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Lightning in Diliman: UP post-Kristel

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PHOTO courtesy of Wendell Capili

There’s a strong chance that lightning will strike in UP Diliman on Sunday.  One hit UP Manila a week ago when students briefly held a protest during the commencement exercise.

It’s called a lightning rally.

It was one of the most creative and dangerous forms of student protest in the ’70s and ’80s.

Here’s how it worked: You gather at a location, unfurl banners, make impassioned, but very short, speeches, and then very quickly disperse.

Total running time: Less than five minutes.

On the UP campus in Diliman, during the Marcos years, that sometimes meant a march that began on the fourth floor of the Palma Hall building and quickly ended on the second floor before the Marcos security forces could react.

I guess you can call it an early version of the flash mob, though unlike today’s mass actions, you can end up in big trouble, like in prison, for any error in the timing and coordination.

It’s been heartening to know that lightning rallies have survived at UP.  In fact, it has become a tradition especially during graduation season.

There is, however, one thing I find odd: Students nowadays actually let authorities know about holding a lightning rally. Sometimes they even ask for permission.

Back in the old days, that would have been considered silly, even suicidal.

But my sister Nymia Simbulan said that when she was head of UP Manila’s student affairs office, students routinely let her know of a lightning action and they would even come to an understanding with her on how it should be carried out.

My sister was herself a student activist and so was naturally sympathetic though she made it a point to remind the activists to keep the rabble rousing “short and sweet, not more than 3-4 minutes, to maximize the impact and get the attention of the audience.”

They didn’t always see things her way.

During one commencement, an activist kept on going for more than five minutes, annoying the main speakers — and my sister. Only when she stood up to ask her to finish did the activist stop.

In any case, last week’s UP Manila commencement lightning rally was not surprising. And it also will not be surprising if another one hits the Diliman commencement on Sunday.

The sloganeering can no doubt turn off some spectators, even some of the graduates and their parents. But we’re talking about UP where protesting and activism have long been cherished traditions.

And there is much to protest about this year.

UP has yet to fully recover from the tragedy of Kristel Tejada, the UP Manila student who took her own life. Apparently, one of the reasons was that she was forced to go on leave after her family failed to pay her tuition.

It remains a hot topic in the UP community. I found this out a few weeks ago when the UP Alumni Association marked its 100th year. I found myself helping celebrate embarrassingly underdressed. But then again, the UP I know and love is an institution not overly obsessed with formality and formal attire.

Don’t worry about it, Wendell Capili, UP’s point man for alumni affairs, told me and my friend and fellow UP alum Oca Gomez. I’m wearing sneakers, he added.

Oca also was in sneakers and a T-shirt. I was the most out of place, in t-shirt, rubber shoes and cargo pants.

But sure enough it was no problem as Wendell led us to the Bahay ng Alumni hall where portraits of past UP Alumni Association presidents were being unveiled.

(The gallery featured distinguished alums and respected figures in UP and Philippine history, such as Abraham Sarmiento and Gerry Roxas. There were a few others one wouldn’t put in that category. One portrait was of Ferdinand Marcos.)

The unveiling was followed by the inauguration of a new stamp commemorating the centennial. UP President Alfredo Pascual was at the event where, as expected, the discussions frequently turned to the tragedy of Kristel.

Wendell introduced me to the president who didn’t seem bothered with having underdressed and unexpected guests as he talked about a grand plan to raise enough money in order to set up a workable study-now-pay-later plan.

I was in Diliman to discuss our own plan with Oca, one of many UP alumni for whom the Kristel tragedy struck a nerve. What about stipend grants for specific needs, such as meals and dorm fees, I asked. The president nodded, saying, that’s also good.

In fact, Wendell said stipend grants could fill a major need. Tuition is not the only problem.  The tragedy apparently sparked an effort to let more students know of the grants and financial aid available to them. At Vinzons Hall, where the university student council and the Philippine Collegian offices are located, a big banner with student aid and grant information greets visitors.

