EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is the long-overdue follow-up to the March 2008 entry “Contentions, anyone?” published in this same space. Sorry for the delay. Enjoy.

***

TWO SEMESTERS ago, this writer and his blockmates were “purged” by their Global Environmental Politics (GEP) professor, Dr. Arlen Ancheta, from the definitional sin of equating “garbage” with “waste” and vice-versa.

According to her, the connotative violation slapped against the two supposedly “irreconcilable” concepts is just one of the many consequences brought about by an emerging “throw-away society,” where garbage and waste are conveniently identified not through their materiality or immateriality, usefulness or uselessness, but rather with respect to their one-size-fits-all resting place – the dump site.

And so for the benefit of her confused flock, Madam Ancheta explained that garbage (basura) resembles a mass of various waste objects which cannot be re-used or recycled anymore and is bound for earthly dispatch. On the other hand, wastes (panapon) are things used by one consumer, but may still be useful or valuable to another. Thus with humorous venom we spew, “your smut sack today could be your neighbor’s bullion bag tomorrow.”

Unassumingly, while confirming to her GEP professor the political correctness of such differentiation in a phone interview, mental snapshots of the “garbage-talking” Harvard vagabond Simon Wilder – whose cinematic witticism another professor, Atty. Bong Lopez has adeptly “ditched” in the collective memory bin of the graduating Political Science batch during his last Local Government and Policy class one Friday evening – crowded this writer’s gallery of thought instantaneously.

To better grasp Wilder’s garbage-talking wisdom, Sir Bong advised his class to watch the 1994 film With Honors, shot in Harvard. In one of the movie’s riveting scenes, Wilder (played by Joe Pesci) found himself sitting at the governance class of accidental benefactor and companion Monty Kessler (Brendan Frasier) who has just botched a recitation anchored on the question “What is the particular genius of the (American) constitution?”

Muttering words of consolation for the dejected Kessler, Wilder unfortunately caught the attention of the professor who then asked him if he is a student or a “guest in this class?”

“No, I’m a bum,” Wilder replied, snuffing the professor’s “financially challenged” impression of him.

“But bear in mind I’m a Harvard bum,” he continued, brandishing the Harvard sweater Kessler has given him. Irked, the professor, hit back, saying: “(Perhaps) you must be the logical result of an open admissions policy (in Harvard).”

His “democratic eloquence” challenged anew, Wilder stylishly retorted to wit: “…my presence here is the logical result of the search for edible garbage.”

“You’re here for the garbage?” the professor queued for the last time.

“That’s right,” he replied. “College has produced a lot of garbage and Harvard produces more the most.”

***

Given the context of Wilder’s pontifications, this writer then hastens to ask: Are Philippine universities also producing a lot of “garbage”?

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Duster

To answer this question, let this writer first rip the euphemistic garb off Wilder’s “garbage” lecture by highlighting its derisive nature against the intellectually refined but humanely crude among us.

Reading the papers lately has offered this writer a welter of ideas as to what kind of “garbage” college education, at least in the country, has discharged thus far. It pains this writer however to admit that these “garbage,” mostly college graduates, are the very people whose actions and/or inactions regularly choke the headlines with shackling tales of public, professional and even personal disgrace.

Celso de los Angeles – a “financial wizard” who obtained his management degree from the Asian Institute of Management, and now of Bernard Madoff fame, is one of them.

“Wala ka bang awa sa mga katulad naming mahihirap?” a widowed street vendor, Jovita Calleja asked De los Angeles when she faced the founder of the failed Legacy group during a Senate inquiry into the pre-need company’s double-your-money scheme-turned-scam.

“Siguro para sa’yo barya lang ang halagang ito, pero para sa’min malaking bagay na ‘to dahil pinagpaguran namin ito,” Calleja told De los Angeles, referring to the allegedly swindled amount of P48,000 by the Legacy group’s pre-need arm, which she had invested in a scholarship plan for the college education of her two children.

On the other hand, how do we explain De los Angeles’ “tokens of gratitude” in the guise of a Ford Expedition and a million-peso house and lot to former SEC commissioner Jesus Martinez – a law graduate and professor at the Silliman University – who reportedly gave them to his son as presents?

“Kung sino pang may alam, siya pang walang hiya. Lagi na lang ginagamit ang dunong sa kawalang-hiyaan,” quipped a security personnel who handed this writer newspapers carrying the lead story of the Legacy fiasco the day after the Senate inquiry. Ahem fellas, that is precisely the point.

Those who think they know or pretend to know everything by virtue of a college degree more often than not mistake their diplomas for a unique license to manipulate the ignorant and, in the case of De los Angeles and Madoff, dupe the unsuspecting. Mind you fellas, this is how the code of the jungle works, i.e. the strong does what it wants while the weak endures what it must.

Unsurprisingly, their well-schooled minds have become a source of encouragement, and perhaps their necks and craniums’ greatest shield against head-hunting graft-busters. Learning has thus made them fearless, their feat a graphic display of impunity at its ravenous best. On second thought, it could be that De los Angeles and Madoff as well as their country’s “respective” SECs are just faithfully exercising the Golden Rule (i.e. treat others as you would like to be treated) – the perverted way. Hence, the irresistible pay-offs.

