The silent quasi-majority

And other anecdotes on the last week of January

The last week of January offers an interesting anecdote in the history of the University of the Philippines: we witnessed how deeply bipolar the division of the student body of the UP System is.

No, not between those who voted YES or NO in the recently-concluded Office of the Student Regent (OSR) System-wide Referendum on the Codified Rules for Student Regent Selection (CRSRS), but rather between those who actually went to the precincts to cast their ballots and those who did not.

At 53.5 percent* (Is this accurate? Please change to most accurate figure possible) of the total student population of the System, it may be moot and academic to discuss the gulf between those who turned out at the polls and those who chose to remain quiet. In any case, we did reach the minimum target of simple majority: i.e., 50% plus one. But what’s in the big silence anyway?

Within the System, this rift is more apparent in its flagship and most populous campus. Diliman, on the fourth day of the CRSRS referendum had turned out the second lowest percent of voters in the UP System, whereas other campuses have exceeded the 50% level. The turnout of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy was even lower.

The silence of almost half the entire UP student body in the referendum is a forbidding concern that flies right in the face of our interest in the institution that carries the lone representation of UP’s largest sector in the Board of Regents. In political science, silence, or more technically, non-decision making, is a seldom-noticed face of power.

Used strategically, it offers an effective counterweight on the political agenda of the powers that be. Or in this case, does it? Is the quiet half under protest?

Two days before the voting precincts closed, the Sinag staff asked a few students, “Bakit hindi ka pa bumoboto?” [Why haven’t you cast your vote?] The responses ranged from as trivial as being too busy to vote to as consequential as being too ignorant of the issue at hand to make an informed decision.

On the first day of the referendum, the Sinag staff, more than its usual task of covering the developments around the referendum, had transformed itself into a crusader of sorts, going as far as publishing a list of frequently asked questions that was circulated system-wide while other student publications have taken particular stands. This columnist personally regrets not having done this earlier than the voting period.

Criticized for not taking a particular stand and choosing instead to respect the diversity of opinion within its ranks, the Sinag stand was thus: to take a stand, to come out, make oneself heard, and vote. Even the otherwise reserved student journalists who would otherwise stay in the comforts of the Sinag office found themselves having to spread the message, room to room, person to person, website to website.

In any case, the problem persisted. Almost half did not go to the polls, and for a multitude of reasons, have remained quiet on the issue of the CRSRS. Political protest, ignorance, busy schedules, or just plain apathy: your guess is only as good as this columnist’s. The question is raised: How deserving are UP students of a Regent from their own?

Grade school civics lessons taught this columnist that every right directly translates to a responsibility, especially those rights that were not present many generations before ours. If we want our rights, we must be responsible enough to keep them, lest we fall short of such rights. During the last week of January, that had been as simple as YES or NO.

However, after all the brouhaha over the CRSRS, the silence remains. And that’s absolutely the problem. ▪