Quality Tertiary Education

[Address to the Foundation for Upgrading Standards of Education (FUSE), FUSE Learning Center for Teachers, 12-A Peal of the Orient Tower Condominium, 12:40 Roxas Blvd., Ermita Manila, 8:00 am.]

 

We wish this morning to talk about quality tertiary education.  One of the promising recent developments toward quality tertiary education is the new partnership between the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) and the Coordinating Council of Public and Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA).

As immediate past chair of the COCOPEA, I had the privilege of working with President Ric Rotoras of PASUC to forge the current partnership between PASUC and COCOPEA.  For the first time in Philippine educational history, Philippine higher education, public and private, resolves to “work together in complementarity to improve the quality of higher education in both public and private HEIs” (Resolution 4).[1]  It commits itself “in academic freedom and responsibility to its shared mission of providing quality higher education to the Filipino people and to find the appropriate structures to support and govern itself under the reasonable regulation of government as higher education in the Philippines” (Resolutions 8).

The resolutions to work together in self-governance are in support of a Philippine educational system that provides “access to quality higher education to all qualified Filipino students” (Resolution 1).

It is in this context that PASUC and COCOPEA passed Resolution 7:  “That PASUC and COCOPEA jointly commit itself to the culture of quality assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework and request the Philippine Government for necessary funds to support this commitment.”

In bringing this to your attention this morning, allow me to say that the PASUC-COCOPEA conversations were a very pleasant discovery that the educators “on the other side” of either the public or private education divide were not all that different from one another.  The educators “on the other side” were as concerned as they were to provide quality education to their students.  This shared concern, however, is hindered by their respective policy environments, the limitations of human and material resources, and legislators more concerned about legislating for political advantage than for true improvement of the educational system.  This was experienced particularly in the discussion on free tuition in State Universities and colleges (SUCs).   Here, public and private educators found themselves “on the same side” advocating quality higher education for all and not just access, recognizing that the complementarity between public and private universities might be a boon not only to improved access but to improved quality as well.  As the PASUC-COCOPEA resolutions which I mentioned earlier indicate, the first leveling of expectations that emerged from the Conversations was that all were committed to quality higher education, even if it was clear that that would involve both sides in a shared journey towards improved quality.

In committing themselves to improved quality, they committed themselves to quality assurance.  But, what is quality assurance?

Quality assurance is about assurance.  We must, first, assure ourselves that we are delivering the quality we claim to be delivering.  We know we make many claims about what we are doing.  All of us claim to deliver “quality,” “excellent,”  “world class” education.”  We must be able to assure ourselves that despite the challenges that we face with limited facilities, uneven performance of our teachers, uneven preparedness of our students, changing markets, and the fallibility of our administrative decisions we are actually delivering the quality education we say we are delivering.  Second, we must also assure others – regulative bodies, other educational institutions here and abroad, and our stake holders – that we are delivering this quality.  Ultimately, we are interested in quality assurance because of our need as educators to educate well.  This is primarily a demand from within.  We need to know – and we want others to know – that we are delivering valuable education, and not just churning our trash diplomas.

Quality assurance is about structures and activities that assure ourselves and others about quality.

Quality assurance, then, is also about quality.  Remarkably, there is no single definition of quality that is accepted by all internationally.  In the Philippines, quality is often just another word for “good” or “expensive” or “private” or “exclusive.”  UP, Ateneo and La Salle are considered quality schools.  But we also know that some of the most expensive or exclusive schools fail to deliver on their mission statements, fail to achieve the academic outcomes they target, or fail to satisfy the requirements of professional organizations or industry.  In some of the best schools there is misbehavior and bad decisions that impair quality.  Part of our PASUC-COCOPEA Roadmap to Quality Culture would be for us all, public and private universities, to agree on a definition of quality.

With Dirk van Damme,[2] I propose quality needs four inevitable components:  the achievement of minimum standards, the drive for distinguishing excellence in learning, the ability of the educational institution to achieve its purpose, and the ability of the educational institution to meet the fair expectations of the stakeholders and the market.[3] Quality assurance must assure quality.

Quality is based, first, on the institution’s self-realization of its identity and fulfillment of its mission.  If the identity of a school is a university, it cannot neglect genuine research.  If the mission of a state university is to the poor, it cannot be serving the richest students in the Philippines.

Second, it must achieve the minimum standards set by government of its academic programs, its research and its outreach.  The articulation of minimum standards support academic freedom, for there is a difference between minimum standards and standards of excellence.  Between minimum standards and highest levels of excellence there is a range in which HEIs can aim at achieving higher or lower levels of excellence, depending on the discipline, the position of the discipline in the architectonic of the HEIs academic offerings, the readiness of the HEI to invest more towards the achievement of higher levels of excellence.  A school may choose in academic freedom to perform better, and therefore invest more, in engineering rather than in music.  There is a tendency of those who set minimum standards to incorporate every best practice among the minimum standards. PASUC-COCOPEA, representing all academically free HEIs, may play a larger role in discerning and setting  the minimum standards that government confirms.

Third, it must evidence excellence based on learning outcomes.  Excellence is achieved in learning outcomes that surpass minimum standards outstandingly, distinguishing the HEIs against other HEIs.  A school that is distinguished for the humanities achieves excellent learning outcomes in such as literature, mathematics, languages and the natural sciences; its quality is co-determined by this distinction.

Finally, it satisfies its stakeholders.  Among the stakeholders of universities is industry and the needs of the economy.  Much, indeed, has been said about the mismatch between academe and industry.  But the stakeholders in universities are much wider than just industry.  Society in general, human culture(s), human morality, the environment, religious interests, the secular sphere, and peace, for example, are major stakeholders in the university.

PASUC and COCOPEA have committed themselves to a culture of quality assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework.

A culture of quality assurance means for us freely generating, promoting and implementing activities that assure the quality of our schools, and continually improving these activities.  It means cultivating habits of assuring ourselves and others that we are delivering the quality we say we are delivering.  It means having agreed-upon processes of checking objectively that the quality is there, and assuring others that the quality has been objectively checked and clearly ascertained.  Because of the objectivity, it means being able to compare the quality of our schools and their products with the quality of other schools and their products not only in the Philippines but in the entire ASEAN region, if not beyond ASEAN.  The quality of the learning and competencies, for instance, of an electrical engineering graduate or of an education graduate for secondary schools would be ascertainable in the Philippines and comparable to similar graduates in Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Brunei.   The quality and competencies of teachers and students would also be assesssed  objectively, allowing the exchange of teachers and students to enrich the quality of the schools.  In fact, the Philippines has committed itself to a culture of quality assurance in the entire region through ASEAN, even though bringing the HEIs to understand, own and be freely part of the commitment is clearly yet a work in progress.  But it is in this context that as PASUC and COCOPEA have committed themselves to a culture of quality assurance, they have also accepted to be guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and the ASEAN Quality Reference Framework.

In the ten countries of ASEAN, quality assurance is done differently.  In some cases it is driven by governments seeking to control and mandate quality.  In other cases, it is driven by private initiatives undertaking to develop and invite better quality.  Some quality assurance systems are mandatory, others are voluntary.  Some governments visit schools to check quality; some regulatory commissions test graduates and certify professional preparedness.  The most familiar form of quality assurance in the Philippines, and perhaps the most demanding, is voluntary accreditation. In this diversity of quality assurance practices, efforts are being exerted to increasingly bring the countries through a regional quality assurance framework into a common space.

The ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework (AQAF) is our regional quality assurance framework.  It consists of four interlocking quadrants: (1) The External Quality Assurance Agency (EQAA); (2) The External Quality Assurance Policy, Standards and Processes;  (3) Internal Quality Assurance (IQA); and finally (4) the National Qualifications Framework.

The AQAF links us to the other ASEAN countries through its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework (AQRF).  In the diversity of quality assurance practices in the ASEAN, the AQRF introduces us to common space.

Through a set of principle statements for each of the quadrants, AQAF seeks to bring diverse quality assurance practices together.  We use the AQAF to guide us in our quality assurance culture.[4]

We do not have time to discuss all the Principles of the AQAF.  For that, we would need a whole day.  But very briefly let me say:

  1. The EQAA must have autonomous responsibility for its operations and its decision-making processes and judgments made are free from undue influences. It cannot be a body that is beholden to or unduly influenced by school owners, government, the private or party interests of politicians, the performance reports of administrators or administrations, the budgetary needs of schools.
  2. The EQA-Standards and Practices place the interests of students and society at the forefront of external quality assurance processes. It is therefore not the interests of teachers, administrators, capital investors, and politicians that primarily determine quality. The processes must check learning outcomes, and how these outcomes affect society.  Of interest is not only the mismatch between academe and industry, but between academe and society.  This means pressing social concerns such as social justice, culture, the environment, religious freedom, and terrorism.
  3. AQAF sees the primary responsibility for quality in the educational institution itself, not in government, nor in the stakeholders (like industry), nor even in the EQAA. The institution itself through its top management is responsible for its culture of quality
  4. The National Qualifications Framework in the Philippines is established by Presidential Executive Order 83 issued by Benigno Aquino III in 2012. A Philippine Qualifications Framework National Coordinating Committee (PQF-NCC) is now completing its work on this.

My task was to talk about quality tertiary education.  I have shared with you how PASUC and COCOPEA have resolved to work together towards improving tertiary education through a quality assurance culture guided AQAF.

 


[1] The Resolutions cited here are from the 2nd PASUC-COCOPEA Conversation, Davao, Jan 16, 2017.

[2] Dirk van Damme, “Standards and Indicators in Institutional and Programme Accreditation in Higher Education: A Conceptual Framework and Proposal”, UNESCO.