There’s another one, Oca told me, pointing to another banner near the School of Economics.

But there are other needs, to be sure. Many students struggle because they find themselves scrambling to pay the rent or because they simply don’t have enough money for meals.

Somehow the UP community, including many in the administration, but most especially its alumni, has found a way.

Which was why the Kristel Tejada tragedy was so shocking for many of us. That’s not supposed to happen. That’s not what UP is about.

A more fitting image of UP emerges from a story Wendell told me and Oca. It took place during yet another commencement this time in Tacloban.

No lightning rally this time. Instead, there’s a young woman with her parents.

They were poor, and the young woman had to support herself while at UP by washing and ironing the clothes of her housemates. But she was bright and she worked hard. She graduated with honors and made it to the top ten of her board exams.

During the UP Tacloban commencement, she went up the stage with her parents to receive her medal.

Then something happened.

As Wendell recalls, the parents were wearing “clean, simple-looking but ill-fitting clothes.”

“After seeing how everybody onstage wore formal graduation attire, suddenly, they looked totally overwhelmed by the experience,” he continued. “They tried to leave the stage immediately.”

Wendell rushed to stop them. “The father looked really overwhelmed and misty-eyed, while the mother was on the verge of crying,” he said. “So I ended up crying as I started to persuade them to pin the medal on their daughter.”

That’s what UP is supposed to be about.

On Twitter @BoyingPimentel. Follow (and Like) the Kuwento page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/boyingpimentel


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Tags: commencement exercise , education , Features , Global Nation , student activism , UP Diliman

  • http://twitter.com/tagasalog tagasalog

    we resort to lightning rallies because we cannot mobilize thousands anymore

  • padrefaura

    I wonder why we are glorifying a quitter named kristel. Even assuming UP was harsh on her, it is still not a reason to commit suicide. I would have respected kristel if she fought the policy rather than quitting her life. She is, in my books, a loser.

    • malvar pagasa

      Kristel doesnt need your respect, she’s dead. You will never understand, in a world of possibilities, we thought it wont happen in UP.

      • padrefaura

        never said kristel needs my respect. hello! maybe you should consider doing what she did if you understood her.

    • http://www.facebook.com/guillermo.mendoza.3956 Guillermo Mendoza

      dafuq!!! whatever her reason/s for committing such an act, only Kristel can answer. but an outsider, a person who does not even know her at the personal level to actually say those words bit ch ka talaga!!!

      • Josephine Parico

        Yes, only Kristel can answer that. But the COMMIES and the LEFT have already spoken in behalf of Kristel.

      • padrefaura

        it seems that you need to sharpen your reading comprehension. i am not saying that kristel should not be answerable to what she did, what i am saying is that the people who are glorifying kristel are glorifying a quitter in life. how can you make a quitter a hero? look at the list of our heroes from lapu-lapu to bonifacio to ninoy, who among them committed suicide when times were rough?

      • upupperclassman

        I agree with you 100%. The others are just finding excuses to moan and groan.

      • http://www.facebook.com/guillermo.mendoza.3956 Guillermo Mendoza

        dafuq!!! the way i see it, you dont know the implications of your statements!!! should i point it to you one by one? IMO, i suggest you re-read and proofread your statements!!!

      • padrefaura

        by all means, point it out one by one.

      • http://www.facebook.com/guillermo.mendoza.3956 Guillermo Mendoza

        no. i suggest you first go back to your HS teacher and asked him/her to re-teach you your English subject. pag equipped ka na, then we can discuss!!!

      • padrefaura

        wahaha… i called your bluff and now you are backing out. this just shows that your character is lacking substance.

      • http://www.facebook.com/guillermo.mendoza.3956 Guillermo Mendoza

        have you proofread your statements? if you think your arguments are ok, rechecked your replies and you will be enlightened!!