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Cluttered representation

Poetic justice may have also dawned on De los Angeles when he deprived, through his financial knavery, his victims’ children of a college education, perhaps hypothesizing that a quarter of this new batch of graduates will, in the future, turn out to be the very same “garbage” his parents have told him to dispose of several eons ago. Talk about Herod the Great in coat and tie. In the vernacular we profess: “Ang magnanakaw galit sa kapwa magnanakaw.”

Indeed, Delos Angeles, Madoff and company are successful alumni, the toast of their alma mater, the UNIVERSITY OF GREED. (Time magazine has recently published a shortlist of its notable alumni of all time, which include the Imeldific one).

Their epic kind courageously even summoned the gall to either cross-enroll (read: infect) or pursue further studies (nay experiment) in UST and in other universities. Some readers may now ask why UST’s alumni are not that high-profile when it comes to doing malfeasance. That’s because most of them are camera-shy backdoor players or to bluntly put it “humbly corrupt.” A care-free Thomasian may hardly notice that in the daily concert of his/her UST life, he/she may have encountered (and will continue to encounter for as long as he/she is here) alumni of this breed either in layman’s shirt and trousers, plush suits and gowns, priestly habits, or worst in school uniforms.

Speaking of “reptiles” in school uniforms, this writer was once approached by a young crook masquerading as a student leader who confided to him his ambition to run for Congress after graduation. Hoping to acquire the sympathy of this writer, he added: “Para naman may Thomasian sa House of Representatives, hindi puro na lang ‘yung (produkto ng ibang) school. This writer’s charring rejoinder? “Hanggang ngayon ba naman naniniwala ka pa rin na Crocodile Farm ang Batasan? Marami nang buwaya ‘dun. ‘Wag ka na dumagdag pa.

Lest this writer stupefy himself, it could be that he might have been too harsh or sweeping to accuse colleges and universities of producing “garbage” instead of “quality businessmen”. Ah, quality businessmen, ever keen to mortgage their souls – even before mortal combustion allows – to the fork-bearing scavenger from yester-life’s eternal Smokey Mountain!

In the offing, we can never tell how many “barangay kupit-ans”, “tong-gressmen”, “gobble-nors”, “crime ministers”, “tip justices,” “pay-sidents” (or as far as the “harm forces” is concerned, “commanders in tip” or “tips of staff”) and maybe “editors in tip” the “G” university, or for that matter UST and its counterparts, have produced (bato-bato sa langit, tamaan ‘wag magalit.) The foregoing considered, this writer would rather shun graduation and embrace bum-hood if only to de-glorify, nay discard the “G” in the university that has schooled the best “businessmen” in this country so far. This is definitely not this writer’s way of honoring thy mother and father’s name.

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Preserving heritage on a high note

Upon reading this, the breathing heap of garbage from the “G” university, as well as their Thomasian (and other) variants, may howl in protest and readily subscribe to the infamous “point-guard” principle of managerial defense against “unfair comments” like this. You see fellas, it has been statistically proven time and again that in basketball, it is often the point guard who commits most of the team’s turnovers. Why so? Simply because as the coach’s extension on the court, he is the one who decides (i.e. play-making, defensive alignment, etc.) how the team should behave on the floor according to gameplan. And so the bosses among these “G” alumni, applying this principle to them, conveniently say: “Kaya kami ‘yung madalas magkamali at mabatikos kasi kami ‘yung madalas nagdedesisyon.”

Good point. But consider this: Kaya nga kayo ‘yung nilagay sa posisyon para magdesisyon kasi pinagkakatiwalaan kayo (ideally), hindi ba? At bakit kayo pinagkakatiwalaan? Kasi alam ng mga nagtitiwala sa inyo na alam n’yo ‘yung ginagawa n’yo bilang mga aral na tao. Aminado rin naman kasi ‘yung mga gwardiya, janitor, sekretaryang taga-timpla ng kape at iba pa na nasa mababang posisyon na mas may alam kayo kaysa sa kanila.

Clearly enough, what rots with garbage is trust.

FUNNY BUT TRUE. At the tail-end of this writer’s phone interview with Dr. Ancheta, the GEP professor informed him that the saying “may pera sa basura” is a misstatement. It should be: “may pera sa panapon.”

Pardon both cynics and apologists, but in this country of ours, only the dignified hoodlums feast on the scavenged loot. Laging may pera (o nagkakapera) ang mga patapon, ceteris paribus.

***

What is a “UST bum?” If a US president is a “bum” without the “(US) constitution”, according to Wilder, then this writer posits that a Thomasian – for all the Thomistic clutching he/she receives until graduation – is serendipitously a bum…without his/her conscience. You hear it right fellas. Conscience, more than any business empire or government agency, should be his/her main employer. And so this writer then suggests: better be a bum among thieves and scammers in the dumping pits of carnal bliss rather than fall to “occupational sin.” This being said, who wants to be a “UST bum”?

For the record, a learned person’s education should always be better than his/her schooling. Now, dear graduate, kindly choose one: To graduate with honors or to graduate with honor?

SLAP ON THE NAPE. Thomasian graduates are always proud of UST. But can UST, in return, be always proud of its graduates, regardless of their CEO, political or showbiz status, let alone “honors”? Mutual understanding, anyone?

Pun aside, congratulations graduates.

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