[3] The definition of quality in CMO 46 s. 2012 includes neither the element of minimum standards nor the element of stakeholder satisfaction.  Cf:  Disqualifying CHED’s Quality Assurance: A Collection of Critical Positions on CHED’s Quality Assurance (CEAP: ADDU Publications, 2012).

[4] 1. Principles of the External Quality Assurance Agency (EQAA).

  • The EQAA of ASEAN countries have mission and common goal statement.
  • The EQAA has an established legal basis and is formally recognized and trusted.
  • The EQAA has autonomous responsibility for its operations and its decision-making processes and judgments made are free from undue influences.
  • The EQAA has a standards and transparent system of appointing members of the Board.
  • The EQAA’s policies and management practices are based on good governance, transparency and accountability.
  • The EQAA keeps abreast with new developments and innovations in quality assurance as part of its internal continuous improvement system.
  • The EQAA has sufficient and sustainable resources.
  • The EQAA collaborates with key stakeholders, both nationally and internationally.
  • The EQAA has a reliable system for controlling, auditing and assessing all processes of its operations.
  • The EQAA keeps the public informed of its current policies, procedures, criteria, standards and assessment results.
  1. Principles of External Quality Assurance – Standards and Processes
  • Interest of students and society should be at the forefront of external quality assurance processes.
  • Standards must be comparable to international good practices and related to internal quality assurance of higher education institutions.
  • Development of standards must involve participation of relevant stakeholders to meeting current needs and demands.
  • Standards must be made publicly available and applied consistently and with due regard for cultural diversity.
  • The process normally includes a self-assessment report (SAR) of the programme or institution, site visits, feedback, formal decision and follow up procedures;
  • Assessment must be objective, fair, transparent and conducted within an appropriate time frame.
  • The EQA provides appropriate training at regular intervals for the development os assessors.
  • The EQA ensures professionalism and ethical conduct of assessors.
  • Quality assurance activities and processes are assessed on a cyclical basis to promote continuous improvement.
  • An appeal mechanism is established and accessible to all.
  1. Principles of Internal Quality Assurance
  • The institution has primary responsibility for quality.
  • Quality assurance promotes the balance between institutional autonomy and public accountability.
  • Quality assurance is a participatory and cooperative process across all levels. incorporating involvement of academic staff, students, and other stakeholder
  • A quality culture underpins all institutional activities including teaching, learning, research, services and management.
  • A structured and functional internal quality assurance system with clearly defined responsibilities is established.
  • The quality system is promulgated and supported by the top management to ensure effective implementation and sustainability
  • Sufficient resources for establishing and maintaining an effective quality system within the institution should be provided.
  • The institution should have formal mechanisms for approval, periodic review and monitoring of programs and awards.
  • Quality is regularly monitored and reviewed for purposes of continuous improvement at all levels.
  • Relevant and current information about the institution, its programs, achievements, and quality processes is accessible to public.
  1. Principles of National Qualifications Framework
  • NQF facilitates the progressive nature of learning and training with the inclusion of prior learning.
  • NQF supports student and workforce mobility through recognition of qualifications, including lifelong learning.
  • NQF is based on learning outcomes that emphasize student-centered learning and student competencies.
  • NQF supports consistency, transparency, and flexibility of learning pathways and progression.
  • NQF is generally defined by levels, descriptors and can be based on a credit system.
  • NQF must be supported by relevant national policies.
  • Stakeholders must be consulted and actively involved in the development and implementation of the NQF.
  • The implementation of the NQF is to be carried out by an authorized body and supported by a set of agreed quality assurance principles and standards.
  • NQF is dynamic and should be reviewed to meet the changing needs and development.
  • NQF should be complemented buy an authorized information enter.
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Towards Strategic Planning at Sanata Dharma University

[Address:  Seminar for University Officials on “The Identity and Role of Jesuit Universities in Contemporary Southeast Asia,” Sanata Dharma University, Jogjakarta, Indonesia, 20 July 2017.]

It is a great honor for me to be here with you this evening.  When I received the invitation from Fr. Bagus Laksana, S.J., I accepted because I read of your desire to develop a five-year strategic plan, and because of your wish to understand better “the identity and role that a Jesuit university like Sanata Dharma can and should play in the context of a developing country like Indonesia as well as in the context of Southeast Asia.” – “including the interaction with Muslim communities.”

In my eighteen years of being a President of a Jesuit University in the Philippines, I thought certainly I would have something to share about the identity and role of a Jesuit university in social change.  Because my last six years were spent leading the Ateneo de Davao University in Mindanao, I thought I would have something to say about interaction with Muslim communities.

So I accepted the invitation.

After my acceptance, the “terms of reference” for this seminar were sent to me.  These included the economy, politics and culture of particular countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, East Timor, and even the Philippines.  The election of our President Rodrigo Duterte is described as “a shocking development of democracy.”  But why should it be “shocking” that democracy elect the choice of the overwhelming majority instead of the well-behaved darlings of the oligarchy?   You are interested in the nexus between demographic changes, migration and cultural changes, the knowledge-based society, the survival of local communities, the younger generation in Indonesia and how foreign cultures from the West, from Korea and Japan impact on the youth, the huge problem of religion in southeast Asia vs. multiple ethnicities vs. religious identities – or diversities – and its impact on political life, including the phenomenon of radicalism.  You are interested in a description of the dynamics of the Southeast Asian region, the role Sanata Dharma as a Jesuit university can play here – particularly considering the knowledge-based society.

Honestly, I was so intimidated by the terms of reference, I wanted to take back my acceptance.  I am not an Asia Pacific expert.  But even if I were, I do not think the issues involved could be appropriately addressed in the course of a two-day seminar, and much less in the course of this one-hour talk.

What I would like to do in this talk therefore is very modest:  simply to give you some points for conversation during your strategic planning.  Some points will have to deal with the idea of the Jesuit university, the mission and vision of Sanata Dharma University, and the importance of clarifying your mission and vision for strategic planning and quality assurance in the ASEAN context.  Other points will have to consider areas that the Jesuit university may address qua Jesuit university.  My vantage point will be the animation of a Jesuit university rather than a scholarly discussion, admitting however at the outset that the context of my experience is the largely Catholic country of the Philippines.  Because of this context certain things may be more possible for us than they are to you.  Yet, considering them may help clarify what you do.

The idea of a Jesuit University

The university must clarify for itself what it means to be a Jesuit university. This has to be a presupposition of your strategic planning. If the presupposition is not clear, it is the first task of the strategic planning exercise.  What is the university’s Jesuit identity?  Therefore, from this identity, what is its mission?  If the identity is to be meaningful, and not just a poster on the wall for accreditors, it must have the buy-in of those who actually live the identity of the university and carry out its mission.  This is why the participation of all in the strategic planning is a practical imperative.

I have used the document “Jesuits and University Life” from General Congregation (GC) 34 to help my university understand what the Jesuit university is.  The Jesuit university is first a noun.  But it is as importantly an adjective.

It is first a university. It is a community (“universitas”) of scholars and teachers who come together in academic freedom in search and service of truth.  “The noun guarantees a commitment to the fundamental autonomy, integrity and honesty of a university, precisely as a university: a place of serene and open search for and discussion of the truth.  It also points to the mission proper to every university – its dedication to research, teaching and the various forms of service that correspond to its cultural mission – as the indispensable horizon and context for a genuine preservation, renewal and communication of knowledge and human values.”[1]

I have always found it helpful to remind those of my university community of this fundamental identity and general mission locked in the noun, university.  Ultimately they co-operate in the autonomous service of truth, not of salaries, university rankings, compliance with government regulations, university profits and the like.  Their calling is much bigger than just implementing standard lesson plans or doing what the authorities say.  It is in fulfilling this calling that they should find their deepest joy, purpose and self-fulfillment.

But we speak not only of a noun.  As strongly, we speak of an adjective.  We speak of a Jesuit university.  In a further specification of its identity and general humanistic mission as university, the Jesuit university participates in the Jesuit identity and mission.  “We affirm the adjective, ‘Jesuit,’ no less strongly,” GC 34 insists. “This presupposes the authentic participation in our basic Jesuit identity and mission of any university calling itself Jesuit.”[2] In its academic freedom, the university fundamentally determines for itself an inter-relational identity with the Jesuits and an appropriation of the Jesuit mission.  During GC 34, the latter was defined to be the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, sensitivity to cultures, and interreligious dialogue.  As we will see later, the Jesuit mission has since been further specified.

In practice, I have experienced no resistance to this university appropriation of the Jesuit mission, nor to the catholicity of the university that it implies.  Precisely because of the problem set that we face in our Philippine society, it has been inspiring for our academicians to consider and then personally appropriate the Jesuit mission in such as addressing challenges of belief and non-belief in a secular society, seeking to understand the meaning of the common good as demanded by social justice, addressing the cultural diversity of our indigenous peoples, and entering into a dialogue of life with our Filipino Muslim communities.  As a Catholic university, we have been encouraged by the academic freedom guaranteed by Pope John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae, even as we affirm the profound privilege as a university of presiding over the tension of, on the one hand, knowing Jesus as the Truth and yet, on the other hand, in our classrooms, our research, our disciplines, and our service to the community, of having to search for the truth.[3]

How you are a Jesuit university here in Sanata Dharma is a matter you must clarify as a university community in academic freedom.  In a university this is something that cannot be imposed.  At Ateneo de Davao, we addressed this in my first five-day workshop of university representatives when I became President.  We asked all, “Are you able to express your passion at the Ateneo de Davao?  If so, how?  If not, why not?”  Out of those passionate exchanges, we evolved together the Vision and Mission statement that we now use to guide us in all that we do.  It is from this statement that we win the collaboration and cooperation of all in in our various programs.  It is from this statement that we determine our academic, research and extension programs.  It is from this statement that we organize our university and allocate its resources.   It is from this vision and mission statement that we generate our strategic plan.

