MAGANES: Honoris causa?

April 29, 2017 at 4:42 pm Leave a comment

vir maganes
The plan of the Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines (UP) to confer an Honoris Causa Doctor of Laws to President Rodrigo Duterte was botched due to the noises of students and the academe of the country’s premier university. A student member of the Board of Regents said that Duterte has not done something exceptional for the country. He said there’s proliferation of extra-judicial killings (EJKs) and the wanton disregard of human rights.
It’s the tradition of UP to confer honoris causa titles to its commencement speakers much more if they are presidents, senators, justices, etc. The process is for the Board of Regents to nominate the person or persons for the conferment of the honors and it’s up to the recipients to accept or decline. The Board of Regents has not yet deliberated fully on the planned conferment but it caught the ire of some members of the UP community. Duterte on his part has declined the offer during an event in Tagbilaran City, Bohol saying that he’s not prone to accepting any honor and award since he was still the mayor of Davao City. He said further that he’s doing his work as president for the welfare of the Filipinos, with or without awards.
But what is this honoris causa?
Wikipedia defines it as an ” honorary degree, in Latin a degree honoris causa (“for the sake of the honor”) or ad honorem (“to the honor”)- an academic degree for which a university (or other degree-awarding institution) has waived the usual requirements, such as matriculation, residence, a dissertation and the passing of comprehensive examinations. The degree is typically a doctorate or, less commonly, a master’s degree, and may be awarded to someone who has no prior connection with the academic institution or no previous postsecondary education.
The degree is often conferred as a way of honoring a distinguished visitor’s contributions to a specific field or to society in general.
It is sometimes recommended that such degrees be listed in one’s CV as an award, and not in the education section. With regard to the use of this honorific, the policies of institutions of higher education generally ask that recipients “refrain from adopting the misleading title” and that a recipient of an honorary doctorate should restrict the use of the title “Dr” before their name to any engagement with the institution of higher education in question and not within the broader community.”
With that meaning, the “honoris causa” award is by no means important in one’s life. It’s just a “decorative title”, which has no bearing on the educational attainment of the person and that it could not be even claimed as an spectacular achievement. President Duterte, whether or not to be conferred with such “honorific title”,  is already a President, the highest political position that a person aspires for. He doesn’t need the award. His awards will come from the Filipino people if and when he’s able to make the “real reforms and change” for our country. I could not comprehend why the so called “Iskolar ng Bayan” of UP made a fuss out of it.

One of my favorite columnists, Antonio Contreras in his article “A university dishonored” that appeared in the opinion section of Manila Times wrote, ” I have no problem when a university, and not only the University of the Philippines (UP), strictly adheres to academic standards of excellence, and expects its students and faculty to uphold those standards before they graduate or get promoted and tenured.
However, I have a fundamental problem when a university, more so if it is funded by taxpayers’ money, begins to function like a moral guardian, a gatekeeper of what is tolerable and acceptable.
The beauty of a university rests on its tolerance of voices not only of dissent, but also of those that are unpopular.
I can accept Catholic universities when they behave holier than thou, and impose an additional standard to measure good behavior of their constituents, which is consistent with Catholic or Christian values.
But not UP, not a secular university funded by people’s taxes, and whose very existence rests on the fact that it must be a breeding ground for tolerance even of the vulgar and the openly defiant. It is a place where academic freedom turns it into a refuge for the blasphemer and the heretic, and where the full spectrum of political ideologies is theorized and taught.
This is why as a UP alumnus I am offended when people from UP behave as if it is the final arbiter of truth, a guardian of morality, and a propagator of a singular and homogenizing set of values that can only be done through the policing of acceptable conduct.
This has found clear manifestation in how some of UP’s faculty, students and alumni have expressed their opposition to the unsolicited offer made by the UP Board of Regents to confer a doctorate honoris causa on President Rodrigo Duterte.
The President, as expected, refused the offer. But the damage has been done. Eager in maligning the President as not worthy of the honor, those who opposed ended up dishonoring UP.”
Contreras in the same article further wrote:”…. UP faculty, alumni and students, and even their non-UP sympathizers, copy-pasting a sweeping judgment on the conduct of the President. They argue that in “giving honor to a man who challenges basic human decency, discourages public dissent, promotes a culture of impunity, and lauds extra-judicial killings, UP has taken a major step backward in upholding honor and excellence.”
He further wrote: “The allegations that the President lauds extra-judicial killings and is promoting a culture of impunity has yet to be substantiated by empirical proof that is not corrupted by political partisanship but is produced from unassailable data and evidence.
The claim that the President discourages dissent is not even supported by evidence, and is contradicted by the very existence of vocal and virulent opposition to his being given the honorary degree. There is no killing spree of journalists. The opposition openly plots to unseat him. He has not filed a single libel case against, or ordered advertisers to boycott, critical media. Demonstrations and rallies are tolerated. It is not his fault if support for dissenting voices among the people is low, shown in the poor attendance in anti-Duterte rallies.
The claim that UP will renege on its commitment to uphold honor and excellence if they honor the President, on the basis of an allegation that he challenges basic decency, turns the university into a moral fundamentalist. This conservative stance would make UP abandon its responsibility to foster critical debate on contentious issues, which is a trademark of an excellent secular university. It renders human decency as already a fixed and absolute construct which can secure for us a warrant to pass judgment on human conduct. Those who say this forget that UP precisely exists to push the limits of what is decent, and that since decency is a social construction, that such limits are contested grounds.”
It’s a pity that the premier university, which is to be a bastion of democracy has became a center of dissension just for the sake of showing how liberal they are in handling situations besetting our country. When former President Ferdinand E. Marcos was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, they were there to oppose such action of President Duterte. But the Supreme Court acted favorably against the opposing forces.
UP is an institution where academic freedom resides. Students are taught to be vigilant and free to express their opinions. They are given the free will to criticize the administration, if needed,  and to voice out their concerns on issues that are jeopardizing our democracy. But those have limitations. UP students are not superior above other students in many universities and colleges. Their only advantage is that their studies are subsidized by the government. Isn’t it time to re-channel their efforts for the development of our country and start from themselves the so-called “change and reform”?
(For comments and suggestions, email me at Visit my blog “The Roving Pen” at

Entry filed under: News.

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