Uproar over top university's offer of honorary law degree to President Duterte

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been offered an honorary doctor of laws degree.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been offered an honorary doctor of laws degree. PHOTO: EPA

MANILA - A plan by the Philippines' top state university to confer an honorary degree on President Rodrigo Duterte is kicking up a storm here, as many students, faculty and alumni insist his human rights record mocks the school's long tradition of activism.

On Tuesday (April 18), news came out that the top governing body of the University of the Philippines (UP) has offered Mr Duterte an honorary doctor of laws degree.

That decision was greeted with derision on social media, with many students and alumni posting on their Facebook accounts a common message that read: "By giving honour to a man who challenges basic human decency, discourages public dissent, promotes a culture of impunity, and lauds extra-judicial killings, UP has taken a major step backward in upholding honour and excellence."

#DuterteNotWorth was the third trending topic on Twitter on Wednesday (April 19).

Mr Duterte told reporters on Wednesday (April 19) he would “decline” the offer.

“With due respect to UP, I do not accept, even when I was mayor, as a matter of personal and official policy, awards. That is not in my character.  I am not rejecting it. To use the word ‘reject’ is not good.  I simply decline,” he said.

Almost 9,000 people, many small-time users and dealers, have been killed since Mr Duterte took office on June 30 and kicked off a brutal anti-narcotics campaign. 

When asked earlier in the day if Mr Duterte will accept UP’s offer, his spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters: “Why not? If it's offered, I suppose he would. But it doesn't really matter if it's offered or not."

Mr Duterte's son, Davao City Vice-Mayor Paolo Duterte, said in a statement his father "does not give a heck" about the offered degree.

"Being elected as president is enough recognition. No other recognition or honorary degrees could eclipse that," he said.

Mr Duterte has a law degree from San Beda College, which is Catholic-run and also considered a progressive school. Most of those he has plucked out to run his government are fellow graduates of this school, including the justice and trade secretaries.

Founded in 1908, UP has produced seven Philippine presidents, 13 chief justices and over 40 national artists. It was a breeding ground for activists and guerillas in the 1970s who took on the dictatorship of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who ironically is also a UP alumnus.

Ms Patricia Licuanan, head of UP's Board of Regents, said the offer to Mr Duterte was "in keeping with tradition".

UP has conferred honorary doctor of laws degrees on most Philippine presidents.

Mr Raoul Manuel, student representative to the board who disagreed with the decision said in a statement: "Honours are not deserved by a president whose regime killed thousands of citizens and leaders of progressive groups."

A survey, meanwhile, showed satisfaction with Mr Duterte's war on drugs declined in the first quarter this year, with opinions split about police accounts that the drug suspects they killed had resisted arrest.

Seventy-eight per cent of 1,200 people surveyed by Social Weather Stations said they were satisfied by the government's crackdown on illegal drugs, down from 85 per cent in a similar poll in December last year. The number of dissatisfied respondents rose from eight per cent to 12 per cent.