It appears there has been a confusion about an alleged proposal to confer an honorary degree—Doctor of Laws—to President Rodrigo Duterte.
Initial stories had it that the Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines wants, out of sheer tradition, to give the honoris causa to Mr. Duterte.
It’s not the man himself; the Board has given the same honors to presidents who have come before, even as former Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for their respective reasons, declined the honor.
Almost immediately came the deluge of reactions from UP students, alumni and faculty and even those from other schools. Sentiments ranged from resignation to disappointment to outrage. You don’t give such an honor to the leader of an administration that kills thousands and reimposes the death penalty, said the Office of the Student Regent in a statement condemning the plan. The spokesman of the Supreme Court also opposed the plan.
Supporters of the President were equally vociferous. The vice mayor of Davao City, Paolo Duterte, defended his father from those who said he was not worthy of the honor.
The Palace, for its part, said the President may decide to accept the award even as he was not actively chasing it. Mr. Duterte later issued a statement that said he was politely declining the honor as a matter of personal and official policy—and “reject” is too strong a word.
All this now sounds moot as the Secretary of the University and the Board of Regents has released a letter denying that Senator Francis Escudero, a member of the Board, had proposed the conferment. The secretary owned up to the mistake that led to the commotion.
It’s easy to dismiss the incident as water under the bridge, but it can also prompt us to evaluate our practices: Why do we continue doing what we do, for no other reason than it has always been done?
The argument that the premier state university would offer an honorary degree to anybody just out of tradition goes against the essence of what schools are supposed to teach the young. Certainly, meaningful traditions are there for a reason; that they have withstood time attests to the fact that they make sense.
But why mindlessly uphold a practice that makes no sense, and use tradition to justify it?