      • padrefaura

        Wow, you are a man really wanting of substance.

    • Josephine Parico

      I agree 100% with you. Do not glorify a loser and a whiner. There are more hard-up students out there and yet did not commit suicide.

      If there’s to be blamed there, it’s Kristel’s parents. They are IRRESPONSIBLE PARENTS!!!!

      • KARGATAPASB4

        To say that her parents are irresponsible, may be too harsh, clearly you haven’t been in a situation where your parents are strugling to make ends meet
        yes no one should glorify her, i’ve been thriugh tough times in college so are some of my friends yet mange to finished engineering. she could have worked to support herself or help her family. there are so many ways to face poverty
        not just being dependent to what a government institution can give. there’s a lot of poor sutdents out there strugling everyday just to have a better education and a better future.

      • http://www.facebook.com/guillermo.mendoza.3956 Guillermo Mendoza

        you are quick to blame!!! you dont know Kristel’s family personally to arrive to such conclusion. and even if you DO know them, you are not in any position to judge them!

    • Islaslolo

      We have now moved on to a national discussion on how to educate our deserving students particularly those that are economically challenged to support their education. The tragic event associated with Kristel Tejada became the tipping point in our search for a solution. It would be another tragedy if this national conversation and search for solutions on how we will prepare the next generation to face the challenges of their time and the future of our country becomes another game of blame and condescension. This time let us all look at the big picture and worry about the future of our country and our people.

  • M C

    I gues, nasimulan ang protest graduation nuon nila Gerry Barican at Ericson Baculinao sa kanilang 1970 commencement exercises. Dahil sa dami ng bisita at manonood tuwing graduation sa UP, nagigin epektibo ito sa paghahatid ng mensahe. Since then, naging tradisyon na ng UP community ang pagsasagawa nilto. Sa pagpasok ng batas militar, napalitan ito ng tinaguriang “lighting rally” dahil sa nagkalat ng mga ajax nuon sa campus. I am sure, yun mga aktibista nuon na naging mga guro at namumuno na ngayon sa pamantasan ay naiintindihan ang rason at mga mensahe na ibig iparating ng mga “lightning rally” at nagiging tolerant na lang sila sa mga ganitong pamamahayag.

  • ruthieem7

    Iba na UP ngayon. Puro middle class to elite, at konti na lang talaga ang mahihirap. Ang taas na kasi ng tuition fee kaya may kaya na lang nag-aaral. Since afford na naman nila at mura compared to other schools, wala na silang makitang rason bakit pa magrally.

    • http://www.facebook.com/guillermo.mendoza.3956 Guillermo Mendoza

      I am assuming you are an outsider!

      • ruthieem7

        Baka ikaw?! I graduated from UP a few years back. Compare UP now up to early 2000s. Huge difference.

      • http://www.facebook.com/guillermo.mendoza.3956 Guillermo Mendoza

        if that is the case, i suggest you go back to UP and retake sosci 1 and sosci 2. sabayan mo na rin ng philo 1. your last statement in your first comment is just laughable. it lacks critical thinking. na-tres ka ba o kumuwatro? wow! UP makes you critical in your thinking, you simply pass it with a mediocre thinking!! lastly, sabayan mo pa ng humanities1 or gawin mong humanidades 1 para maintindihan mo ng husto!!!!

      • ruthieem7

        Nah. You’re too funny and defensive! Sinasabi ko lang ang masaklap na katotohanan ngayon sa UP. I’m sure tibak ka kaya hindi mo matanggap statement ko hahaha. Totoo naman e! Aminin mo! Idilat mo mga mata mo! Hindi na mapusok ang mga nagrarally na estudyante ngayon kumpara dati. Iilan na lang ang totoong may pinaglalaban. Komportable na kasi ang buhay ng karamihan ng tao sa UP ngayon. Aanhin mo ang critical thinking kung walang aksyon. Maraming estudyante ang may alam sa dapat ipaglaban, pero ang totoo dumadami ang apathetic. Pareho lang ito sa sinulat dito ni Mr. Pimentel. Dati, lightning rally tuwing graduation ay totoong rally. Mararamdaman mo ang totoong pinaglalabanan nila. Ngayon? Nagpapaalam pa at halatang nagiingay na lang.

