EDITORIAL: Thanks but no thanks

President Duterte has turned down the controversial honoris cause degree as proposed by the Board of Regents of the state-run University of the Philippines.

The President cited he is not into awards even from way back in his days as city mayor of Davao.

As a public servant, President Duterte has been “honored” in many ways–from being called “The Punisher” to being poster boy of many international publications. All those plaques of recognition, he probably lost count or never even touched them as they were merely received by his representatives.

His son, Vice Mayor Paolo Z. Duterte, attested to that on Wednesday saying his father is not the type who would fret about copping life’s grandest awards.

So amidst all the expression of disapproval from the UP community, the President politely turned it down. No hard feelings, no harsh words. It’s a poetic justice for a man who responded to the mob reaction with a simple “thanks, but no thanks.”

Duterte is not alone in this world who turned down an award. The legendary John Lennon of the Beatles fame turned down knighthood, the highest award bestowed in the United Kingdom.

In turning down the conferment of knighthood, Lennon spelled out his reasons in a letter to the Queen:
“Your Majesty, I am returning this in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. With Love, John Lennon of Bag.”

It is said that of all the honors that the Queen of England bestows on her subjects, a knighthood is easily the most coveted. To British citizens, few titles could be greater than having a “Sir” or “Dame” in front of their name.

Another artist David Bowie turned down the knighthood honor in 2003, saying “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that,” he said. “I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.”

Alfred Deakin, the Australian statesman turned down a knighthood in 1887, when Australia was still a colony of Great Britain. He went on to become one of Australia’s founding fathers (it became a nation in 1901) and serve as Prime Minister three times. It seems that his refusal of a knighthood was due to a combination of humility (he would turn down several honors) and his preference for Australia becoming a republic, severing the last of its political links to the British Empire. Australia continued to award knighthoods (conferred by the Crown) after winning independence from Britain, even though many saw them as a remnant of the colonial past. Though it has still not become a republic, Australia finally stopped awarding knighthoods in 1983.

And there was Nobel laureate Doris Lessing. When she was young, the Nobel Prize-winning author was an ardent communist, rebelling against the monarchy and the British political system. In 1993, at the age of 74, she refused to be made a Dame. “Surely,” she said, “there is something unlikable about a person, when old, accepting honors from an institution she attacked when young?” Some years earlier, she had turned down an OBE, as the honor came from a “non-existent empire.” In 2000, however, she accepted a Companion of Honor (CH), claiming to prefer it because “you’re not called anything.”

If President Duterte turned down UP’s version of knighthood, it is not because of the wild reaction of the maroon community to his selection.

Some men just do their work without having to crave over awards. Like Bowie, the honorary degree is not what Duterte is working for and is spending his life for.

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