Mar 19, 2002

Nathan Cruz and Being Anti-Poor

Tonight I write against my heart.

But my will, nonetheless, is adamant. My dear friend, Nathan, has been maligned by the irresponsible words of some Lia Bulaong. I will not stay my hand.

Whatever purpose those words serve, I will not write here. Because if I do, I will have to speculate on her motivations. And when I do that, I may appear to merely rant against her character. Despite the thoughts and guesses I harbor, raving is not my method and her character is not my province.

Were it not for the disservice she did my friend, I would not have needed to care about her. Thus, although this is a reaction to what she has written, do not expect me to assassinate her character. My ammunition was never meant to be aimed on fellow online journal keepers.

I refuse to serve her "cause" by becoming like her. And I have to restrain myself every now and then from name-calling.

But my heart is teeming with expletives.

I resolved before that when I liked the work of fellow online writers, I would say so either here in my blog or in their guestbooks. At least whenever time allowed. And when I found words or articles that offended me or somesuch principle I held dear, I would not mind. I don't have the time anyway.

But Nathan to me and those who really knew him was not just some principle. He became this symbol that the administration used for its own propaganda against some people in the legislature (who were then mocking the UP system to justify why they never funded it satisfactorily). And before he was the Malaya article, the P. D. Inquirer cover, the hot e-mail forward as the magna cum laude from the slums, he was our friend. And we loved him.

Therefore, even if the circles and readers I have grown to love may now leave me with suspicion or ire for "assaulting" one of "our" "own," I will not waver.

He didn't deserve those words.

He deserved the applause of his valedictory speech's audience. He deserved the ovation. He deserved the tears those mothers and graduates shed for his triumph. And although his publicity, then as now, has reared a Janus-faced head that both blessed and cursed him, he deserved that too. He deserved the Administration's admiration. But they should forever chastise themselves for using his triumph to swiftly dismiss an inquisition. He was not their sword to fight their battles with. And though he was in part the success of UP, the Nemenzo Administration should have thought twice before they co-opted what he stood for.

That, he did not deserve. And from that he has earned too many tongue-lashes. Garcellano, a professor he looked up to, dissed him in his classes. Garcellano was fighting his squabbles in the ever-messy, vanity-cursed, and inflated-ego-ridden Department of English and Comparative Literature. Whereas the Administration used him as their instrument, Garcellano and those of like mind assailed the symbol that was wrought now along the terms of the Administration.

Love him or hate him.

I knew he could take care of himself. So I left him to his devices and just put in a precautionary word when I deemed appropriate. And now too, if he had his own site, he could carry himself against those who gainsaid him. Or would ignore them as is his choice at times.

He has come against greater things. He has felt hunger, rooflessness, and shame. He has come through great suffering that my limited imagination can only dare fathom. He knew that had not things fallen as they did, and had he not acted accordingly, he could have been in some drug-addicted gang. And I would have avoided or despised him should we have met.

He was a freshman when he told me he knew this. And many other things besides. He wrought such poetry then. I secretly feared he would never leave the shadow of the dead father he then hated. But he would rise beyond all our expectations. We were proud of his 15 minutes, but i was prouder still that he conquered himself in the end.

During those years in UP, in SVCF, his Christian moorings held fast. He didn't move in those CW circles. And I wouldn't trust the people around him to acknowledge his talents. Many were pissed by his "over"confidence and more were just plain envious. And he would waste no time to socialize or appease them. But our block marked him from the start (and at Mark envied him), and we knew. Some of us even made him do their assignments in hopes of getting such marks he would garner.

And he articulated what he was and what he became after four years in that speech. It was no mean thing to be proud of. It was an achievement of a lifetime.

I watched him work hard for every grade. He was a proud man and he prized his accomplishments. It was hard to admire him since he stood his ground firmly and usually came off too abrasive for anybody else's comfort. Most of the time he was right though. And he always made sense. Since day one, I knew his whole life could not but be lived the hard way. And his studies were not exempt.

Because the poor were so blessed...

Herein I shatter her argument. It was not my friend's speech which was anti-poor. He wasn't celebrated by ignorant people. Those tears they shed over his triumph knew what they were for.

Everybody knew that despite its posturings, UP does not stand for University of the Poor. Although we claim it as a republic unto itself, it is a grim and grave reflection of the Philippines and despite all utopian and romanticist words, UP is not populated by the down-trodden.

It is true that the great majority of the poor that attend its halls are brilliant. They have to be! And Nathan, among them, had to put in more than what a petty bourgeouis school boy like me to enter UP. Even the damned entrance fee posed a problem!

I know for a fact that some public high schools actually dissuade their students from entering UP! It was a waste of time for them to try out, their advisers said! They withheld their support from those "naive" schoolkids who would press their parents for hard-earned Php300 to gamble at UPCAT. And though here our famous UP egos will go bloated, I state that this is not a matter of pride but of shame.

And my private high school would almost shove the UP application forms down our throats just so more of their alumni will have such distinction that will serve their marketing purposes well. We didn't even have to sweat it out in the queues! Everything was spoonfed. And being paid in full - not troubled by the corruption that chisels away the education from the public schools - those spoons were also full. The confidence we bought were supplemented by the competitive drive of the Catholic, exclusive, private school.

And we walk into the halls of UP with our bloated heads held up. We owned UP and we knew it. The government wouldn't have any piece of it. The commitment of their budget said so.


It is true that the great majority of the poor that attend its halls are brilliant. But the great majority of the people are not the brilliant poor. We can afford to study in those more expensive universities. We all knew that Nathan was a rarity. Structured as it was, UP seldom reared its magnas from Nathan's ranks. And we all marvelled at his speech because even fewer of the indigent "honored" were proud of where they rose from.

It is not Nathan's declaration which is anti-poor. It is the very fibre of our educational system - the same thread that runs through the core of even the UP system - that is anti-poor and pro-elite.

***

What the hell?!

Why restrain myself? I could argue more that the UP system isn't as successful as it always puts on. But the list isn't short and I have already spent too much time from my work. It's enough for us to know, despite Nathan's success, even UP has been known to fail.