A Different Landscape: Insights on Apathy of the UP Students

Student politics in the University of the Philippines has always been about issues, whether national or university, among many other concerns. Oftentimes, political parties serve as catalysts in the dissemination and discussion of these issues and as per observation of response of the studentry, there seems to be a disproportionate manifestation of interest between the discussants (political parties and organizations) and those who participate in the discussion students, other members of the UP community).

This means that in terms of effort in the activity, the level of participation of students who are not part of the organizers of the campaign is much lower than the level of effort exerted by those who are. A possible rebuttal of this point could be that it is but logical for this to occur since organizers (by virtue of initiative and cause orientation) are really expected to exert more effort if they want their campaign to work as opposed to those who did not initiate such campaign in he first place. But at the risk of belaboring the point, it remains that the enthusiasm of the initiative is not congruent to the response of the supposed stakeholders of the campaign to the extent of non-response at all.

This context therefore begs the question, “Is the UP student increasingly becoming apathetic to political and social issues or not?” To try to answer such, there is a need to define what apathy is. In this case, the specific dimension is political apathy. Jonathan Mitchell defines political apathy as “passivity and disinterest in politics and its issues such that the politically apathetic shows no concern nor commitment to political decision-making and its processes.” Other scholars define it further as an extreme form of indifference to circumstances that other people deem as pressing and/or important. Indicators of political apathy include membership and participation in political parties, involvement in cause-oriented movements, involvement in campaigns, and perhaps the most used of the indicators, voting or electoral participation.

The recently concluded USC and College Council Elections in UP Diliman could be a unit of analysis in answering the aboveasked question. Halalan sa Diliman ’09 presented statistics that only 10, 024 of the 23, 333 eligible voters in UP Diliman participated in the USC election, which means only 42.96% of the population voted as opposed to last year’s 45.91%. If this indicator
still proves to be valid, there is reason to believe that political apathy is existent in the university. However, it is highly likely that this generalization is sweeping. In offsetting such conclusion, Sinag tried to get 8 people from each department in CSSP to give their two cents on whether or not the hypothesis is likely true and if it is, what could be the reasons behind such phenomenon.

Below is an abstract table of conversation among the 8 perspectives.

Prof. Soledad Dalisay, Ph. D.
Department of Anthropology

It is not really the case that students have become apathetic. It is more of their attention and focus being shifted from national political and social issues to global issues. In trying to understand and react on local issues, this generation finds that link between these local issues to that of the global.
It’s a matter of change in the outlook and attention-shift.

Prof. Ricardo Jose, Ph. D.
Department of History

Not really. There have always been some who do not actively participate, but most are aware of the issues and participate in their own way, e. g. through the student council, academic groups or their own neighborhoods. Others may find it hard to participate in rallies because of their priorities, parents’ desires or economic hardship. But I think UP students are very well aware of issues and find their own ways to deal with them.

Prof. Yany Lopez
Department of Geography

To a certain extent, yes. This could be because the composition of the UP students has become homogeneous as well.

Peter Sengson
Incoming CSSPSC Councilor
Department of Linguistics

In UP, linguistics is conceived as the scientific study of language. Unlike other linguistics departments in other countries, UP considers linguistics as a social science because we recognize
the vital role that language plays in society, and therefore its status in social dynamics and how it is connected to issues.

This problem of decreasing “level and magnitude of involvement” among students from a linguistic point of view should still be analyzed and contextualized in Philippine history and societal structure. The Philippine economy is dependent on foreign economies. In this context, our education is influenced by these countries’ colonial systems of education as well. The
American educational system pushed that English be used as a medium of instruction in schools, especially in the teaching of major subjects. Although we retained some courses being taught in Filipino, the usage of the English language most especially in key subjects has highly influenced one’s views. This is based on the understanding that language is not just a neutral tool but with it comes the ideologies and hegemonizing culture of the dominant system. As such, English introduced neoliberal ideas to us like competitiveness, flexibility and rampant individualism. In UK, this is exemplified by the commodification of education using the slogan “Education UK Brand”.

Given this, society teaches a language that subconsciously shapes you to be not involved, to be competitive and individualistic to the extent of disunity. In the end, collective action cannot happen. This is the fruit of a colonial, commercialized and fascist education. And if this is what’s happening now, it is likely that the trend will continue and aggravate alongside the heightening of the imperialist grip in our country. This apathy is what society wants us to become. Thus, to counter this, we have to be militant about issues that concern our society, respond through action and uphold a nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented language policy and education for our country.

