It’s graduation time in the Philippines and my FB newsfeeds are full of photos of young people in their graduation regalia. They remind me of my own graduation more than a dozen years ago (MA in Media Studies) . So, I’m putting up my photo, too with the UP Newsletter’s full-page feature on me!
From Petroleum Engineering (King Fahd Univ. of Petroleum & Minerals – first Filipino petroleum engineer) to Business Economics (SBEP, the flagship graduate studies program of Univ. of Asia & the Pacific) with a detour in French Language (I started at Alliance Française in Paris after graduation, and continued at Alliance Française in Manila ten years later), I did not think I would end up studying and later teaching Communication and Media Studies!
But I really loved my graduate studies stint at UP CMC. I didn’t know Communication Studies involved a lot of Philosophy. I welcomed studying in-depth Phenomenology and Hermeneutics and all the way to Structuralism and post-modernism. I started reading Husserl, Heidegger, Gadamer, Habermas, and even Foucault and Derrida.
I realized the importance of Communication and Media in today’s society. I grew fond of Communication theories, of whatever genre. I discovered the great linguist, philosopher, social critic and political activist Noam Chomsky. He is an American Jew but he is the number one critic of American and Zionist imperialism. I consider him as the greatest intellectual (in the sense of Sartre’s l’homme engagé) of the second half of the 20th century to the first quarter of the 21st century. It’s a pity that few students of Communication or Media Studies know him aside from the famous Propaganda Model, which was introduced in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. It’s unfortunate that while most Communication students have heard of the Propaganda Model, most of them have not read this profound book which he co-wrote with Edward Herman. They have not even seen the film documentary version of the book.
I also discovered Benedict Anderson and his concept of Imagined Communities, a very important concept when dealing with new nation-states like the Republic of the Philippines. He also urged his readers interested in Rizal to read Noli and Fili in the original Spanish as the English translators of the books changed the meanings and nuances of Rizal’s novels. Fortunately, I was able to download the Spanish versions of the books.
And of course, I became more aware of the theoretical and historical frameworks of Cinema. Film was my specialization. (First Filipino graduate of the M.A. in Media Studies (Film) program of UP Film Institute).
University of the Philippines (UP) does not give Latin honors in the graduate studies level but my GPA was 1.0. In other schools, that would have meant being bestowed the words Summa Cum Laude in one’s diploma. Instead, we get a Certificate of Excellence (Katibayan ng Kagalingan) for being a University Scholar. To be a University Scholar, one has to get a GPA of 1.25 to 1.0 for graduate students and 1.45 or above for undergrads the previous academic year. A notch below a US is a CS or College Scholar, which means that a student’s GPA is between 1.26 and 1.50 for grad students and 1.75 to 1.46 for undergrads. But what about the rest of the student populace? Are they scholars, too? After all, they call themselves Iskolar ng Bayan (Nation’s Scholars).
I also got to do my first one-hour documentary, which, together with the written thesis, garnered for me the Best M.A. thesis award of the College. There was even a bit of controversy for that award. The faculty members vote for the best thesis award. But my adviser and my thesis critic, who both nominated me, did not bother to vote for me. They took it for granted that their votes would be automatically considered. And for whatever reason, one professor took it upon himself to campaign for another student’s thesis, the advisee of the Dean. Because my two professors who nominated me did not “officially” vote for me, the votes were tied. The Graduate Studies chair did not know that the two who nominated me did not think they had to formally vote for me. And the Chair had no way of knowing who voted. It was a “secret vote” method. To break the tie, the Chair voted in my favor.
The funny thing is, the Dean even asked me to help the other fellow, who was a Chinese national, in writing his thesis. And I did help him. I even helped that guy in reviewing for the comprehensive exam. And midway through the exam, he wanted to quit. After the morning session of the exam, he said he couldn’t go on. He looked so exhausted. I had to use a lot of persuasive energy to convince him to continue with the exam.
On the whole, I enjoyed the friendship of my classmates. That was why I became President of the CMC Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) for two years. We achieved quite a lot during those two years. When I first entered the College, the grad students were treated like second-class citizens. Nobody cared about them. My first adviser did not even bother to get my name. He signed my paper once. The next sem, another signed for him. Fortunately, I was assigned another adviser in the following year. And that time, I was asked whom I preferred to be my adviser.
The GSA organized seminars and a week-long Film festival as well as helped the College in their foundation / alumni homecoming activities. We collaborated with outside organizations to present a Colloquium on Peace, Media and Terrorism with speakers that included then Senator Nene Pimentel, then PNP Chief Gen. Ebdane, and then Presidential Adviser Gen. (ret) Ermita. It was attended by the academe, students, military and the media. Our co-organizer was the Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN). The Dean, the late Ellen Paglinawan, was so happy to see again her three favorite Muslim students – Samira Gutoc, Aisha Abubakar and Amirah Lidasan of YMPN.
With the CMC Journalism Dept. and the Canadian Embassy, we organized a forum on the Marshall McLuhan Prize for a Socially Responsible Media with the then prizewinner as one of the guests. And in cooperation with Embassy of China and the UP Center for International Studies (CIS), we organized a week-long exhibition of award-winning Chinese films at the UP CIS premises.
We also put up a GSA website, e-group and an online academic journal with the name Ethos et Logos.
When I became President of the GSA, we had zero funds. So the following semester, we doubled the membership fee and made it retroactive, starting with the previous semester. Many of the faculty members who were studying for their Masters and Doctorate, but were not interested in the GSA, were incensed. With the money, we were able to do quite a lot. And after our term, we still had around P35,000 (more or less) to turn over to the next GSA officers.
And to show that the grad students were not second-class citizens of the College anymore, we had our very own room, the GSA room. (I don’t know if it’s still there now).
During my second year at CMC, the Dean instructed the Film Institute Director to nominate me for UP’s Best Graduate Student. But I declined. I told them both that I was too old for those things. Now, I regret that decision. I didn’t know then that there’s such a thing as “Bragging Rights”. Once, my adviser asked me what my GPA was. And then she said that I qualify for membership in two honor societies, Phi Kappa Phi and another one. I wondered why I wasn’t given membership automatically. But I didn’t bother to inquire. I should have. They would have been more bragging rights. In today’s world of form before substance, bragging rights would come in handy.
Once upon a time, I thought Mass Comm was a very easy subject fit only for the mediocre. I was so wrong. Mass Communication and Media Studies are very profound disciplines that encompass so many fields of knowledge – Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology, Linguistics, etc.
Of course, not all those who take M.A. in Media Studies or Communication Studies have the same experience. Some might not even have heard of Husserl or Derrida. I heard one film teacher say that there are only 6 film theories. Strange. I know dozens and dozens of film theories. And practically every socio-politico-cultural theory can be applied to films. Perhaps we were using different books.