In defense of rudeness

Many of us must have been taught while growing up not to question the elderly. Unquestioning silence is a sign of respect in our culture. It assumes that the elderly have acquired through experience wisdom otherwise inaccessible to the young.  

This is certainly one of the lessons I learned from textbooks used in my primary school. Never mind that the adult is also a fallible being, whose long experience in life may in fact be a series of mistakes. In this worldview, the young is prennially at fault. After all, what does a student know? What can Stephen Villena, now famous for all the wrong reasons, know? 

Young people may not know alot of things, but we cannot deny the role youth have played in changing the course of history. We cannot deny too the big role young people are going to play in the upcoming elections. No wonder politicians are runing after the youth to give the impression that they are one with them. If visiting universities and fist-bumping with celebrities were not indicative of this, I don't know what else could be.  

DEATH THREATS. These are some of the Facebook pages created by supporters of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to attack a student of the University of the Philippines (UP) Los Bau00f1os.

DEATH THREATS. These are some of the Facebook pages created by supporters of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to attack a student of the University of the Philippines (UP) Los Bau00f1os.

So it is ironic that Stephen Villena and his many comrades at UPLB have been readily dismissed as reckless and arrogant. Duterte's rabid supporters need the youth. And yet they are quick to come up with a Facebook page celebrating a student's death. (READ: Online mob creates social media wasteland)

Young people may not know alot of things, which explains why sound education is necessary in shaping the future of the nation. But to readily dismiss them, especially the bright and confrontational ones in the university, as arrogant and disrespectful is a mistake.  

In fact, if people who wish ill on UPLB's students would only open their eyes, they would see that they are driven not by sheer arrogance. Come to think of it, why would they waste their time on listening to a candidate whom they already expect to only give them slogans?  Surely, they were not there to parade their erudition. (READ: UPLB students to Duterte: Give us direct answers)

In fact, Stephen Villena's enemies have readily commented on his poor English. He used "compensate" when he really meant "compromise," for example. Many students would tremble to even simply hold a microphone. But come he did to the microphone to try to explain himself.  

So the assertiveness Stephen Villena and his many peers at UPLB showed could not simply be misplaced. While I do not know Villena personally, he must have mustered all the courage he could to brave the crowd and Duterte himself (!) to ask a question on a matter close to his heart – education. He has since written an open letter.

Ability to imagine 

It is this bravery that I recognize amidst the lamentable calls for Stephen Villena's death.  Young people may not know alot of things, but I am certain that in view of what they have not yet experienced in life, they are willing to imagine a world different from the one to which they were born. And if they need to be rude to fight for it, so be it.    

The ability to imagine a different world is what I wish young people would continue to do.  And even in the face of death, they must not fall back.  As I have traveled around the country to give lectures, I am convinced that students – whether at PUP Taguig, MSU in Iligan and Marawi, UST, or UP Manila and Los Baños  - are tired of politics that only exploits them during elections.  

Although many young people are already disillusioned, a point I make in my previous piece, I am increasingly convinced that to many others, enough is enough.  They are the ones who take miserable public transportation to get to universities with equally miserable facilities.  They are the ones who have to work alongside their studies so they could pay the miscellaneous fees at school.  They are the children of parents who have gone abroad so that they could survive.  They are the young people trying to make ends meet in the hope that tomorrow will give them a better life.  

And so it is only right that Stephen Villena and his peers should assert for clarity from candidates who skirt around issues that matter to them.  It would have been disappointing if the best and brightests minds of our country were silent throughout that forum.  In this light, it is perfecty acceptable to be rude because that might be what it takes to demand nothing but clarity from people who intend to define their future.  

In the final analysis, to ask whether Stephen Villena was rude or not sidesteps the issue. 

I'd rather be confrontational now and make sure my vote goes to the candidate who knows what he or she is talking about. The burden to explain rests not on the student. It is on the candidate who may one day make consequential decisions on behalf of all of us.

And if ever that day comes, I want to hold the President accountable – without fear of retribution from him. Or his believers ready to kill on his behalf. –


Jayeel Serrano Cornelio, PhD is a sociologist and the director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University.  He is one of the investigators on Vote of the Poor 2016, a national study funded by the Institute of Philippine Culture.  Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.  


Jayeel Cornelio

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is Associate Professor and the Director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. A sociologist of religion, he is a recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Young Scientist Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology. He i...