      • http://www.facebook.com/guillermo.mendoza.3956 Guillermo Mendoza

        your conclusion is based on ill-observed and preconceived notions. i doubt if you are really from UP. your arguments are more of argumentum ad ignorantiam, very cynical approach!!

      • ruthieem7

        Haha. You can’t reason out with me that you have to dismiss my statements as ill-observations. You’re a waste of time. Sige lang ipilit mo! Wala namang pipigil sa iyo. HAHAHA

      • http://www.facebook.com/guillermo.mendoza.3956 Guillermo Mendoza

        OMG. and you think you are a demigod when it comes to arguments? tama ang suspetsya ko, nagpapanggap ka nga!!!

  • $5699914

    Tama bang bastusin ang mga graduates na walang kinalaman sa mga away ng mga aktibista at management?
    And to think, mga edukado na naturingan ang mga aktibista pero asal-hayop?

    • critical mass Pilipinas

      Tandaan mo na kaya ka nakakapagsabi ng opinyon mo ng Malaya ngayon ay dahil sa mga taong tinatawag mo na bastos at hindi edukado.

      • $5699914

        Hindi rin.
        Hindi ko utang na loob sa mga bastos at walang modo na mga tao ang kalayaan ko. Hindi kailaman na matatawag na kabayanihan o kahanga-hanga ang ginagawa ng mga ungas, bastos at walang modong aktibista…malamang kasama ka roon.

      • $4612959

        hindi yan kabastusan. yan ay tatak UP na kung saan ang kalayaan ng mamayang Pilipino ay inaalagaan. kung ikaw ay nababastusan, maaring ikaw ay hindi taga UP, kaibigan.

      • $5699914

        Oo hindi ako taga UP and I am glad i did not go to that university.
        Kung ang maging malaya ay yaong maging bastos at mawalan ng modo, hindi ko na lang nanaisin ang maging malaya.
        Hindi masama ang lumaban at magsalita laban sa masamang kilos ng mga namumuno o ng batas. Pero kung idadaan ito sa walang puknat na pambabastos at pang-aabala pati ng mga inosenteng tao, ito ay walang kabuluhan. Anarkiya lang ito.
        Ang kalayaan ay may kaakibat na responsibilidad: sa sarili. sa tao. sa lipunan.
        Ang kalayaan na hindi tumutugon sa responsibilidad ay isang anarkiya at hindi dapat pinahihintulutan ng isang sibilisadong lipunan.
        Ano ang ipamamana ninyo sa mga anak ninyo, ang maging walang modo? Hindi ba ninyo kayang lumaban sa matalinong paraan?

  • Mike Henry French

    I like activism but I would have liked it more if no lightning rally was made last Sunday. Gosh…hoped they at least made their placards in contemporary graphic arts…it’s so jologs to see it in red paints…remnants of our communist past and puberty growth spurt…nevertheless, thanks UP

  • UrHONOR

    ACTIVIST today, Lolong tomorrow!

  • ellen banquilla

    i still don’t blame u.p. for the kristel tejada tragedy. i’d like to tell of a similar story like that of u.p. tacloban stude who graduated with honors. my sister’s parents in law had a helper has a daughter who got admitted to u.p. los banos. for 4 years, the helper worked so hard for her daughter’s education with help from her employers. her fb grad pics made me misty eyed , the daughter with sablay draped around her shoulders with her mom nearly in tears. if her helper mom worked so hard for her daughter’s education why can’t the parents of kristel do the same. i know they’re hard luck but don’t put the blame all on u.p. if there’s a will, there’s a way….



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