In our vision statement it is clear, “The Ateneo de Davao is a Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino university.”  We are a noun, university.  But it is qualified by an adjective, Jesuit.

Where the university organization, operation and strategic plan must flow out of its vision and mission statement and you are interested in your role as a Jesuit university in the challenges of southeast Asia today, part of your conversation may be your vision and mission statement itself.  When I googled this I found under vision, “Being an excellent and humanistic truth-seeker for the realization of a more dignified society”, and under your mission, I found statements pertinent to “a holistic education system”, “a university academic community which respects academic freedom and scientific autonomy,” and institutional outcomes such as “enlightenment which sharpens the society’s mind,” “publication,” “the cooperation with various partners who have common vision and concerns”.  But cannot all of these things be said of any well-functioning university?  Considering the challenging terms of reference, however, of your seminar and strategic planning and your reference to yourself as a Jesuit university, your conversation may include a possible revision of the vision and mission to better articulate what is Jesuit about your mission.  Otherwise, the Jesuit identity and mission that drives your reflections today and gives it its urgency may seem extraneous to your mission and vision.

Normally the vision statement describes the identity of the institution.  It says what the noun is.  If stated rightly, the vision statement seldom changes.  It may be good if in your vision statement the noun “university” might appear.  If Jesuit is an adjective that is inseparable from the university you are, the adjective also belongs in the mission statement.

The mission statement is an articulation of what the Jesuit University expects to achieve in the next five to fifteen years.  This may include elements pertinent to your being university as such.  Or it may include imperatives emerging from your being a Jesuit university.  For this strategic planning session, you are focused on the latter.

Your vision and mission, including your Jesuit mission, will then determine the goals you set in strategic planning, your key result areas, your performance indicators, and your time lines.

Your strategic plan, of course, will further determine the terms of your internal quality assurance system.  The ASEAN quality assurance framework, to which we all subscribe, stresses today the importance of internal quality assurance and the internal quality assurance system.  What quality is involves the evidenced consistency between the institutional activities and the institution’s vision and mission.

Areas that the Jesuit University Ought to Address qua Jesuit

In academic freedom, the University appropriates the Jesuit mission.  We have mentioned above how GC 34 articulated this mission in terms of faith, justice, culture, and inter-religious dialogue.[4]  The most recent GC 36 issued “Companions in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice” (Decree 1).  It speaks of a “call to share God’s work of reconciliation in our broken world” (21) and breaks this down into three: the call for reconciliation with God, the call for reconciliation with humanity, the call for reconciliation with creation.  Under each of these calls, I will suggest points for conversation in your strategic planning:

The Call for Reconciliation with God.

Under this call, GC 36 quotes Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and minds of all who encounter Jesus.”  Here, the Jesuit university may consider its mission to evangelize: to introduce students and staff to the Gospel and the person of Jesus Christ, and to guide them to the fullness of life that Jesus brings.  This includes the meaningful celebration of the Eucharist and sacraments, and a responsive campus ministry.  In the university, this evangelization must not be confused with proselytisation.  The Federation of Asian Bishops Conference speaks of evangelisation in term of dialogue.  It is a joyful sharing of truth, even as it remains open to truth in those who may not accept this truth.  Trusting in the Spirit, it fully respects and promotes religious freedom.

Under this call, GC 36 mentions Ignatian spirituality.  The Jesuit university may consider its mission to foster spirituality in a materialistic world, and especially to promote the treasures of Ignatian spirituality through the Spiritual Exercises.  At Ateneo de Davao, the silent retreat is a much appreciated experience, and the Spiritual Exercises are guided by lay retreat guides trained from among faculty and staff.   Lectures and treatises on spirituality are worthless if there are no visible witnesses to profound spirituality in the university.  Such witnesses are certainly not confined to Jesuits.

Under this call, GC 36, mentions secularism, a pluralistic world, believers abandoning the Church and the importance of theological and scriptural studies.  Here the Jesuit university may consider a mission to respond the challenge of religion in today’s world, the problems of religion vs. ideology, secularity vs. secularism, ascetism vs radicalism, martyrdom, jihad, violence and war.  There is a mission to deep theology that is not confined to clerics and religious, but also forms our laypersons.  But, as we have learned in the Philippines, there is also a mission to deeper understandings of our history, the injustices that have occurred in history but are roundly ignored, cultures and how some cultures have been damaged by errors in our evangelization, and the like.

The Call to Reconciliation with Humanity

Under this call, GC 36 mentions an array of social problems: the suffering of the poor, the excluded and the marginalized, the displacement of peoples, the growth of inequality in our world, human rights, the destruction of the environment, fundamentalism, ethnic-religious-political conflicts as a source of violence, distorted religious convictions.

Here the Jesuit university may consider its mission to promote social justice.  Social justice must be promoted in the classroom, in the formative program of co- or extra-curricular activities, in the university’s research agenda, in the outreach program of the university.  It is important that all our faculty and staff are sensitized to the problems of social injustice in our respective societies, and if Sanata Dharma is addressing this on the scale of southeast Asia, it must do so with corresponding instruction and research.  In our countries we have been speaking much recently of the ASEAN integration.  ASEAN seeks to integrate our countries in terms of political and security arrangements, the economy, and socio and cultural achievements.  Of these three, it is the economy that gets the most attention, whose presuppositions are neo-liberal and consumption driven.  A university mission that addresses social justice of the southeast Asian scale may address these presuppositions in the ASEAN economic model and critique them for their toll on the environment and for the segments of the population that they exclude. It should also address the social and cultural aspects of the ASEAN integration.  Between Brunei Darusalaam and Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines, East Timor and Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore how does the ASEAN integration bring about a more socially just region?  The problems of course are magnified if we consider the other countries which belong to our Asia Pacific Conference like Japan, China and Taiwan.

The promotion of social justice poses a task particularly appropriate for the university with its multiple disciplines, that is, the articulation of the common good.  On the level of the state the common good is that set of conditions where under a given set of historical condition all human beings without exception can flourish as human beings.[5]  People with different interests and needs opt to cooperate to achieve the common good.  The Jesuit university is a privileged platform within which people enlightened by various academic disciplines might discuss and negotiate their respective roles in achieving the common good.  It is where the needs of the laborer can be weighed against the needs of the investor, where the needs of the economy can be weighed against the needs of the environment, where the urgent needs of the present generation can be weighed against the needs of future generations.  From such discussions imperatives based on the common good might be articulated, then advocated towards the appropriate articulation of public policy.  The complexity increases of course when one moves from the consideration of the common good of a nation to consideration of the common good of a region such as ASEAN or even that of ASIA PACIFIC.  How do we achieve the common good as we tackle the problem of transnational radicalism and its resultant violence and even war, as China engages in both economic and military expansionism, while the Philippines tackles the related scourges of drugs, human trafficking and gun smuggling and North Korea defends itself by taunting a nuclear war?

Which social problems a Jesuit university actually chooses to address may be the result of communal discernment and strategic planning within the university.  Sanata Dharma may as an Indonesian university and not merely as a university in Indonesia wish to address the problem of religious diversity and violent extremism in the light of the Pancasila, and may focus research on appreciating why the vast majority of Indonesians have not embraced Daesh, despite its persuasive narratives and many bloody attempts to win over the Muslim majority in Indonesia.  Part of this may be the unequivocal positions government and religious authorities have taken against Daesh, but part has also been the effective action of communities against Daesh attempting to infiltrate and hijack mosques.  It may in this mission develop multi-disciplinary counter narratives based on the theoretical incompatibility of Daesh with Pancasila, or based on the emotionally powerful stories of those who have fallen victim to Daesh terrorism.[6]

By way of the Jesuit mission to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, Ateneo de Davao has established six years ago an Al Qalam Institute for Interreligious Dialogue in Southeast Asia, has set up a BS in Islamic Studies focusing on political economy and featuring courses in Islamic finance, and has participated actively in promoting a solution to injustices perpetrated against the Muslims of Mindanao over centuries.  It has supported the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro, and just before coming here I witnessed the formal turn-over by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission of the newly-drafted Bangsamoro Basic Law to President Duterte.

The Call for Reconciliation with Creation

GC 35 and 36 added the care for the environment to the Jesuit mission under a call for Reconciliation with Creation.  It leans on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si! calling for “a radical solution” that understands the interconnectedness between the unbridled consumption of the global community, the production mechanisms necessary o support that consumption, the destructive impact on the environment, and the suffering of the excluded and the poor.

Hence, the Jesuit university may consider its mission to preserve and protect the environment.  It does so foundationally in the instruction and formation of the university community in the need to develop a culture of care for the environment that first transforms the community, e.g., in separating waste, minimizing use of fossil fuels, conserving the use of fresh water, and the like.

But it also does so in engaging in the research necessary to militate against institutions that legally destroy the environment, and then in taking public stands against them.  Ateneo de Davao University has publicly opposed large-scale open-pit mining in Mindanao and in the Philippines.  In doing so it has lost benefactors, and gained enemies.  It has also championed green spaces in the Land-Use Plan of the City of Davao.

The manners in which Jesuit universities can appropriate the Jesuit mission towards reconciliation and transformation of society are myriad, but clearly GC 36 makes both part of the education apostolate: “Our educational apostolates at all levels , and our centers for communication and social research, should help form men and women committed to reconciliation and able to confront obstacles to reconciliation a propose solutions.  The educational apostolate should be strengthened to help in the transformation of our cultures and societies” (14).

