Nietzsche while to death camp survivor Eli Wiesel, it can kill. With me, as of the moment, silence is disturbing. In our time when the silence of the night usually precedes gunshots and death, I think I am justified. However, of all kinds of silence these days, I am most disturbed by the tonguelessness of the University of the Philippines Visayas Administration on the threats to life and welfare of its constituents. It got me into asking: am I entrusting my safety, my life to the “silent partners” of oppression?
On July 8, a malicious publication circulated online red-tagging Prof. Tomasito Talledo as a recruiter of the New People’s Army (NPA) and it blamed him for the demise of Malvin Cruz, an NPA cadre and former UPV student, who breathed his last in an encounter with state forces in Miagao, Iloilo. Days after, a Facebook account stole a UPV student’s identity to send threats to the Professor. It explicitly stated that his dead body will one day be strewn in the University for all his students to see.
The incident was then followed by another red-tagging spree by unknown entity/ies who stole the identity of another member of UP Faculty, of Ruchie Mark Pototanon. The fake account listed individuals it tagged as supporters of the underground CPP-NPA-NDF. On the list are UPV students, faculty members, and even alumni.
Progressive organizations (SAMASA, AUPAEU-Iloilo, Office of the Staff Regent, and CONTEND-UP, among others) and individuals alike, publicly denounced such red-tagging and malicious, unsubstantiated accusations. Groups described them as propaganda to tarnish the name of teacher-unionists and student activists as is habitually practiced by state forces now to produce chilling effects on dissenting voices. The fact that red-tagging more or less precedes cold-blooded murder under the Duterte regime were given due emphasis. Of late, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza from San Carlos, Negros Occidental has also issued a statement in support of the faculty members of UPV enjoining the faithfuls to be with him in calling for the end of the persecution of the educators.
Amidst the loud words of sympathy and solidarity however, the UPV administration was eerily silent. This is despite their expected responsibility to ensure and uphold the safety and welfare of their constituents. This is despite their supposed commitment to academic freedom and liberty of speech. This is despite the constant urgings of groups and individuals for their timely statement and measures of support. Almost, three weeks have lapsed yet not a word, nay, not an echo emanates from the Office of Chancellor Ricardo Babaran.
It is hard to comprehend how the UPV Administration can choose to turn a blind eye and be silent when threats ever loom close and sinister. When there are bangings on its door for help. When islands away, Church bells toll to denounce the regime of fear.
How should such silence from administrators of UPV be construed? Must it be taken as a consequence of the administrative burden the pandemic has forced upon their necks like a yoke? If so, must we then act like we have suffered social amnesia and forget that they have called for an urgent press conference when the University’s reputation is at stake because of the proliferating reports of sexual abuse purportedly committed by teacher and students? Oh, is the silence because the accusations are directed to individuals and the university’s repute, whether or not those threatened will be harm, will more or less come out intact? Is Prof. Talledo infallible when he wrote that the University bureaucracy with the administration in the helm is a “serpent that swallows its tail?”
Because, if so, then the silence must be construed as no less than a choice willingly taken after weighing the contingent consequences’ impact on the administrations’ business of self- preservation.
We may hope that the implication of the administration’s silence ends at self-preservation. But that would be wishful-thinking if not at all delusional because clearly, it has a far more insidious implication. Silence is an enabling indifference and those silent ones are accomplices of oppressors and tyrants guilty of a crime of omission. “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” and “it is not words but silence that kills,” as put aptly by Elie Wiesel, who has delved deep into the politics of silence and neutrality.
The search process for the new Chancellor of UPV or the possible extension term of the current one is now ongoing. As a student, I personally hold opinions about the search process and consider answers to questions I posed above. What remains however etched on me is never to fall into disturbing silence lest we be accomplices to the furtherance of authorities committed only to self-preservation and not to the welfare of its constituency nor to academic freedom and liberty of expression./PT
Dibuho ni: Justin Madriaga (Spokesperson, Anakbayan-Panay)