First of all, let’s have a recap of how the entire hullabaloo began.
Last April 19, several media outlets reported that the University of the Philippines Board of Regents (BOR) intends to give President Rodrigo Duterte a doctor of laws degree honoris causa. The one quoted in the articles is Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chair Patricia Licuanan, who concurrently sits as the chair of UP BOR.
These reports immediately triggered a firestorm in social media, with anti-Duterte netizens pointing out that the President does not deserve the honor because of the thousands of unexplained deaths related to the War on Drugs that he launched since taking office. They propagated the hashtags #DuterteNotWorthy and #NoDegreeForDuterte for this.
For their part, Duterte supporters as well as some independent observers including The Filipino Scribe noted that UP is merely continuing its long tradition of giving honorary degrees to sitting Presidents. For example, in 2011, then-President Benigno Aquino III received the same honorary degree from UP. He also gave the commencement speech for the graduating batch of that year. One notable exception though is former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who declined the offer of an honorary doctorate degree because she already has a PhD in economics.
With the bickering of both sides escalating as expected, many asked: “Whose idea is this, anyway?” GMA News reported that the proposal was raised by Senator Francis Escudero and was seconded by Senator Escudero seconded by two other regents: Frederick Mikhail Farolan and Angelo Jimenez. Escudero is part of the UP BOR because he chairs the Senate Committee on Education, Culture, and Arts.
Lost amidst all these chatter are two essential things:
1) According to CHED Memorandum #53-2012, an honorary doctorate degree in law can be given to outstanding citizens who are lawyers, politicians, public servants, and statesmen who have contributed so much to and distinguished themselves in international understanding, leadership, and the rule of law.
As a long-time public servant and President of the republic, Duterte clearly meets these basic qualifications.
2) Since he is already a President, I don’t think Duterte still gives a damn about honorary degrees. Secondly, we all know that Duterte LOATHES traditions and pageantries (his son and he himself eventually emphasized this). In other words, you cannot begrudge someone for being given something he did not ask for.
While it has been the tradition of the UP administration to give honorary doctorate degrees to the nation’s top government officials, it is highly likely that another reason why they wanted to honor Duterte is to be in his good graces, which is just a practical thing to do. After all, UP is still largely dependent on government subsidy.
However, things got out of hand as soon as the news leaked. The process should have been this: no announcement of an honorary degree conferment until the intended honoree accepts it. Why was it announced by CHED Chair and concurrent UP Board of Regents chair Dr. Patricia Licuanan prematurely? Is this Licuanan’s way of getting back at a President who wants to have her replaced as CHED Chair and who has barred her from attending cabinet meetings?
Strictly speaking, Duterte had nothing to decline since nothing has been offered to him. Just how embarrassing has this episode been to the university? The Secretary of the University, Attorney Roberto M.J. Lara, had to issue a letter of apology saying that NO ONE actually proposed to give Duterte an honorary degree and that his summary of the deliberations was wrong. How ridiculous can things get?