Monday, April 06, 2009

Temporal, spatial in UP Diliman

Caffeine_Sparks ruminated on the meaning of building a future in the Philippines. Now those who are geographers know that these constructs like “prosperous Philippines” have to be situated in space. So I find Caffeine_Sparks’ essay quite interesting. What is the future? Where is the future located? And how can we build it there?
Now the essayist writes that her many friends and family ”cannot imagine a future in this spatiality”. Now we who teach in the University of the Philippines can relate with that in all spatial scales. Like anyone, it is very hard to find a future in this spatiality of 493 hectares and by extension the whole Philippines (considering that this university is a sort of microcosm of Pinoy society). But the question that nags many is why these bright people continue to teach and receive very pathetic salaries? This was a question of a true blue Atenean who decided to take a PhD in UP after attending Oxford University for a Masters (Since Ateneo did not offer an advanced degree in his field, he enrolled in UP). He told me that he knew that UP profs receive paltry pay but only when he sat in the graduate classroom of the national university did the reality hit him. The philosophically reflective Atenean experienced the phenom of experiencing crawlies in the classroom with one of the country’s top environmental engineers giving a lecture!
After all he was sitting in a termite ridden classroom! The termite colony was behind the whiteboard!
Perhaps there are what UP’s top honcho’s say as “psychic rewards” that make people stay. But like any psychic phenomena, you can’t eat it. When Jesus Christ promised bread from heaven, he did make it physical first and the allegorical explanation came later (courtesy of the Church). The psychic came after the physical and not the other way around.
With the new UP Charter, things should begin to brighten up. And yes indeed it has. However the question of increasing professors and staff pay will have to take a few more years for the university has none of the resources currently. And this is why UP President Emer Roman has to request Congress to include UP in the new round of salary standardizations. UP according to the charter is no longer in the SSL system.
If Caffeine_sparks writes “you cannot live on love alone”. We in UP say “we cannot live on psychic rewards alone”
Indeed the UP faculty and staff situation is a microcosm of the Pinoy diaspora. Last year we lost 4 science PhDs to brighter pastures abroad. Those who are in grad school overseas are continually in the desert facing the last temptation of Christ.
“Worship the Dollar Almighty, the Holy Greencard and the Blessed American (Australian, British etc) Dream and I’ll give you all of these.”
That some department chairs have thrown in the towel is reflected in their department’s policy that junior faculty members leaving for their PhDs on their own steam are asked to resign rather than go on study leave. The reason is that they don’t return anyway. Even those on scholarship obligation find ways not to return. One instructor who had no plans of settling abroad found this “very insulting”.
Also I know of a Filipino pastor serving an evangelical church near a Pasig mall who has decided to be a teacher in New Zealand. Even he couldn’t find a future as a religious minister in a Pinoy church.
Now what is the Filipino dream anyway? A heap of books have been written on the Pinoy dream and diaspora and a “cottage industry” like what Ambeth Ocampo says is with Rizal. We are still finding meaning on the whole OFW phenomenon and this is good for still many PhD dissertations. When I was an OFW academic myself, I read many of these books in the library of an American university. From what I gather, we Pinoys have created new boundaries of being nation. Since I am no social scientist, I will probably screw up the interpretation of these findings. The nation can be transplanted anywhere. But even if it is transplanted , it will be an approximation of what was left at home.
Thus we need Disneyland. Overseas Filipinos come home to the Philippine Disneyland since they need it. And Disneyland it really is. We take them to Eastwood, Greenbelt 1-5, Bonifacio High Street, Mall of Asia and for the Cebu bound, Ayala Center Cebu or to overrated resorts on Boracay etc. The overseas Pinoys are never taken to the bad side of town or to a nice beach in Guimaras without the creature comfies!
I myself have experienced it. When I came home for a holiday, friends took me to the newest sosy mall then, Rockwell!
But I was writing about those immigrants with rights of return. The OFW doesn’t and is likely to come home to a place with nary much an improvement. In some cases OFW money has improved conditions in the barangay, (like that Swiss Chalet in the Cordillera rice terraces), but in many cases, it hasn’t.
Caffeine_Sparks concludes in her essay
” All polities (i.e. political communities) share two things in common - an uninterrupted timeline to connect past, present and future – all to unfold in a single space. What we may be experiencing is a disintegration of both. Here the archipelago floats, bits and pieces eaten away by the Pacific.”
Perhaps the real Filipino dream in the diaspora is simply to die in “Inang Bayan”. I have known many Pinoy old folks who after spending decades overseas have decided to return to die. The thought of staying in an American nursing home in the recession is worse than death. Not even the cute “apos” can prevent them from going home.
This is the dream of Jose Rizal, Marcelo H Del Pilar and countless number of exiles. We are a nation of exiles. The Philippines is a sacred place which we haven’t really reached.
And as Claro M Recto’s final words in a Rome hospital was
“It is terrible to die in a foreign country”
That was my biggest fear too when I was living overseas. When I was doing fieldwork in the Aussie bush, my Akubra had a Philippine flag pinned on it. This was not really an act of nationalist fervour but a practical one. If I die and find my white bones, the Australians would know where to send the remains.
Where else but to the University of the Philippines!

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