Sunday, December 18, 2005
Nudity and academic freedom
It’s only in the Philippines, I mean the University of the Philippines (UP), the country’s premier institution of higher learning where you can have this kind of event. Every December, a fraternity holds what they call “Oblation run” where fresh recruits run along the busiest part of the campus without clothes. It’s a spectacle that attracts all sorts of people—students, faculty, media, tourists, street vendors, voyeurs, and the plain curious. It used to be that only male recruits do the run because the statue Oblation—signifying academic freedom, sited in front of the University administration building is naked or at least its front is covered only with a leaf—appears to be an artistic rendition of the male form. This time, however, two girls joined the run as part of their campaign for “equal rights” in the Philippines.
The male runners usually don’t cover their fronts with leaves but their faces with paper bags with two holes for their eyes to see, like the Makapili in history sans the clothes. (During World War II, the Makapili were the traitors who were paid by the Japanese to identify Filipino resistance fighters in a line of arrested suspects). Last week, however, most of the boys wore balaclava and golden masks while the girls appeared in great style with their dyed wigs and covered faces. I guess that event, which took place on December 16, is a historical landmark, the reason why I posted it in here to celebrate the occasion. I expect more girls to join next year. Who says academic freedom is boring?
I really wonder though whether or not they really needed to streak to stress equal rights. The Philippines is the only country in the world where husbands call their wives “Commander” and where the people get a lady president everytime the country is in dire political trouble. In 1986, Filipinos toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and installed Corazon Aquino through the Edsa People Power Revolution. In 2001, another “revolution” toppled movie-actor-turned president Joseph Estrada due to charges of corruption, incompetence, and involvement in an illegal numbers game and installed another woman president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. These days Arroyo is herself in trouble due to charges of cheating in the 2004 election and it’s seems another woman, Susan Roces, the widow of another movie actor, is waiting in the wings. Corazon Aquino herself is trying to revive her old political network, visiting urban poor communities, and speaking in forums denouncing Arroyo in greater frequency in an effort to raise her political profile. Is this an indication that she might yet join the political fray come next election, if ever there would be one? Your guess is as good as mine, but that’s a long digression, isn’t it?
Going back to the oblation run—yes, I really think running naked to stress equal rights was plain stupid. But then again, this is a democratic country and we need to respect other people’s rights or academic freedom or whatever you call it.
Running wild and nude outside the UP campus would have been criminal—“indecent exposure” or “public scandal”—but inside UP, my beloved University, it is perfectly legal. And fun. In the name of “academic freedom” you can do anything inside the campus—yes, anything short of burning the whole University down or murdering the University president! (Photo credits: Nonoy Lacza, Oblation Statue from the UP Website)