Need for More Collaboration and Networking Among Jesuit Universities

In the service of this threefold reconciliation, networking and collaboration among our Jesuit schools is necessary.  Global problems are best tackled by a global organization;  regional  challenges are best tackled by a regional organization.  This was clear in the Mexico and Melbourne meetings of Jesuit schools worldwide, and the consistent resolution of our Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Asia Pacific (AJCU-AP).  However, the obstacles to networking and collaboration have been daunting: the tendency of the universities to get stuck in their own sets of local challenges and problems, the difficulty of communication across different cultures and languages using English that is not a first language to most, the insufficient time available to the universities in AJCU-AP meeting to solve organization and communications problems in collaboration, the lack of funds to support common action.   That, however, may now be different under the leadership of the current AJCU-AP Chair, your Dr. Yohanes Eka Priyatma.

The Jesuit University’s Most Important Contribution to Society

Let me close with a simple thought:  in the end, the most important contribution of the Jesuit University to society is its graduate.  The graduate must be one whom the university has formed uniquely precisely by applying its vision and mission to him or her.  He or she is not only a professional, he is a self-appreciating human being taking responsibility for a valued human society. This is the context of the graduate’s “higher learning”; he or she has learned how to think critically and speak insightfully, benefitting from higher humane and professional learning.  From being in a Jesuit university, he or she has appropriated something of the Jesuit mission, the commitment to be a servant of reconciliation with God, with humanity and with creation.  In a society where the relationship with God is either ignored or skewed, where social structures are unfeeling and inhumane, and where creation is roundly abused, the graduate is cast in a leadership role that is shaped precisely because of the university’s vision and mission impacting personally on him or her.  That leader will serve the faith, promote the common good, be sensitive to culture, work with people of diverse religions and convictions, and protect and promote the environment.  Forming that leader in every graduate also belongs to the mission of Sanata Dharma that is not only a university but a Jesuit university.

 

 


[1] GC 34, Decree 17, Jesuits and University Life, no. 6.

[2] ibid., no 7.

[3] cf. John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae: Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities (Vatican, 1990), Nos.12-14. GC 34 presupposes this doctrine.  The Jesuit university is necessarily also a Catholic university. “A Catholic University’s privileged task is to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the font of truth” (No. 1).  In the Philippines through the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines and the Phoenix House Educational Foundation, there is an effort to quality check the “catholicity” of our Catholic schools through the Philippine Catholic School Standards.  The instrument for basic education is complete and in use.  The instrument for higher education is a work in progress.  It would be a challenge for Jesuit schools and universities to create such an instrument.

[4] cf. GC 34, Decrees 1-5.  This includes “Servants of Christ’s Mission,” “Our Mission and Justice,” “Our Mission and Culture,” and “Our Mision and Interreligious Dialogue.”

[5] Cf. Patrick Riordan, A Grammar of the Common Good: How to Make Sense of Globalisation, (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008)

[6] cf. Thomas Koruth Samuel, Redicalisation in Southeast Asia: A selected Case Study of Daesh in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines  (Malaysia: Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counbter-Terrorism, 2016), pp 27-58.

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The Culture of Quality Assurance:  Mandatory from Within

[Address to the PASUC General Assembly, Century Park Hotel, July 6, 2017, 3:30 pm.]

 

It is my privilege to be asked to address the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) at this convention whose theme is, “PASUC @ 50: At the Forefront of the Global Dynamic of Public Higher Education.”  I am even moπre pleased to share my thoughts with you on the topic that was assigned to me: “The PASUC-COCOPEA Conversations: Levelling of Expectations on Quality Assurance.”

As immediate past chair of the COCOPEA, I had the privilege of working with President Ric Rotoras of PASUC to forge the current partnership between PASUC and COCOPEA.  This is a historic partnership through which, for the first time in Philippine educational history, Philippine higher education, public and private, resolve to “work together in complementarity to improve the quality of higher education in both public and private HEIs” (Resolution 4).[1]  It has committed itself “in academic freedom and responsibility to its shared mission of providing quality higher education to the Filipino people and to find the appropriate structures to support and govern itself under the reasonable regulation of government as higher education in the Philippines” (Resolutions 8).

The resolutions to work together in self-governance was in support of a Philippine System that provides “access to quality higher education to all qualified Filipino students” (Resolution 1).  Clearly, as these resolutions make evident, among the clear shared desiderata of PASUC and COCOPEA is quality higher education for all in public and private HEIs.

It is in this context that PASUC and COCOPEA passed Resolution 7:  “That PASUC and COCOPEA jointly commit itself to the culture of quality assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework and request the Philippine Government for necessary funds to support this commitment.”

In addressing my topic, “The PASUC-COCOPEA Conversations: Leveling of Expectations on Quality Assurance,” let me first say that the PASUC-COCOPEA conversations were first and foremost a very pleasant discovery that the educators “on the other side” of either the public or private education divide were not all that different from one another.  The educators “on the other side” were as concerned as they were to provide quality education to their students, hindered however by their policy environment, the limitations of human and material resources, and the shared experience of legislators more concerned about legislating for political advantage rather than for true improvement of the educational system.  This was experienced particularly in the discussion on free education in State Universities and colleges (SUCs), where public and private educators found themselves “on the same side” advocating quality higher education for all and not just access, recognizing that the complementarity between public and private universities might be a boon not only to improved access but to improved quality as well.  As the PASUC-COCOPEA resolutions which I mentioned earlier indicate, the first leveling of expectations that emerged from the Conversations was that all were committed to quality higher education, even if it was clear that that would involve both sides in a shared journey towards improved quality.

On this journey, potholes would have to be filled and roadblocks would have to be overcome not only to level conceptual expectations pertinent to quality assurance, but to arrive at a culture of quality assurance that would truly improve the quality of our graduates and institutions in the service of our many stakeholders.

Much can be said about this shared journey we must travel together towards improved quality.  Eventually, I hope that PASUC and COCOPEA through its Committee on Quality might be able to come up with a clear PASUC-COCOPEA Roadmap to Quality Culture.  As those immediately responsible for the quality of higher education in the Philippines, we should know where we want to go on this journey towards quality assurance, and how we intend to get there.  The ongoing conversation of colleagues and friends on a shared journey will level the expectations.

For this talk, however, in the little time that has been given me, I would like mention talking points that might contribute to such a Roadmap.    Talking points stimulate the conversation.

When we commit ourselves to delivering quality education in the Philippines, quality assurance is about assurance.  We must, first, assure ourselves that we are delivering the quality we claim to be delivering.  We know we make many claims about what we are doing.  All of us claim to deliver “quality,” “excellent,”  “world class” education.”  We must be able to assure ourselves that despite the challenges that we face with limited facilities, uneven performance of our teachers, uneven preparedness of our students, changing markets, and the fallibility of our administrative decisions we are actually delivering the quality education we say we are delivering.  Second, we must also assure others – regulative bodies, other educational institutions here and abroad, and our stake holders – that we are delivering this quality.  Ultimately, we are interested in quality assurance because of our need as educators to educate well.  This is primarily a demand from within.  We need to know – and we want others to know – that we are delivering valuable education, and not just churning our trash diplomas.

Quality assurance is about structures and activities that assure ourselves and others about quality.

Quality assurance, then, is also about quality.  Remarkably, there is no single definition of quality that is accepted by all internationally.  In the Philippines, quality is often just another word for “good” or “expensive” or “private” or “exclusive.”  UP, Ateneo and La Salle are considered quality schools.  But we also know that some of the most expensive or exclusive schools fail to deliver on their mission statements, fail to achieve the academic outcomes they target, or fail to satisfy the requirements of professional organizations or industry.  In some of the best schools there is misbehavior and bad decisions that impair quality.  Part of our PASUC-COCOPEA Roadmap to Quality Culture would be for us all, public and private universities, to agree on a definition of quality.

With Dirk van Damme,[2] I propose quality needs four inevitable components:  the achievement of minimum standards, the drive for distinguishing excellence in learning, the ability of the educational institution to achieve its purpose, and the ability of the educational institution to meet the fair expectations of the stakeholders and the market.[3] Quality assurance must assure quality.

Quality is based, first, on the institution’s self-realization of its identity and fulfillment of its mission.  If a State university, for example, is to be a Filipino University missioned to promote the sciences among the poor, it must show evidence that it does just that, that as a university it is in academic freedom engaged in higher-level instruction, research and outreach, and that it is primarily serving the interests of the nation and of Filipinos, and that it is not overwhelmingly serving the rich and the established.  It must show that this engagement is governed by a plan that is actually executed.

Second, it must achieve the minimum standards set by government of its academic programs, its research and its outreach.  The articulation of minimum standards support academic freedom, for there is a difference between minimum standards and standards of excellence.  Between minimum standards and highest levels of excellence there is a range in which HEIs can aim at achieving higher or lower levels of excellence, depending on the discipline, the position of the discipline in the architectonic of the HEIs academic offerings, the readiness of the HEI to invest more towards the achievement of higher levels of excellence.  A school may choose in academic freedom to perform better, and therefore invest more, in engineering rather than in music.  There is a tendency of those who set minimum standards to incorporate every best practice among the minimum standards.  The outcome of this would be all HEIs doing the same thing.  But would this be good?  This would not promote independent thought, critical thinking, innovativeness, and a culture of ongoing improvement.  I would like to propose that the PASUC-COCOPEA, representing all academically free HEIs, play a larger role in discerning and setting  the minimum standards which government confirms, and that this be part of our Roadmap to Quality Culture.

Third, it must evidence excellence based on learning outcomes.  Excellence is achieved in learning outcomes that surpass minimum standards outstandingly, distinguishing the HEIs against other HEIs.  A school that is distinguished for the humanities achieves excellent learning outcomes in such as literature, mathematics, languages and the natural sciences; its quality is co-determined by this distinction.

Finally, it satisfies its stakeholders.  Among the stakeholders of universities is industry and the needs of the economy.  Much, indeed, has been said about the mismatch between academe and industry.  But the stakeholders in universities are much wider than just industry.  Society in general, human culture(s), human morality, the environment, religious interests, the secular sphere, and peace, for example, are major stakeholders in the university.

