BS Applied Mathematics student Raoul Daniel A. Manuel is the first ever summa cum laude of the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV), scoring a general weighted average (GWA) of 1.099 which is the highest not only among the graduating class of 2015 but in the entire history of UPV.
A consistent honor student, Raoul was class valedictorian of UP High School in Iloilo in 2011 and class valedictorian of the Integrated School for Exceptional Children in Iloilo City in 2007.
But Raoul is not just your typical academic achiever who is limited inside the four walls of the classroom. Raoul is also a student activist.
On the day the UPV administration officially announced his being summa cum laude, Raoul was leading fellow students and parents in a protest action against tuition hikes and the K-12 program in front of the Commission on Higher Education Regional Office in Iloilo City.
Lacking opportunities at home
According to Raoul, it was his family situation that inspired his passion for social change. “My father graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree, worked as a fireman, and now he is an OFW in Canada, working in jobs that do not match his educational attainment,” shared Raoul.
He said his father’s experience is a manifestation of worsening conditions for workers in the country. “I do not want this kind of system to continue,” he said.
Raoul related this to the science and technology situation in the country which he bemoaned as lamentable.
“The country has lots of brains for S&T but due to the lack of national industries where they can apply their skills, a significant number opt to go abroad where they have more opportunities to use their expertise,” he said.
He thus emphasized the need for other students like him and even professionals in the fields of math, science, and technology to work for social change.
“Scientists and mathematicians are very much needed in paving the way for national industrialization, so that the country can set up its own industries and provide jobs for its people,” he said.
For the people
Raoul, who was recently elected as the National Chairperson of the Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP, the student council alliance in UP, added that “talented and exceptional” individuals must be one with the struggles of the people for a better society.
He challenged his fellow graduates during his valedictory speech on commencement day last June 26 to offer their intelligence and talents to the people of “a country where rags to riches stories are exceptions rather than the rule.”
“What is the purpose of our perfect attendance in the classroom when majority of the people outside the university, the Filipino people who we are supposed to serve, need our help iskolars ng bayan,” he asked.
Raoul was outgoing College of Arts and Sciences Student Council Chairperson when he graduated. He was also selected by the UP General Assembly of Student Councils as the Second Nominee for the position of UP Student Regent, the highest student official in the UP system.
He is Lead Convenor of the Youth for Accountability and Truth Now-Panay, an alliance that seeks to hold the Aquino government accountable for the pork barrel scam. He was also Vice Chairperson of the OIKOS Ecological Movement in UPV.
Staying in the country
Raoul admitted that not everyone shared his passion for activism. Some even suggested that he just focus on his studies and career instead. “I was not shocked,” he shared, “for not all people have understood what I am fighting for.”
“Perhaps they are afraid of being considered by others as too ‘idealistic’ and they do not want to appear as if they are disturbing the status quo. They opt to remain in their comfort zones,” he said.
But this has not stopped Raoul from his advocacies. “I’d tell them that only through the collective action of fearless people can the rights of the people be upheld,” he said.
Raoul shared that he will most likely pursue a master’s degree in applied mathematics as his immediate plan. What’s for sure is that he will be staying in the country to serve the people here in whatever capacity.
In one of the most dramatic moments of his graduation speech, Raoul addressed his father: “To my father, Raul Manuel, I thank you for working hard for us. I know it is difficult to be separated from the family while working abroad. I apologize if I do not wish to leave and work in a country that has become your second home.”
“Here in the Philippines, I will continue to fight so that the time will come when there will be enough jobs for each Filipino in this country and no parent will be forced to go abroad and leave their families just to uplift their lives. I hope you allow me to stay here to serve. This is where my love is, my homeland,” said Raoul.
On the other hand, one can readily mistake Raoul as your typical young person with simple joys and many things he gets busy about apart from academics and activism. “I surf the net, eat a lot, hang out with friends, and party sometimes,” he said.
Raoul said that it is not true that student activists are delinquents who do not care about their academics. He said his example and that of many of his colleagues disprove the wrong notion that activism is a waste of time and only leads to delays in one’s graduation.
“If activists are delinquents, how come many activists are finishing this year with leadership awards and Latin honors? We also know time management,” he said.
“Whenever I join basic masses integration in the communities, the farmers, fisher folk or urban poor always ask me and my fellow student leaders to be their voices; that hopefully we will join them in their struggles,” he said.
“How do we measure our being UP students? Not through our General Weighted Average, and surely not the number of years in the university. This is measured by how we use our talents, skills, and capabilities to serve the Filipino people,” said Raoul.
Note: I wrote this article for thepoc.net