The Wisdom of Randy David



Randy David, once a fixture on television as a soft-spoken, even-tempered public intellectual on public-forum-styled programs focusing on socio-political topics, had consciously stayed out of the limelight for an extended period, almost two years, content to be a highly-regarded professor of the Department of Sociology at the University of the Philippines.

That is, until the current political upheaval concerning the revelation of tape recordings which implicate President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in election fraud, further tainting an already tenuous presidency rife with familial corruption and limited economic progress. Writing a weekly column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer , wherein he transcribed and interpreted the controversial conversations between Mrs. Arroyo and former Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, as well as appearing on ABS-CBN's cable news network ANC to offer a balanced viewpoint, David was observed by friends and colleagues to appear uncharacteristically angry and exasperated compared to his typical, mild-mannered self.  

"I had made it clear that in a society like ours we have been for a long time looking for heroes that the people could trust, leaders who are capable of bringing the entire country to a higher level of development, and pushing for political modernity," he says in an interview with Planet Philippines. "I had always thought that the society we have cannot afford to be governed by a president whose mandate is under question, a president who committed not just a lapse in judgment, but a clear violation of the constitution and a clear betrayal of the public trust."

In a career which spans several highly-regarded TV and radio programs, countless public appearances and talks, a number of award-winning books, and a fulfilling career in the academe, David has perpetually come across as a clear voice of reason and analysis during times of uncertainty, most notably with his significant roles in the first two EDSA Revolts, and now with the controversy surrounding the current administration.

In describing how he came to develop his socio-political stance, he explains, "I had a very political and ideological youth." Originally from Pampanga, he studied at UP, initially aspiring to be a lawyer like his father. He chose Sociology as his course of study, which exposed him to radical writings and ideas. He graduated in 1965 and, while pursuing his Masters, was recruited into the faculty. In total, he has been teaching at UP Diliman, on-and-off, for close to 40 years ("That's a long time.").   

David was sent to the University of Manchester in England to finish his doctoral thesis, and five months after arriving, in 1968, the student revolution in Europe erupted, further shaping his ideals. "We became part of that generation," he says. "It exploded in Germany, France, England, and it had echoes in Berkley, UCLA, Harvard; we were right at the heart of the student revolution, the Vietnam War. It was a time of a higher level, radical politics."

He returned in August 1972, a month just before the declaration of Martial Law. His wife, Karina Constantino, who had been teaching in UP, was hunted by the military for her involvement in teachers' activism. David took over teaching her classes until the government closed the University for almost a semester. "We were hiding. All my friends were gone, my students had gone underground, many of my colleagues arrested and put in jail." He completely forgot about his studies, as that seemed criminal and selfish to do his doctoral dissertation research at that time.  

Things settled somewhat in 1975-76, and though David was invited to return to England to finish his thesis, he refused, deciding to stay. "Many of my colleagues had fled to the US, others went underground." He and his wife continued to teach, though it was difficult to do so. "Of course, throughout that period, we were plotting in our own ways to bring down this conjugal dictatorship. We linked up with our colleagues who were in exile abroad, and felt it was necessary for people to remain in the Philippines aboveground and start organizing what we regarded then as the middle sectors; professionals to completely re-conceptualize the revolution." Those activities would become a significant part of the greater culmination that was the first EDSA Revolution.

Unexpectedly, David began a second career in public media soon after. "In '86 there was a need, not just for information, perspectives that people could use for organizing the flood of information that was coming their way," he explains. He was recruited by Channel 13, one of the stations formerly controlled by allies of Marcos that was sequestered by the Aquino administration. He hosted a talk show on socio-economic and political issues titled Public Forum, and stayed with the network for four years. "Eventually I just quit," he says. "Every year they were changing the management, because [Channel] 13 and 9 were sequestered stations. In a sense, the management and control of the sequestered mass media, meaning sequestered from the Marcos cronies, reflected the many contradictions within the Aquino government itself."

Six months later, he was approached by a newly-established station, ABC-5, and at the behest of his friend and colleague, then-COO Tina Monzon-Palma, created Public Life with Randy David . "It was also good for us to try to re-invent Philippine television by starting a new station. Pretty good years; I even ventured into presenting the news and writing the editorial. But the station became more and more commercialized after a while. The emphasis was really to air canned programs from abroad, and I thought that that was not the station I joined." Staying for five years, he quit in 1995.

After less than a year, he was approached by GMA-7 to continue Public Life . The format was altered to include substantive documentary programming. After two years, he left again due to conflicts with the station's programming philosophies. "Public affairs shows were being pushed to the dead hours. When we started, we were on 11, then 11:30, 11:45, later on it became 5:00. I felt it became senseless, and most of the people who we wanted to reach would have been asleep at that time."

He decided to go back and concentrate full time on academic work at UP. And again, in 2000 during the chaotic administration of President Estrada, ABS-CBN invited him to offer a fresh perspective. "I wanted to have more time for teaching, doing research and writing, and requested them to give me a co-host, recommending lawyer Katrina Legarda. This is a very different kind of program, we called it Off-the-Record." The whole idea, he says, was to invite guests to speak in an "off-the-record" atmosphere, despite the fact that it was in front of the camera and addressing the whole country on national television. The show ended in 2003, when the network wanted to move all its public affairs news programs to its ANC cable affiliate. "But that's precisely television for people who have money and could afford cable connections. My priority was to able to reach sectors of our society that rely on free television."

Out of television for approximately two years now (his partner Katrina Legarda agreed to the move; eventually hosting her own legal affairs program), David went back to the academe, teaching, writing, and researching. He has been writing a weekly Sunday column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer for ten years now. "It's been very satisfying for me, not very demanding. I can choose to write political, social, or economic issues, but I could also choose to write a personal essay, precisely because it is a Sunday column."

Content he was, until the revelation of the "Hello Garci" tapes and President Arroyo's admission that she discussed the election result with a Comelec official. "I realized that people that should be talking and sharing and lending some clarity to an uneasy and vague situation are not talking." Watching from the sidelines, he decided to write a series of columns analyzing the conversations, "from a strictly theoretical perspective."

"I think people were getting a deluge of information and disinformation from government, as well as the political opposition feeding them a lot of nonsense. I felt it was the role of people in academe who had the benefit of social theory, of concepts to provide necessary imagination that allows people to move on decisively, to describe a situation that is a long-term vision, provide a different kind of narrative that connects preceding events in our national lives to the present, and imagine a future where we might want to go, a moral destiny for ourselves as a people. And I felt I had something to say about that."

Despite his staunch viewpoints, David stresses that, in the end, it is up to the people to make their own decisions and not rely on his or anyone else's opinions. "I find myself thrust into a role that I did not deliberately choose for myself, like having to speak in rallies and having to accept invitations before communities, schools, religious orders, and various civic organizations. The problem is these are very demanding engagements, because people that invite you and listen to you in a sense want you to tell them what to do. I don't regard that as part of my role, they got to figure that out for themselves. My only intention is to explain what is going on, to give them a necessary perspective, to clarify certain things, it's not even to furnish and remind them with the basic principles by which we organize ourselves as a society, because that is for them to decide. They are adult citizens of a republic. And they ask, 'Where do you stand, are you for resignation, impeachment, ouster,' and so on. I felt it was about time that people really decided for themselves, not just listening, clarifying, or relying on the perspective of analysts and ideologues, but rather to understand things in their own terms, notions of where the country should be going, and decide for themselves what they should do."

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