PASUC and COCOPEA have committed itself to a culture of quality assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework.

A culture of quality assurance means for us freely generating, promoting and implementing activities that assure the quality of our schools, and continually improving these activities.  It means cultivating habits of assuring ourselves and others that we are delivering the quality we say we are delivering.  It means having agreed-upon processes of checking objectively that the quality is there, and assuring others that the quality has been objectively checked and clearly ascertained.  Because of the objectivity, it means being able to compare the quality of our schools and their products with the quality of other schools and their products not only in the Philippines but in the entire ASEAN region, if not beyond ASEAN.  The quality of the learning and competencies, for instance, of an electrical engineering graduate or of an education graduate for secondary schools would be ascertainable in the Philippines and comparable to similar graduates in Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Brunei.   The quality and competencies of teachers and students would also be assesssed  objectively, allowing the exchange of teachers and students to enrich the quality of the schools.  In fact, the Philippines has committed itself to a culture of quality assurance in the entire region through ASEAN, even though bringing the HEIs to understand, own and be freely part of the commitment is clearly yet a work in progress.  But it is in this context that as PASUC and COCOPEA have committed themselves to a culture of quality assurance, they have also accepted to be guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework.

In the ten countries of ASEAN, quality assurance is done differently.  In some cases it is driven by governments seeking to control and mandate quality.  In other cases, it is driven by private initiatives undertaking to develop and invite better quality.  Some quality assurance systems are mandatory, others are voluntary.  Some governments visit schools to check quality; some regulatory commissions test graduates and certify professional preparedness.  Some schools voluntarily benchmark with one another; they freely share best practices to help one another.  The most familiar form of quality assurance in the Philippines, and perhaps the most demanding, is voluntary accreditation.  But the number of accredited schools in the Philippines is still relatively low.  In this diversity of quality assurance practices, efforts are being exerted to increasingly bring the countries through a regional quality assurance framework into a common space.

The ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework (AQAF) is our regional quality assurance framework.  It consists of four interlocking quadrants: (1) The External Quality Assurance Agency (EQAA); (2) The External Quality Assurance Policy, Standards and Processes;  (3) Internal Quality Assurance (IQA); and finally (4) the National Qualifications Framework.

The AQAF links us to the other ASEAN countries through its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework (AQRF).  In the diversity of quality assurance practices in the ASEAN, the AQRF introduces us to common space.

The AQAF is now being pilot tested in UP Los Baños and in Angeles University Foundation.  PASUC and COCOPEA would do well to monitor this pilot testing and understand its implications for us all.   Through a set of principle statements for each of the quadrants, AQAF seeks to bring diverse quality assurance practices together.  We use the AQAF to guide us in our quality assurance culture.[4]

We do not have time to discuss all the Principles of the AQAF.  For that, we would need a whole day.  But very briefly let me say:

 

  1. The EQAA must have autonomous responsibility for its operations and its decision-making processes and judgments made are free from undue influences. It cannot be a body that is beholden to or unduly influenced by school owners, government, the private or party interests of politicians, the performance reports of administrators or administrations, the budgetary needs of schools.
  2. The EQA-Standards and Practices place the interests of students and society at the forefront of external quality assurance processes. It is therefore not the interests of teachers, administrators, capital investors, and politicians that primarily determine quality. The processes must check learning outcomes, and how these outcomes affect society.  Of interest is not only the mismatch between academe and industry, but between academe and society.  This means pressing social concerns such as social justice, culture, the environment, religious freedom, and terrorism.
  3. AQAF sees the primary responsibility for quality in the institution itself, not in government, nor in the stakeholders (like industry), nor even in the EQAA. This institution itself through its top management is responsible for its culture of quality.  It ensures that the quality culture underpins all institutional activities including teaching, learning, research, services and management This entails an internal system of quality assurance which involves the participation of all: administration, faculty, studentry, and adjunct staff.
  4. The National Qualifications Framework in the Philippines is established by Presidential Executive Order 83 issued by Benigno Aquino III in 2012. A Task Force on Qualifications Framework is now completing its work on this.  But because the NQF establishes levels of and standards for educational qualifications achieved progressively in elementary, secondary (junior high school, senior high school), and tertiary levels of education, it should be legislated for policy stability.

 

In summary, the quality that we assure through our EQAAs using appropriate EQA-Standards and Processes driven primarily by our own drive for quality through our IQA systems within our own NQF is comparable with the quality of other ASEAN countries through the ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework (AQRF).  The AQRF is a translation mechanism.  Differing NQFs of ASEAN countries understand one another through the AQRF.

My task in this talk was to speak on: “The PASUC-COCOPEA Conversations: Levelling of Expectations on Quality Assurance.”  PASUC and COOPEA in their conversations were very emphatic in their commitment not only to greater access to higher education, but to quality higher education.  In this context, PASUC and COCOPEA committed themselves to a culture of quality assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network and its ASEAN Quality Reference Framework. Towards leveling expectations on quality assurance, I have attempted to unpack the meaning of this culture of quality assurance in the ASEAN context, thinking this may also contribute to your reflections on yourselves “at the forefront of the global dynamic of public higher education.”  We reviewed the meaning of quality assurance, but also of quality. We appreciated how in ASEAN quality assurance is done within the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework.  Articulating a Roadmap towards Quality Assurance in the Philippines would be helpful.   Ultimately, quality assurance is about the truthfulness of our being HEIs in the Philippines and in our ASEAN region, if not in our world.  It is about the truthfulness of our communicating truth, discovering truth, and about how we are contributing to our communities as HEIs.  Because what we do in our HEIs in academic freedom has a crucial bearing on what we do in educating our students for society, building our nations, keeping our economies healthy, keeping our societies humane and securing the peace, quality assurance is about keeping ourselves honest.  As necessary as this is, it cannot be forced.  What is imposed can be too easily undermined.  It is something that must be driven from within.  This is what I think PASUC and COCOPEA have done in committing themselves together to a culture of quality assurance.  They have committed themselves to voluntary quality assurance that is mandatory from within.

 

 


[1] The Resolutions cited here are from the 2nd PASUC-COCOPEA Conversation, Davao, Jan 16, 2017.

[2] Dirk van Damme, “Standards and Indicators in Institutional and Programme Accreditation in Higher Education: A Conceptual Framework and Proposal”, UNESCO.

[3] The definition of quality in CMO 46 s. 2012 includes neither the element of minimum standards nor the element of stakeholder satisfaction.  Cf:  Disqualifying CHED’s Quality Assurance: A Collection of Critical Positions on CHED’s Quality Assurance (CEAP: ADDU Publications, 2012).

[4] 1. Principles of the External Quality Assurance Agency (EQAA).

  • The EQAA of ASEAN countries have mission and common goal statement.
  • The EQAA has an established legal basis and is formally recognized and trusted.
  • The EQAA has autonomous responsibility for its operations and its decision-making processes and judgments made are free from undue influences.
  • The EQAA has a standards and transparent system of appointing members of the Board.
  • The EQAA’s policies and management practices are based on good governance, transparency and accountability.
  • The EQAA keeps abreast with new developments and innovations in quality assurance as part of its internal continuous improvement system.
  • The EQAA has sufficient and sustainable resources.
  • The EQAA collaborates with key stakeholders, both nationally and internationally.
  • The EQAA has a reliable system for controlling, auditing and assessing all processes of its operations.
  • The EQAA keeps the public informed of its current policies, procedures, criteria, standards and assessment results.

 

  1. Principles of External Quality Assurance – Standards and Processes
  • Interest of students and society should be at the forefront of external quality assurance processes.
  • Standards must be comparable to international good practices and related to internal quality assurance of higher education institutions.
  • Development of standards must involve participation of relevant stakeholders to meeting current needs and demands.
  • Standards must be made publicly available and applied consistently and with due regard for cultural diversity.
  • The process normally includes a self-assessment report (SAR) of the programme or institution, site visits, feedback, formal decision and follow up procedures;
  • Assessment must be objective, fair, transparent and conducted within an appropriate time frame.
  • The EQA provides appropriate training at regular intervals for the development os assessors.
  • The EQA ensures professionalism and ethical conduct of assessors.
  • Quality assurance activities and processes are assessed on a cyclical basis to promote continuous improvement.
  • An appeal mechanism is established and accessible to all.

 

  1. Principles of Internal Quality Assurance
  • The institution has primary responsibility for quality.
  • Quality assurance promotes the balance between institutional autonomy and public accountability.
  • Quality assurance is a participatory and cooperative process across all levels. incorporating involvement of academic staff, students, and other stakeholder
  • A quality culture underpins all institutional activities including teaching, learning, research, services and management.
  • A structured and functional internal quality assurance system with clearly defined responsibilities is established.
  • The quality system is promulgated and supported by the top management to ensure effective implementation and sustainability
  • Sufficient resources for establishing and maintaining an effective quality system within the institution should be provided.
  • The institution should have formal mechanisms for approval, periodic review and monitoring of programs and awards.
  • Quality is regularly monitored and reviewed for purposes of continuous improvement at all levels.
  • Relevant and current information about the institution, its programs, achievements, and quality processes is accessible to public.

