(Posted as a reply to Katrina Stuart-Santiago and the anti-JJ crowd… a riposte)

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The chicken wire enclosure to your left may seem meaningless; it’s found on every open parking lot in Ortigas Center.  That itself carries with it an import; that I am not supposed to cross here, that I am not allowed here unless I have a car and am willing to pay the fee.

It may all seem trivializing, but you can derive meanings like that from things which are nothing more than simple enclosures to public space.   For something made with wire and metal tubes, a fence can evoke strong feelings.

It’s not that fences are built to be evil, but it is the purpose of a fence that carries with it some degree of meaning.  

After the Friday the 13th incident at the UP Fair, I’ve been reading up a bit on talk of “securing UP’s borders;” the gated community, fences, and so on.  The “us-against-them” mentality that seems to be present in UP right now is starting to creep up on the University grappling with the idea of “us-against-them,” of “UPians” and “outsiders.”  My stay in UP was sort of defined along those lines as well; I’ve seen some sort of violence erupt outside the fence of my own campus some years back which involved “outsiders” enjoying the Christmas concert.

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) can build fences in a matter of hours if the feel like it, y’know.  Now as far as a fence goes, building one around UP Diliman is rather easy:

  1. Evict the families, communities, the “Jumping Jologs,” and other “non-UP people,” and move them all somewhere to Katipunan or C.P. Garcia.
  2. Use UP’s funds (or alumni funds, or take up a collection among students) to build and erect chicken-wire fences on the perimeter of UP.  Better yet, make fences made from stone and iron bars.
  3. Build gates on strategic locations.  Give or take a year of construction work, you have successfully “secured UP’s borders.”  Heck, you can electrify this fence come the next UP Fair.

So much for being a fence-sitter, so to speak… here goes.

A fence might seem to be a great idea, if not that you’ll end up with a lot of opposition from activists, alumni, and well-meaning students who don’t like the idea of putting a fence around UP Diliman.  For one, fences look butt-ugly.  A fence defeats the ideal of a free and open university that, in theory, welcomes people of all walks of life into its hallowed halls; that the death-blow that makes the “private school-ization” of UP possible is not the tuition fee increase, but if UP campuses started building fences around themselves (although my home campus of UP Baguio does have a fence), and shut out the people that finance their education through taxes.

Then you’ll have people supporting the idea, saying that some compromises have to be made for the safety of everyone in the campus.  We have to keep up with the times, and face the reality that people do get murdered, robbed, and get hit by bricks by rowdy “outsiders” in UP.  A security solution is necessary, and ideals do need to keep up with changing times.  To make people feel secure inside UP, and to minimize violence and untoward incidents, UP needs the proactive solution of fencing.

Fences and gates are physical structures that have a psychological impact of those within it, and those outside it.  Consider the following:

  • When Pearl Harbor was bombed, the recourse was to send all the Japanese living in America to internment camps.  These were tents and pre-fabricated housing somewhere in the desert, surrounded by chicken wire and cyclone wire.  Their crime: they were suspected security threats, and good America was at war with the evil Japanese.
  • In Nazi Germany, the ghettoes were formed by the Germans walling up the Jews in Berlin.  Seeing as the ghettoes were interfering with the Aryan lebensraum and the Jews were a pox on the purity of the Third Reich, the Jews were moved away from the ghettoes and moved to concentration camps.  The camps, in turn, were surrounded by razor wire.
  • In the former USSR, disobedience and reactionism against the Soviets met you with the prospect of spending the rest of your life in a gulag somewhere in the tundra.  In these gulags, the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn treated us to rather interesting snippets of life under a dissident’s favorite vacation destination: bright lights, water torture, and having someone attach electrodes to your testicles while you sign confessions.
  • Much of modern international relations revolve around fences and borders.  Take the fall of the Berlin Wall – a concrete fence – that continues to shape international relations for years to come.  You have the US-Mexico border, the fence between India and Bangladesh, the fences that separate Israel from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Green Line in Cyprus, and the 38th Parallel.  I’m going out on a limb here: you cannot talk about the history of international relations without talking about real or imagined fences.

Those instances of putting up fences (literal and metaphorical) should show to us that any misguided act of putting up fences as a measure of policy are – in no uncertain terms – faulty, erroneous, prejudiced, fascist, dictatorial, and paranoid.  It’s not just a knee-jerk reaction.

For one, putting up a fence involves a lot of logistics that the UP community is not prepared for: where would you get that much raw material to cover the perimeter of UP Diliman, when the borders seamlessly blend in with the surrounding communities?  For two, fences never work  as a matter of security; whatever remains of territorial war and conflict today is made possible by fences and barriers.  I’m not saying that a fence is a bad idea, but fences do highlight the distinctions and separations that make us fractured and oppressed to begin with.  If people outside will feel peeved and pissed about not being free to enter UP to go jogging at Sunken Garden, for example,  people inside will feel peeved and pissed that their freedom and liberty is defined by chicken wire. 

A fence’s message is rather simple: this structure defines the limits of your space and mine.  Do not cross this space; it is not yours.  If you do, suffer the consequences.

Yet it is Alex’s response that convinces me about the inevitability of changes taking place even in (the often) Disneyland-like UP: the ideals of a “free university” and an “open campus” were given the big pitik-sa-tenga treatment by the “jumping jologs.”  It is a challenge between two wisdoms: the wisdom of ideals, and practical wisdom.  There’s one very valid point: with everything from annoyances and crimes taking place in UP on a daily basis by “outsiders,” it becomes important to protect the “insiders.”  Yet that comes with the challenge of a very valid point brought about by Katrina: in a campus as open and as free as UP Diliman, shutting its doors – as Rom says – may be the very death-blow that spells the end of what ideals UP hangs on to even in a time of tuition fee increases and conyo invasions.

For all that is said about UP, the fact remains that it is the best microcosm of Philippine society – aterritorial, non-territorial, space-less, flux society – where problems are dissected by the best of minds, yet often magnified at the worst possible proportions for such a small place.  We have gates and fences everywhere; posh malls, subdivisions, country clubs.  The same challenge faced by UP in keeping out JJs from the fairgrounds in the same challenge we face on a daily basis from squatters, from people who violate our personal space in the train, from people who jostle for what space we have appropriated for ourselves at the supermarket queue.

The challenge is not to keep people in and to keep people out, but to maintain openness, freedom, flow, and transcience, while remaining mindful and respectful of everyone’s right to space.  I don’t know what the UP Diliman administration with do, and how they’ll go about it, but again: fences, as a measure of policy are – in no uncertain terms – faulty, erroneous, prejudiced, fascist, dictatorial, and paranoid.

In a world of “My Space,” and in a world which we all assume to be “much more free” and “much more open,” perhaps it’s a crisis of identity and belonging that forces all of us to take up a space in the world, and close it for ourselves… but that’s another story.