WATCH | Duterte declines honorary degree as students, alumni find UP offer dishonorable

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MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he would not accept the University of the Philippines (UP)’ offer of an honorary degree.

“With due respect sa UP, I do not accept (awards) even when I was mayor,” Duterte said during a press briefing in Bohol.

“As a matter of official policy, I do not accept awards,” the President said, explaining that it’s his “nature” to shun recognition since he became a public official.

Duterte quickly added that he was not rejecting UP’s offer. “Di ko naman ni-reject. I simply decline.”

UP’s offer to Duterte was found dishonorable by many UP alumni and student leaders because of the chief executive’s alleged human rights abuses.

“President Rodrigo Duterte is a self-confessed murderer. He is unworthy of any distinction from the University of the Philippines,” said Benjie Aquino, incoming chairperson of the UP Diliman University Student Council (USC) from the organization UP Alyansa, in a statement issued on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, it was reported that the UP Board of Regents (BOR), the university’s highest policy-making body, had offered Duterte an honorary doctor of laws degree to Duterte.

Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chair Patricia Licuanan, who co-chairs BOR with UP president Danilo Concepcion, said the university’s offer was “in keeping with tradition.”

Licuanan, an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III, was the same public official who confirmed to media last December that she was banned by Duterte from attending Cabinet meetings.

But Cassie Deluria, incoming USC councilor and Akbayan Youth UP Diliman Chairperson, said “it is wrong to use tradition to justify” the conferment on Duterte.

“A tradition that rewards killing has only one place in history: the dustbin. Besides, the tradition of UP is activism against injustice and impunity, not kowtowing to the sitting president,” Deluria said in a statement on Tuesday.

The UP student leaders claimed that it was Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero who allegedly moved to confer the degree on Duterte during the 1,326th meeting of the BOR last April 5.

“Once again, Senator Chiz Escudero proves to everyone that he lacks political values and conviction. He is a political turncoat, an opportunist of the highest order,” said Deluria.

But Escudero on Wednesday denied the students’ claim.

“I did not move but I did not object when it was proposed given that it is a UP tradition that Philippine heads of state (including the Chief Justice and Senate President) are OFFERED honorary degrees when they are invited to be a commencement speaker (which is also a UP tradition),” the senator said in a text message to reporters.

“Besides, almost every honorary degree offered by UP, most of the time, has been controversial and never unanimous. I guess that too is part of UP’s long history and tradition. Hehe,” Escudero said.

“However, it’s up to the conferee if he/she will accept it. This is not given unilaterally and needs to be accepted before being conferred,” the senator added.

UP netizens expressed their disgust over the BOR’s move via social media. An online petition against UP’s conferement of an honorary degree on Duterte was also launched via www.change.org.

“By giving honor to a man who challenges basic human decency, discourages public dissent, promotion a culture of impunity, and lauds extra-judicial killings, UP has taken a major step backward in upholding Honor and Excellence,” stated the petition.

“It is about time that the premiere state university makes a stand against the tyranny and lawlessness that the Duterte administration has perpetrated,” it added.

The following are the statements made by UP alumni, students, and organizations: