Davao Today
Much has already been said about Kim Gargar as a people’s scientist. Pieces by fellow UP professor Giovanni Tapang, Kim’s wife, writer Ina Silverio, and, most recently, by anthropologist Mags Maglana, and Tony La Viña, Dean of the Ateneo de Manila School of Government, have all emphasized how Kim chose to use his scientific knowledge and skills not for personal gain but for the betterment of his fellow Filipinos, making the title “people’s scientist” a well-earned one.
The fact that Kim’s case has resonated with fellow professionals, such as those mentioned above, and especially young professionals, is what I want to underscore here.
Every year, thousands of bright young women and men graduate from universities all over the country and are faced with the choice as to how they can best use the education they spent the last four or five years working to achieve. Back in college I remember that most of my peers would spontaneously profess a love for country and a desire to serve it. Some would later become teachers in universities and researchers with cause-oriented groups, just like Kim, but, these are the lucky few. Unfortunately, for the majority, such aspirations were easier to dream about than to fulfill in the “real world”.
Kim himself wrote about this in an open letter partially reprinted by Philippine Star columnist Boo Chanco way back in 2008. In that letter, Kim deplored how science graduates had to choose either underemployment – mind-numbing technical or desk jobs not fit for their original degrees – or, employment abroad, thus contributing to the chronic brain drain that plagues the country.
Science graduates are not alone here. From my experience, both as a former student and as a teacher, many good graduates from anthropology and the other social sciences end up in call centers because of the lack of employment opportunities (as a friend of mine used to say, you don’t see any Wanted: Philosopher ads in the classifieds, do you?). In the meantime, indigenous peoples, most of who belong to the poorest and most marginalized demographic, are continually subjected to culturally insensitive development policies that are carried out by culturally insensitive private and public outfits. Indigenous languages, knowledge, art forms and even landscapes are disappearing without even the most basic documentation. We constantly bemoan the state of our society when we don’t even have the foggiest notion what “society” is and how it works.
What needs to be said here (and I’m sure Kim will agree with me) is that our graduates and young professionals are all in the same dilapidated boat. Good education and good intentions are next to nothing if they are not met by good opportunities that allow for growth, a decent living, and, of course, significant contributions to society. The lucky few I’ve mentioned above, the teachers and researchers, could only really be considered lucky insofar as they are able to practice the professions for which they’ve studied. But lucky could hardly apply in terms of financial or material compensation, especially for those teaching in state universities, working for cash-strapped NGOs, or slaving away in poorly funded government agencies. As Miss Silverio lamented in her article, to be a patriotic scientist in this country is a thankless job. I would add that to be a patriotic teacher, artist, writer, lawyer, or to be any professional with a brain and a heart set on serving the people of this country are likewise thankless jobs.
Ah, but if only that was all our patriotic professionals faced! Unfortunately, many have suffered ordeals that have had dire consequences.
We recall renowned botanist Leonard Co, who, with two of his companions, was shot to death this same month in 2010. As in Kim’s case, the military has raised the communist bogey to cover up their accountability. We recall the arbitrary arrests of poet Ericson Acosta, film student Maricar Montajes, and public school teacher Charity Dino; we recall the abductions of agriculturist Jonas Burgos and UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, all of whom were accused in one way or another of being communists to justify their detention or disappearance. We recall teachers Jose Maria Cui and Rebelyn Pitao, lawyers Gil Gojol and Juvy Magsino, victims of extra-judicial killings. We recall student journalists Cris Hugo and Benjaline Hernandez, would-be lawyer ReiMon Guran, cum laude economics major Farly Alcantara, all murdered before they could even begin the professional lives for which they and their parents have been working so hard. The list goes on.
That they all fell victims to the forces of the State, is only the first thing they have in common. The second thing is that they all chose to use their talents, knowledge and education to serve the people.
This then begs the question: why does it seem like professionals who serve the interests of the marginalized not only tend to work under difficult and unrewarding conditions, but are especially vulnerable to harassment, arrests, and even assassinations? And yet, you never hear of those working for multinational companies getting arrested or killed.
This sets a backward example for students and young professionals who are at the cusp of deciding what they want to do with their lives. It is an appalling threat: serve the corporations and the ruling class, no harm will come to you, but serve the poor and the powerless, then you risk life, limb and liberty. If you were a student, which would you choose? Is it still any wonder then why our country is in such a state, and why Kim’s fellow professionals have been so indignant over his fate?
Kim’s fight is the fight of all Filipino professionals for the right to practice their vocations freely and safely, for the chance for them to open themselves to the wonderful fulfillment of serving others. Kim’s fight is the fight of all Filipinos for intellectual growth, for genuine development guided by scientific and pro-people principles, and for the dignified life that Kim and people like him have envisioned and for which they have been willing to dedicate themselves to achieve. (

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