BEFORE the national spotlight shone on her, Dr. Clarita Reyes Carlos was a retired professor of political science at the University of the Philippines. She gave commentaries on radio and television, mostly wry and withering assessments of the political scenario, delivered in her characteristic deadpan manner. But always, she backed up her assessments with facts and figures, theories and doctrines. She did not just spin analysis from dead air.
She earned her bachelor, master's and doctoral degrees at UP. Her doctoral dissertation is telling: she focused on the political motives behind the policymaking of Presidents Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. She took post-doctoral studies on political psychology at Cornell University and comparative foreign policy analysis at the University of California in Los Angeles, both as a Fulbright fellow.
She served as the 16th president of the National Defense College of the Philippines from 1998 to 2001, becoming the first female and the first civilian to lead the institution. She improved the institution's organizational structure, updated the curriculum and started the Strategic Studies Group, a forum for military generals, scientists, government officials and diplomats, to discuss a range of national security issues.
Later, President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd appointed Carlos to head the Office of Strategic and Special Concerns at the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. In 2020, she was among the appointees of the Commission on Higher Education in its technical panel for political science. She also continued her first love, which is teaching, at UP, Ateneo de Manila University and San Beda University.
She became the focus of controversy during the election campaign, when she led the panel of interviewers at the SMNI interview attended by then presidential candidate Marcos. She was accused of coaching Bongbong (she did not; they had not met before). But she soldiered on and continued posting her sharp remarks on Facebook and giving her sharp and funny commentaries.
She reminds us of the late senator, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, with her hair, large eyeglasses (now sunglasses because of a cataract operation) and her spiels in a merry mix of English and Tagalog. She never minced her words. One fine day, she found out that someone at UP where she had taught for 56 years posted online a list of the professors and emeritus professors, and said she was not there.
But Dr. Carlos never claimed she was still teaching at UP; she always said she was a retired professor. She never claimed to be an emeritus professor as well. The incident hurt her, but she only had one word for them: she called it “groupthink.” The reference is to George Orwell's novel, 1984, where only one line of thinking is allowed in a totalitarian society.
On June 8, 2020, President-elect Marcos announced that Dr. Carlos would be his national security adviser. Her detractors swiftly launched attacks on social media. She parted the waves with a series of statements: that “red-tagging” will not be allowed henceforth, since “labeling is a shallow way” to describe a person. She also said that national security will not focus on defense alone, but on security against lack of water, lack of jobs, lack of economic opportunities. She said people go up to the hills and rebel against the government because they are not given the opportunities they need to succeed.
This somewhat mollified her detractors, for which she frankly does not care. In the past few days, she has proposed the creation of a water reservoir for each barangay (village), knowing well that the issue of water will be front and center in the next two decades. She has also issued statements that her focus will also be on climate change, much needed in the calamity capital of the world, which is the Philippines.
We wish her well as she brings science, research and a world of wisdom into governance. The nemesis of “groupthink” is finally here.
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