 

  1. Principles of National Qualifications Framework
  • NQF facilitates the progressive nature of learning and training with the inclusion of prior learning.
  • NQF supports student and workforce mobility through recognition of qualifications, including lifelong learning.
  • NQF is based on learning outcomes that emphasize student-centered learning and student competencies.
  • NQF supports consistency, transparency, and flexibility of learning pathways and progression.
  • NQF is generally defined by levels, descriptors and can be based on a credit system.
  • NQF must be supported by relevant national policies.
  • Stakeholders must be consulted and actively involved in the development and implementation of the NQF.
  • The implementation of the NQF is to be carried out by an authorized body and supported by a set of agreed quality assurance principles and standards.
  • NQF is dynamic and should be reviewed to meet the changing needs and development.
  • NQF should be complemented buy an authorized information enter.
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Diversity and Freedom of Religion

[Introductory Discussion, Pakighinabi, 21 June 2017]

While the country may have celebrated independence from Spain 119 years ago, our struggle today must also be for independence from religious extremism and intolerance.  This comes from an irreligious position which as a consequence of its claims that there is only one God, that there is only one legitimate religion, and that they are the only true worshippers of God, rejects the concept of diversity of religions and anything like freedom of religion.  Any person who challenges this notion can be attacked, assaulted, tortured or killed.  Through such means, coercion towards religious assent is legitimate.  Persons can be forced by torture or threat of death to embrace “the true religion.”  But the contradiction between the claim to be a religion, which functions in relationship with the compassionate God, and the imperative to kill, to maim, and to devastate those who do not agree with them, disqualifies them as a religion and reduces them to a mere conceptual ideology that has no moorings in a real God of compassion.

Pope Francis describes the world situation of today as “a world war being fought piecemeal” in explosions of terror and packages of violence throughout the globe.  Bombs explode and blood is shed in a football stadium or in a rock concert, targeting not armored combatants but innocent children.  Human lives are taken not only by grenade launchers and missiles, but by speeding trucks and murderous vans.  In London, a van mowed down Muslims leaving the Finsbury mosque day before yesterday; one man died, eight were injured.  On June 3, a terror attack by a man driving a van on the London bridge killed 8 and terrorized many others. On May 22, 2017 in Manchester during the Ariane Grande concert , a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured 59..

Here Pope Francis says, “it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God.”

There is religious diversity.

We Filipinos, Catholics and Muslims, but also Buddhists, Protestants, Aglipayans, Iglesya ni Cristo, Born-Again Evangelicals, must understand and repudiate this ideology, this fabricated set of ideas, that is not religion.  It does not connect us to God, whom all religions recognize as a God of compassion.  Instead it manipulates and profanes the Sacred Name of God, who is a source and guarantor of life and love.  It manipulates: it uses “God” to carry out the evil designs of some human beings.  It profanes:  it drags the Sacred Name of God in the bloodied mud of human politics and conflict.

In this context, Pope Francis states further:  All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them.  He never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness.  He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence (“God… hates the lover of violence”: Ps 11:5).  The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.”

It is not we who protect God from evil, but God who delivers us from evil.  The “God” therefore who “commands” or “wills” violence, destruction and death, especially of children, be they Christian or Muslim, theists or atheists, is a false God, a fabrication of evil and irreverent minds, who have yet in God’s mercy to encounter the true God.  

Speaking to leaders of differing religions, Pope Francis says, “It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice.  History does not forgive those who talk about equality, but then discard those who are different.  It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly.  It is our duty to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.”

As God, in his unfathomable wisdom, created us diverse, so did he create us with religious freedom.

More than 52 years ago, the Vatican Council, the highest teaching body of the Catholic Church, proclaimed the right to religious freedom on the basis of the dignity of the human person:

“This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

“The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

“It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

“Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means”  (Dignitatis Humanae, 2).

It may also be in this spirit that Muslim religious scholars are waging an “ideological war” against extremist groups.  The official website of the ARMM* reports as follows:

Basilan (June 12, 2017) – Ulama, or Muslim religious scholars, are waging an ideological war against the spread of radicalism and extremism through a holistic approach in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“We are engaging all sectors to address the spread of religious extremism and radicalism in the country,” said Abdulmuhmin Alyakanie Mujahid, the executive director of the Darul Ifta, or the Fatwa Council of the ARMM.

On Thursday, June 8, Islamic scholars in the island province of Basilan forged several agreements with the regional and provincial governments, as well as with line agencies, to carry-out “multi approaches” to deny the spread of extremist ideology in their area.

The effort, Muhajid said, is an offshoot of the Ulama Summit that was held in Cotabato City in early May. During the summit, the Ulama issued a declaration against terrorism, saying that “It is Haram (forbidden and unlawful) to use Islam to justify or legitimize violent extremism and terrorism.”

The Ulama also challenged themselves “to reeducate (their) constituents to rediscover Islamic faith for justice, compassion, harmony and peace.”

“It is imperative upon us all to cooperate and collaborate with the stakeholders in preventing and countering violent extremism and terrorism in its many forms and manifestations,” the declaration said. Mujahid said they are now proactively engaging all stakeholders to overcome the challenges of extremism as what is happening in Marawi City.

“These extremist groups are using the creed of Islam. As a matter of fact, they are using the so-called 13 doctrines of Islam and citing verses of the Holy Quran in justifying their criminal and inhumane acts. We can’t allow that and we will not allow that,” he said. “Our call is to fight against violent extremism and terrorism,” Mujahid underscored.

In the diversity of our religions that path to unity is not in killing the other to eliminate the diversity, but in living the religious relationship with the compassionate God with true radicality so that we may re-discover together the human dignity that God in his compassion cherishes.

 

 

 

* https://armm.gov.ph/muslim-religious-scholars-wage-ideological-war-extremist-groups/

 

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Knowledge, Wisdom and Divine Folly

[Homily:  Mass of the Holy Spirit, ADDU Schools of Higher Education, Chapel of the Assumption, June 15,2017.]

Once again we gather at the beginning of the academic year in Eucharistic Celebration. We come together as a university community of teachers and students in academic freedom:  teachers of such as literature, languages, history, pedagogy, chemistry, engineering, nursing and business management, and students hoping in this university to be conversant in literature and knowledgeable in past events that shape the present, to become teachers, chemists, engineers, nurses and skilled managers of business enterprises and of government units.

But in the great tradition of the university, we come together as teachers and scholars not just to learn what others have learned before us, not just to learn a profession which will determine the quality of our living and the style of our life in the future, but we come in search of truth. What that truth is, what it entails and what it forbids, is itself part of our search.  We search for the truth behind a tasty scoop of ice cream, or the truth behind the artic glaciers locked for centuries in shapes like mighty frozen mountains now suddenly melting in a planet that is warming.  We search for the truth in the elemental material building blocks that make up the planet and universe, as we search for the truth of how human beings work on materials of this earth to feed, sustain, and shelter themselves, to builds homes, workspaces, colosseums, temples, mosques and churches and so change the face of the earth.

We search for the truth of the human person as embodied or spirited, enslaved or free, healthy or sick, alone or with others, distinguishing between right and wrong, choosing what is right or pursuing what is wrong.  We search for the truth with the eros of the insatiable human mind, and the relentless search leads us to acknowledge the Truth behind the many truths, the Beginning of many unfoldings, the final Goal of many proceedings, the Heart of many yearnings, the Being of beings.  We search for the Truth of this Being, and open ourselves needy to the Spirit of God the Creator, the Redeemer, the Lover.

Perhaps we can say in truth:  it is awe that brings us to the search for truth.  And it is awe that sustains us in the search.  It is the newborn baby that invites the search.  It is the loved one suddenly lost to death that demands it.  It is the insistence on the truth of humanity that stretches our hands to touch the truth of divinity.

But today, in this university, we come together as Christians around the table of the Lord who introduced himself to us as the Truth.  “I am the Way, the Life and the Truth,” he said.  Even as we know Jesus as the Truth and are touched by the truth of his Heart, we are in truth not allowed mental sloth nor allowed complacency.  We still feel impelled to search for truth.  I fill my world devoutly with Jesus as Truth – or so I think I do – yet I must search for truth in those who do not recognize Jesus as worth their attention, or in those who accept Jesus vaingloriously yet live as if they’ve never met him.  Knowing Jesus as Truth, I must yet search for truth in the horror of violence committed in the name of God that knows not its contradiction nor feels the shame of its blasphemy.  I must search for the truth of my participation, willy nilly, in that violence.

At this Mass which commemorates the truth of our redemption, we ask the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth, to aid us in our labor for knowledge and guide us in our need for wisdom.

We must labor in our search for truth for the knowledge that separates us from the ignorant, the superior knowledge that separates us from the mediocre.  We must labor humbly to master calculus, to learn the governing algorithms of the system, to appropriate the proper nursing skills, to grasp the principles of accounting.  We must labor to learn of our teachers, to study the theories of experts, to appropriate best practices, and so grow in knowledge of nature, the human being and of God from the treasures this university has access to in its faculty, its libraries, its relationship with the world of erudition.  For this labor against ignorance and ineptitude, we ask for the Spirit’s help.

But we beg for the Spirit’s guidance as we dare in truth to search for wisdom. Wisdom is a gift from God.  James says, “if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:15).  We seek not only to be knowledgeable but to be wise.  Wisdom is not only knowledge but good judgement.  Wisdom is not only knowing what fire is, but when to use it to warm our hearth and not to burn down our house.  It is not just knowing how to make a gun, but when to use it to promote good and thwart evil.  It is not just knowing the constitutional powers of political office, but knowing how to wield power effectively in favor of the common good.  It is not just knowing what is healthy, it is keeping healthy.  Knowledge is what is taught, wisdom is what is formed from centuries of discerning between folly and sagacity.  It is the power behind the ought.  Describing wisdom, Fr. De la Costa once said, “There is faith, hope and charity.  But the greatest of these is prudence.”

But in a Catholic university there is a deeper truth, to which we are invited in faith.  We gather here around the Eucharistic table where Jesus, one in his Passion with the infinite Compassion of his Father, expresses his Love for us in the Sacrifice of the Cross, saying, “Take me.  Eat.  This is my Body…  Take me.  Drink.  This is my Blood” (cf. Mt: 26:26-29).   When Jesus first spoke of himself as the Bread of life inviting all to take and eat, many of his disciples, scandalized by the foolishness of this, walked away and ceased being Jesus’ disciples (cf. John 6).  At this Mass of the Holy Spirit, we hear in our First Reading St. Paul’s words, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God, so that we may know the things given to us freely by God, which things we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by God, because they are foolishness to [a normal man]; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:12-14).  “For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” (1: Cor 1:18).  “My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor 2:4).

As our new academic year at Ateneo de Davao University commences, we call on God’s Spirit of Knowledge to guide us in our quest for knowledge. Beyond knowledge, we call on God’s Spirit of Wisdom to help us attain wisdom.  But beyond the wisdom of the world, we call on the power of God’s Spirit to strengthen us as we humbly encounter the folly of the Cross, the foolishness of a God’s love for us that endured so much pain that we might know his love.  We call on this Spirit to empower us to respond to the Crucified Lord not with the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of the wealthy, the oligarchs, the selfish, the powerful and the wise, but as “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10).  As fools for Christ, let us study hard to help the needy.  Enkindled by the fire of God’s love, let us work hard to empty ourselves in love for our God and neighbor.  As forgiven sinners, let us build one another up in love that as fools for Christ we might be one with God’s Spirit in renewing the face of the earth.


 

 

[Homily:  Mass of the Holy Spirit, Chapel of St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) , June 15 2017, 9:00 am]

In the Mass of the Holy Spirt of the Ateneo de Davao University we shall pray to the God Spirit of Knowledge to help our students attain knowledge.  We pray that in the pursuit of their various professions they learn the knowledge and skills they ambition.  We pray that the engineers learn their physics, that the computer scientists learn their algorithms, and that the nurses learn their operating-room skills.  For our emerging theologians at SATMI, we pray at this Mass of the Holy Spirit at SATMi that Spirit of God help them to attain the knowledge they require, the knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures, of their sacred and profane origins and the manner of their interpretation, the knowledge of salvation history, the knowledge of the key doctrines of the Church including its social teachings, the knowledge of the theological foundations of morality, the knowledge of the manner in which the Church cares for its people, the knowledge of canon law.  We pray for God’s help because no matter the discipline, the attainment of knowledge is an arduous task requiring rigorous study, and for the future servant of the people of God, whether religious or cleric, married or singly blessed, a heavy responsibility.  We are not interested in ignorant pastors.  The poorer the people we serve, the greater the necessity to serve them with knowledge not only of theology but of disciplines like anthropology, psychology, law, entrepreneurship and management to enrich and deepen our service.

We also pray to the God Spirit of Wisdom to lead our students to wisdom.  Knowledge is not enough.  Wisdom is required.  One begs humbly for wisdom in prayer, for wisdom is not just acquired.  It is a sublime gift.  St. James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you”  (James 1:5).  Yet St. Paul says, “…to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:8).  One begs for wisdom, as we beg for wisdom at this Mass of the Holy Spirit. It is not enough to know how to make a car; wisdom is required to discern when to drive it and when to keep it in a garage.  It is not enough to know what a friend is; wisdom is required to care for a friend, to enrich a friend’s life, and rejoice in a friend’s love.  It is not enough to know what love is; it takes wisdom to love or not to love, to manifest one’s burning desires or to keep them carefully discreet, to come closer to a beloved in distance, or to overcome cold distance in a warm embrace.  It is not enough to know psychology and how human groups function in different cultures; but it takes wisdom to advance love genuinely when there is a conflict in loves or a quarrel among friends.  It is not enough to know the myriad propositions of Church dogmas; it takes wisdom to open oneself daily to the quiet experience of God’s truth, who loves in truth, and to share of God’s truth with others.  It is not enough to know of the Word of God’s Love and to know the exigency to proclaim this in season and out of season; it takes wisdom to share the Word of God’s love with the lonely, the poor, the excluded, the homosexuals, the transsexuals but also with the straight, the wealthy, the powerful, and indeed the sinner, how to use it as hope for a person in despair or as a double-edged sword against injustice.  Fr. Horacio de la Costa, the historian and first Filipno Jesuit Provincial spoke of sublime wisdom when he said, “There is faith, hope and charity, but the greatest of these is prudence.”

But in SATMI there is a deeper truth, to which we are invited in faith.  We gather here around the Eucharistic table where we remember Jesus, one in his Passion with the infinite Compassion of his Father, expressing his Love for us in the Sacrifice of the Cross, saying, “Take me.  Eat.  This is my Body…  Take me.  Drink.  This is my Blood” (cf. Mt: 26:26-29).   When Jesus first spoke of himself as the Bread of Life inviting all to take and eat, many of his disciples, scandalized by the foolishness of this prospect, walked away and ceased being Jesus’ disciples (cf. John 6).  At this Mass of the Holy Spirit, we hear in our First Reading St. Paul’s words, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God, so that we may know the things given to us freely by God, which things we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by God, because they are foolishness to [a normal man]; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:12-14).  “For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” (1: Cor 1:18).  “My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor 2:4).

As our new academic year commences at SATMI, we call on God’s Spirit of Knowledge to guide us in our labors for knowledge. Beyond knowledge, we beg God’s Spirit of Wisdom to gift us with wisdom.  But beyond the wisdom of the world, we call on the power of God’s Spirit to strengthen us as we encounter the folly of the Christ’s Cross in awe, the foolishness of a God’s love for us that endured so much pain that we might know his love.  We call on this Spirit to empower us to respond to the Crucified Lord not with the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of the wealthy, the oligarchs, the selfish, the powerful and the wise, but as “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10).  St. Ignatius suggests we pray before the Crucified Lord, “If this is what you have done so foolishly for me in love, Lord, what have I done for you?  What am I doing for you?  What ought I do for you?”  As fools for Christ, let us study hard not for grades and academic distinctions, but to help the lost and the needy.  Enkindled by the fire of God’s love, let us empty ourselves foolishly in love for our God and neighbor.  As forgiven sinners, let us build one another up generously that as fools for Christ we might be one with God’s Spirit in transforming cultures and renewing the face of the earth.  In God’s Spirit let us embrace this foolish Jesus loving us and be filled with joy, for ultimately we are about joy.  “The joy of the Gospel,” Francis says, “fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.  Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.  With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (EG, 1).

 

 

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Orlando Cardinal Quevedo on Terrorism in Mindanao, etc.

Car Quevedo

[Fr; Romy Saniel, OMI, has shared Orlando Cardinal Quevedo’s answers to a foreign journalist’s questions.  They may be important thoughts for the questions we have about the situation in Mindanao today.]

 

Answers to questions from Our Sunday Visitor, U.S.A.

12 June 2017


1. Church and Government – Relationships

The Bishops have denounced corruption in the past in no uncertain terms. During the presidency of Corazon Aquino, the Bishops wrote a pastoral letter, entitled “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” The Bishops perceived that after the long regime of Martial Law which ended in 1986, the new government was not addressing government corruption effectively. During the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Bishops again wrote a pastoral letter on corruption entitled, “Justice Flows like a River.” In this letter the Bishops not only denounced government corruption but also inveighed against corruption in the business and even religious spheres. They called upon the laity to lead the battle against corruption, while providing them with doctrinal and moral guidance.

After the initial positive reaction to the pastoral statements, not much follow-up took place.

The present President’s war against corruption resonates with the Bishops’ sentiments, even if he has vented some anger against some Bishops who have been vocal against him. He generalizes the hypocrisy of the “Church,” the Bishops and priests. Against all the records of history, he believes that the Church will become irrelevant in a few years. The Bishops have been inclined to let him remain in his negativity. The Bishops have the highest credibility ratings. Moreover, reaction begets retaliation in even more virulent form. Many of the laity who have supported the President are now saying that in fighting the Church, the President is going too far.

The principle that the Bishops follow is the principle of “critical solidarity.” We are in solidarity with his intentions of crushing the nationwide drug menace that significantly involves powerful people. We are in solidarity with his move to develop the countryside and move away from “Manila centralism and imperialism.” We are in solidarity with his desire to develop agriculture rather than simply focus on industries. We are in solidarity with his avowed intention of forging peace with moderate Bangsamoro rebels and communist-inspired revolutionaries. He does have “option for the poor.”

But we are critical of the methods that he uses in the “drug war.” We are critical of the violations of human rights, the lack of due process and the killing of drug suspects and the lack of accountability for these. As a body of Bishops we have expressed this criticism officially and publicly. Many individual Bishops add their own critical statements.

In many issues of public concern the President has moved decisively. That is one significant reason why our faithful are generally supportive of the President, foul language and abuses not withstanding.

2. The Quality of Filipino Faith

Already in 1991 the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II) has observed that the faith of the Filipino is deep, solid, and resilient. But it has major flaws. It is to a great extent devotional, ritualistic, dwelling on externals. It is uninformed, an easy prey to bible-preaching evangelists. Most of all there is a dichotomy between faith and life. We believe but we do not practice what we believe. We have been sacramentalized but not evangelized. The consequence has been economic and political imbalances, such as poverty, the wide gap between rich and poor, corruption, structural injustice.

Hence we, the whole Church, have to embark on a journey of integral evangelization, one that seriously considers the Church’s mission of “integral liberation” as Pope Paul VI stated in his post-synodal exhortation, “Evangelii Nuntiandi.” It is a mission that includes as a constitutive dimension liberation from everything that oppresses the human person, especially sin.

Thus PCP-II more than 25 years ago. Its vision was for the Church to be a “Church of Authentic Disciples, a Church of the Poor, a Participatory Church, an Inculturated Church.”

The support of the faithful, including many priests and religious, for the violent methods in the drug war has highlighted once again the need for a new integral evangelization.

