Break The Tradition

Jeffrey Pascual Mancera

(ASAP-Katipunan presents a series of articles from our members hailing from different degree programs. The second article of the series is from Jef, an AK alumnus who saw the science in politics and politics in science.)

It is a bit disheartening when people brand my degree program [Biology] as one with the most apathetic students in the college, or even in the campus at large. I do not despise the people who actually say this, nor the people who, unconsciously, become walking proofs to this corollary, albeit there exists a moment of reasonable disappointment. What I am really ashamed of are the conditions that permitted this belief to be born and the culture that tolerates this judgment to survive for long.

Photo grabbed from Jef’s Facebook page.

The concrete barrier between the natural and social sciences may stand erect between the offices of the respective departments in Rizal Hall, the distance may be a room or even floors apart but in reality, the wall between these fields is nothing but a myth. In the same way that there is science in politics, there also exists politics in science, and it saddens me when people become easily startled upon hearing the word “politics” as if it were a taboo or an extraterrestrial word meriting classification as a biohazard prohibited inside the laboratory. If students easily dodge such term, how else can a scientist- or a health-professional-in-the-making digest concepts such as “public science,” “nationalized industry,” “socialized health care,” or even “revolutionary medicine” in the future?

In the same way that there is science in politics, there also exists politics in science

My History professor once asked the class, “Why do you think there is no Filipino Nobel Prize winner?” He answered his own question but before he did I already figured out mine. I already found it inside the laboratory — inadequate facilities, scant equipment, outmoded apparatuses. The laboratories inside the country’s premier university are screaming proofs of the lack of support to the industry of scientific research in the Philippines.

Come to think of it, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), in spite of its potential to develop technologies and industries that will contribute to national development, is still one of the least priorities in the national budget. Come to think of it, state universities and colleges (SUCs), despite having the innate responsibility to produce public scientists who will later serve the country, still suffer from budget cuts, leading to privatization schemes such as land lease and tuition hikes.

I vividly recall how a pharmacy student answered when I asked her how their toxic theses are faring. She said, “It’s not our research, it’s the pharmaceutical company’s. We cannot afford to fund our own, neither can our school.” After the research, it immediately became a property of the company. That made me wonder if we actually have a genuine nationalized medicinal drug research or even a completely public pharmaceutical industry. Is this why we are still one of the countries in Southeast Asia with overtly high prices of drugs?

Studying the ecological structure and dynamics of a forest will be pointless if commercialization takes precedence over simple reforestation that would have better benefited our indigenous people.

When I went to Porac, Pampanga to conduct my thesis in a “rainforestation” site in an Aeta community, the local people were at the verge of being displaced due to eco-tourism projects and unchecked acquisition of private entities of their ancestral domains. One of them said, “We do not intend to deny our countrymen an opportunity to learn about our heritage, it is just that what we need first and foremost is the restoration of our native plants, so that the animals that serve as our food will return. This, the government does not realize.” After my field work, I felt that knowledge about the floral composition of the area is not enough. It will never be. Studying the ecological structure and dynamics of a forest will be pointless if commercialization takes precedence over simple reforestation that would have better benefited our indigenous people.

Photo grabbed from ASAP-Katipunan Facebook page

In an ocular inspection for a health mission that we conducted in Montalban, Rizal, one of my heartbreaking encounters with the community was when an old mother initially refused an interview with us. She said, “Are you sure you are not one of those who come here to do medical missions but won’t give us the medicines that we need?” What is disappointing is not how Nanay regarded medical missions as Messianic occasions where their illnesses will be cured, but the fact that due to rarity of health professionals serving the countryside, people living there seem to have already forgotten to root out the causes why they are being checked and treated only through such seasonal missions to begin with.

I refuse to accept the belief that so-called “toxic” degree programs train students to be indifferent to their society. I hate the culture that discourages science students to take a stand, the culture that excuses science students from participating in people-oriented campaigns and grassroots mobilizations. We are more than robots working in the laboratories, hiding in our white laboratory gowns. Science students ought to speak, we ought to move. While social injustice persists, it is our obligation as future scientists and health professionals from a university that is funded by the people to refuse it and join them in the life-and-death struggle against it.

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