Jay Bagcal
Incoming CSSPSC Chairperson
Department of Philosophy

I do not think that UP students are increasingly becoming apathetic but I do recognize that considerable part of the social,political and economic environment in which they find themselves in has changed over the past few years. Certain concerns might have remained like academics, national and social issues, love of country etc., but it has to be noted that the means by which these concerns are confronted with have been modified to a significant extent. New and diverse ways of political participation are introduced albeit the old forms are still readily available to the students. And I do think this has to be considered and reconsidered in the way we view and perhaps gauge the level of apathy within the university.

More importantly however the challenge of mobilizing our fellow UP students takes a new form. As students we need to be able to capture their imagination on why and how to get involved, present a reality they themselves can own but never lose sight of the values we have long held as an academic community for the nation. After all, I daresay we are not called Iskolars para sa Bayan for no good reason.

Jose Aniceto David Dealino
2nd year, B.A. Political Science

The UP student is not apathetic to political and social issues. Apathy is having awareness and not doing anything about the matter. The UP student is not ignorant on political and social issues thanks to the media. It is the “action” part that makes the UP student seem apathetic. After all, our primary concern as students is to study. While some people find time to do activist activities, others think there are other ways besides marching, shouting, and waving flags. Because the internet has become more accessible, people have found new ways to give their opinions. Users from the image board 4chan used the internet to coordinate demonstrations around the world (in addition to attacking other groups.) You also have chat rooms and message boards that serve as venues for discussion.

Prof. Jay Yacat
Department of Psychology

Depende sa datos na gagamitin to gauge the level of involvement. Ang apathy ay affective component like caring for. Meron, baka hindi lang siya natatranslate into a certain behavior they expect dahil madami siyang ways. Ang kailangan ay i-analyze muna ang forms na in-ooffer for students. Baka hindi na iyon ‘yung paraan para maengganyo sila to be involved. Hangga’t wala kang sapat na datos bukod sa voting at participation in rallies, mahirap na sabihing oo o hindi. To the numbers we have, mas mataas nga siya kaysa nung mga 90’s - mga 40 plus - so may caring component pa rin. Ang trick sa social movements or participation, ay ‘yung mga taong involved
by personal relevance doon sa ginagawa nila at ‘yun ‘yung kabaligtaran ng apathy. Ang question ay ‘yung social context - irrelevant na ba siya para sa mga kabataan ngayon? Ang hirap sabihin na oo. Ang analisis ko dyan baka nagbago na ‘yung porma, therefore, dapat ding baguhin ‘yung lente na gagamitin mo para tingnan ‘yung behavior. Explore levels of organized involvement whether political or not, as a very good indicator of apathy whether there is or none. Tingin ko kailangan ng masigasig na research tungkol dyan ang mga organisasyon. Kung babasahin ang participation literature, iba-ibang porma iyon mula sa pagiging maingay, civic kagaya ng pagboto at ‘yung volunteering. ‘Yun ‘yung pwedeng tingnan sa pag-measure. Meron pa rin namang caring but with no definite data, I can’t say if there is none.

Marie Julienne Ente
Department of Sociology

One point must be made clear. All action has to some degree a political implication. Nonparticipation to what are thought to be common political venues (such as elections and assemblies) can be some form of resistance in itself. “Apathy” may simply be the consequence of the saturation towards unresolved issues and ongoing malaise, brought about by systemic defects and incompatible, “band-aid” solutions to them. Instead of exercising their powers for principles we uphold such as democracy, the youth inject their efforts elsewhere – in mediocrity where their actions are instantly reciprocated as compared to when they place effort in the tedium of collective, political action.

This is to be of great concern, of course, because much of the youth fail to tap on unrealized potential brought about by action. But we cannot conclude that their “inaction” is inactive. There is a degree of agency in not doing anything. It is a conscious alternative to doing something while harnessing pessimism at the same time, having recognized how defective the system is. Action in that case is then deemed inadequate, and it is of no help that currently democracy has relinquished its throne to pragmatism either. “Better, then, to do nothing” becomes our youth’s present anthem.

If we want change, we must first recognize that this apathy is deliberate rather than unconscious. Then, we must trace the network of reasons that have brought about this attitude amongst many of us. It is only till then that we can come up with solutions to reinvigorate the anemic spirits of those who...

Article by Michael Tiu, Jr.