Hindsight for Monday, February 14, 2022
HOW MUCH of a factor is Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s being a college dropout in making people decide whether he’s worthy of being voted President or not? The anti-Marcos forces seem to think it’s a viable issue, on two counts: first, that Junior failed to complete his studies at Oxford and subsequently at Wharton, despite the extravagant resources put at his disposal; and second, that Junior and his people have repeatedly asserted that he graduated from both institutions, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
One would think that, in a country where higher education is widely seen to be the only ticket out of poverty, Junior’s profligate ways should have turned off if not outraged large swaths of the CDE electorate that everyone now acknowledges will effectively choose our next leader.
The picture of him posing as a top-hatted dandy in front of a Rolls Royce when he should have been sticking his nose into a book in the library should be sickeningly ridiculous to anyone who has had to take three sweaty and dusty jeepney rides to school. That he or his cohorts would insist that he has a BA and an MBA from the world’s top universities without proof of an actual diploma should offend anyone who failed to finish college, despite a bright mind and high grades, for lack of money—like my father did.
But sadly I suspect that for many of Junior’s supporters, the dropout factor is a non-issue, for a number of reasons. To begin with, going by the statistics, ours is a nation of dropouts. Even well before the pandemic, according to one study, the graduation rate from college was only 61%, which means that two out of every five students fell off the rails. So Junior should be in good company.
I myself dropped out of UP in my freshman year because I was becoming increasingly more involved with student activism, and I was also itching to get a job and earn some money. Like many dropouts who managed well enough on their own, I wore my undergraduate status for many years like a badge of honor. But there came a point when I simply longed to learn in a more structured way, so I went back to school, and graduated with my AB at age 30.
To Junior’s defenders, dropping out of Oxford is understandable. “Oxford is even harder to get into than UP!” said one online. And besides, said another, he did get a special diploma, which “is already equivalent to having a degree. UK educ system is different from PH system. Between him showing certification vs emailing Oxford, I would believe him.”
As I noted in last week’s column on “Denial and Dissonance,” the politically captive mind will fashion creative explanations for everything from the “fake” landing on the moon to Donald Trump’s “stolen victory” over Joe Biden.
A Reddit thread on the topic overwhelmingly agreed that being a dropout wasn’t the problem; rather, lying about it was. “At least Erap admitted to being a dropout, and he still became President,” said one poster.
Publicly exposed, Junior back-pedaled. His official Senate resume in 2014—digitally preserved for all time on archive.org—clearly showed him claiming a master’s degree in Business Administration from Wharton and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Philosophy, and Economics from Oxford. This has since been amended to “graduate coursework” for Wharton and a “special diploma” for Oxford.
But there’s another side to this college-dropout issue that’s worth thinking about: what’s a diploma really worth, anyway, and what exactly have we done with ours?
We have many thousands of college graduates working well beneath their professional capabilities as domestic helpers overseas, or in jobs that require more use of their hands than their brains. So a diploma has never guaranteed success (and as Junior’s example shows, you can get very far in life without one).
But also, since when was a college degree a measure of intellectual ability and, even more importantly, of moral probity? What has our incumbent Palace dweller done with his law degree, beyond assuring the tokhang brigade of his full protection and threatening to defy the Supreme Court? At least Ferdinand Sr. used his to cloak his every ploy with a veneer of legality.
In terms of intellectual caliber, Marcos had probably the most illustrious Cabinet members in our history, with PhDs from the world’s foremost universities, but even they could not rein in his regime’s excesses, and some even abetted them. The good ones left early; a few tried to draw a line; others became willing accomplices to dictatorship and plunder. As idealistic and upright as they may have been or started out, Marcos suborned many of these technocrats and forever compromised the edukado in Philippine society, turning that respected figure into a minister at the foot of a despot, his wife, and their whimsy.
Our incumbent burnished anti-intellectualism into a virtue to curry favor with the crowds, and got flunkies with LLB’s to explain away his bad behavior like auditioning comedians. You listen to their tortured spiels and you ask, was this what they went to college for?
Wealth and power hold far more charm for many of us than schooling, because we see education as but a means to those ends. To be rich is to be smart and praiseworthy enough. If the rich behave imperially, impudently, irresponsibly—well, they earned it, didn’t they? We can forgive and excuse them no end; we still think like tenants thrilled to be invited into the big house for a cup of chocolate.
We seem surprised and suspicious when a well-educated person with an honest heart claims to love and understand us, and promises to improve our lives, because we no longer recognize real goodness and ability when we see them. So we go with the devil we know, and who cares how he fared in History or Philosophy? As Ping Lacson puts it, logic was never our strong suit: “Ayaw mong manakawan, tapos, boboto ka ng magnanakaw?” I have a PhD, and I can’t figure that one out.