3. Terrorism, Other Concerns, and Martial Law

Terrorism is not simply a threat. It has been actual for many years in certain parts of Mindanao. We know that the Abu Sayaff Group (ASG) has been terrorizing foreigners, rich civilians, and Christians for many years through kidnapping for ransom. They are earning millions of dollars from these terroristic acts. They have murdered foreigners and Filipinos for not meeting their ransom demands. A Catholic priest was kidnapped with teachers from a Catholic school in Basilan many years ago. He was tortured and killed.

But ideological terrorism, ISIS style, is new vintage. Three militant groups have pledge allegiance to ISIS: the ASG, the Bangsamo Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and most recently the Maute group. It is the Maute group with its overtly anti-Christian actions (the destruction of a Catholic Cathedral and its religious images, the burning of a Protestant school, the killing of hostages who could not recite verses of the Qur’an, the hostaging of Christians, including a priest and Church personnel) that has projected the reality of terrorism in southern Mindanao unto the world screen.

The additional horror is that the recruitment of young people to the terrorist cause is going on in various parts of Muslim Mindanao. Another terrifying factor is the involvement of international terrorists from the Middle East and Southeast Asia. It has been said that ISIS wants to establish a center in Mindanao.

Martial Law has been the response of the President to the situation. It is a controversial decision, much protested by the Left which has its own on-going revolution against the government, a revolution dating back to the early 1970s.

As events unfold, many are beginning to be aware of facts and figures of rebellion against the law such as:

  • the connection between drugs and the Maute group,
  • between powerful politicians and drugs,
  • the extent of terrorist recruitment in many Moro communities in Mindanao,
  • the attraction of the ISIS ideology to young people disillusioned by the government’s failure to act on Bangsamoro aspirations for limited self determination.

Upon the request of the faithful for guidance, the Mindanao Bishops issued a statement that Martial Law can only be a means of last resort and must be temporary. At the time they wrote the statement, they said that they were not privy to the hard information available to the government regarding the Mindasnao situation. Therefore, they could not definitively declare that Martial Law is morally reprehensible. They warned against abuses and violations of human rights and called upon the faithful to be vigilant.

On the other hand, many Filipinos also believe that there are enough Philippine laws that authorize the President of the Philippines to deal with lawlessness, including terrorism.

Terrorism has its roots in injustices, discrimination, poverty, underdevelopment, government neglect, poor governance, and in historic biases and prejudices between Muslims and Christians.

Government has to address the economic and political roots of terrorism. Religious leaders of different faiths, educational institutions and churches have to effectively address the deep-seated biases, prejudices and erroneous religious beliefs beginning with the young.

These issues demand long term engagement.

4. A Cardinal in Mindanao

The mantra that Pope Francis has frequently articulated is for the Church to go to the peripheries, to the margins of society where life is most disadvantaged.

It seems to me that this is what Pope Francis did when he appointed a Cardinal in Mindanao, especially one from a war-ravaged and poverty-stricken region of southern Mindanao, an arena of armed conflict.

His message is special love for the Poor, option for the Poor. It is a message of Peace and Harmony among peoples of different religions. For this reason, during his trip to the Philippines to visit typhoon victims he prayed for the success of the peace process between the moderate Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government. He appealed for respect for the fundamental human rights of minorities (Christians and Indigenous Peoples) in the Bangsamoro territory. He and other leaders of the world’s religions also prayed for peace in southern Mindanao at the 2016 Assisi Day of Prayer.

5. Foreign Voices and the Philippine President

As of the moment the impact of international voices has little actual impact on the policies and practices of the President. He has said publicly that foreigners do not know the real problems of our country. They should not interfere. He has also said that if foreign government want to help, they should do so without conditions.

Foreign criticism reinforces the opinions of those contra-President and such criticism is given media mileage but does not dent the support of the pro-President majority.

Perhaps its impact may be felt only in the long term.

 


Answers to Questions from Polish OMI Magazine

14 June 2017


1. The Roots and Objectives of Terrorism

I can only speak of terrorism in the Philippines. I am not thoroughly familiar with the roots of terrorism in the Midlle East.

In the Philippines, there are two kinds of terrorism: one is criminal and the other is ideological.

The criminal kind is that of the Abu Sayaff Group (ASG), which split from the revolutionary Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in an ideological split. To support its rebel activities it began kidnapping people for ransom. This was so productive economically that the ideological motive gave way to the criminal. Today it is simply a lawless bandit group earning millions of dollars for their kidnapping activities. They have no qualms of conscience killing those they kidnap, foreigners and Filipinos, who cannot or do not wish to give the necessary ransom. Their leader declared his allegiance to the ISIS ideology but this declaration, many people believe, is just to claim an image of political ideology.

Ideological terrorism is that of the recently founded Maute group which broke away from the revolutionary Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Maute brothers declared their allegiance to the ISIS ideology and raised the black ISIS flag in their sudden and quick take-over of the city of Marawi. Their aspiration and objective is the return of the golden age of the Caliphates, i.e., of the prophet and first Caliph, Mohammad. They wish to establish a caliphate in Mindanao, independent of the Philippine government, ideally free of “infidels.”

The Maute group destroyed the religious images in the Catholic Catheral of Marawi and razed the Cathedral to the ground. They also burned down a Protestant college, hostaged many Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, including a Catholic priest and Church personnel. They killed civilians trapped in the city if they could not recite verses from the Qur’an. They call as martyrs their members who have been killed in the on-going siege of Marawi. They are attracting many Muslim youth to their cause.

The roots of terrorism include:

  • perceived social injustice,
  • poverty and underdevelopment,
  • government neglect,
  • discrimination,
  • historic biases and prejudices between Muslims and Christians in the Philippines, and
  • failure of the government to respond effectively to the fundamental aspirations of the Bangsamoro (Moro nation).

Since the beginning of the American colnization of the Philippines in 1900, the Bangsamoro have aspired for self-determination. Their present aspiration is for limited self-determination or autonomy that is qualitatively wider than the autonomy of the present Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao – ARMM.

Also an important factor for the rise of terrorism is the influence of secularism in society. Ideological terrorism reacts aggressively against western secularist ideology that does not recognize the necessity of God and religion in public discourse and introduces a public morality without any reference to God or to any religious faith. Therefore, ideological terrorism is against the westernization or secularization of culture, an emerging global culture which the Bishops in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) have also written against. Another objective then of ideological terrorism is the purification, preservation and promotion of pure Islamic faith in accord with their interpretation of the Qur’an. It is an interpretation that mainstream Islamic scholars have declared as selective and erroneous.

Such are the roots of terrorism in the Philippines.

2. Terrorists and Christianity in the Philippines

The theory of a clash of civilizations does not apply to the rebellions of Moros in the Philippines and recent-day terrorism.

Armed conflicts between Muslims and Christians in the Philippines go back to the 16th century when, in 1521, the Spanish explorer, Magellan, brought Christianity to the islands. Later the Spaniards later called Las Islas Filipinas, after King Philip of Spain.

But by 1521 Islam had already been established in the islands for more than 250 years. Muslim sultans ruled the islands, including Manila. They exercised sovereignty over a large swath of islands from Luzon to Mindanao. Spain tried to conquer the entire Philippines after defeating the Muslim rulers of Manila in the latter part of the 1500’s, but were not successful in conquering the Moros in Mindanao.

It was, therefore, first a political clash and secondly a religious clash, as the Spaniards tried to conquer and convert the Moros by the sword and Cross. The Moros successfully resisted the Spanish attempts through the next four hundred years to conquer and convert them. The historic bias and prejudice between Muslims and Christians were born and deepened in these years of armed conflict.

In 1898, the Americans defeated the Spaniards in the Spanish- American war. The minoritization of Moros in the land of Mindanao which they had owned and and ruled for six centuries began. Government programs opened up Mindanao to waves and waves of Christian migrants from the central and northern islands of the Philippines. In the space of less than fifty years, from 1920 to 1965, the majority Muslims became a minority, limited in territory to what is at present the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

In the early 1970s the revolutionary MNLF took up the cause of Moro independence through armed warfare. Terrorism (the Abu Sayaff and later the BIFF and Maute groups) arose when peace negotiations between successive Moro liberation fronts and the government failed.

Hence, the Moro fight against infidels emerged from Christian attempts to conquer and convert the Moros. They then also attempted to do the same through armed jihad against the Christians.

The escalation of jihadism from the Middle East to the Philippines was first a political one, as the ummah ( Muslim spirit of brotherhood) attracted Filipino recruits to fight against foreign invaders in Afghanistan and Iraq. The religious factor became prominent in the emergence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq and later of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

For the Philippines then, a clash of civilization is not applicable to explain terrorism. Neither is a hatred for Christians the reason for terrorism if considered apart from the political history of conquest. For in general despite deep seated biases and prejudices, ordinary Chistians and Muslims in the Philippines live together in relative harmony and peace. Even in the Maute siege, Muslim employers helped their Christian workers to safety, while in Iligan Christians assist Muslim refugees who fled from Marawi.

 3. Inter-Religious Dialogue and Hope in the Reality of Terrorism

Given the reality of terrorism in Mindanao it is my belief that inter-religious dialogue (IRD) is not only possible but also necessary.

At present there are IRD movements in various parts of Mindanao. At the regional level, the Bishops-Ulama Conference meets regularly. This body consists of Catholic Bishops, Protestant leaders and Muslim ulama. It meets quarterly to discuss social concerns of mutual interest and sometimes conduct a dialogue of theological exchange. It initiated a Mindanao Week of Peace that is celebrated all over Mindanao during the season of Advent.

Other dioceses have replicated the Bishops-Ulama Conference and now hold similar group IRD discussions involving Priests and Religious, Protestant pastors, Muslim ulama and imams, including lay people of different religious traditions.

With the tragic reality of terrorism, IRD has become more imperative and indispensable. It is the task of religious leaders to address the root causes of terrorism, especially false beliefs of their respective constituents about others, the mutual biases and prejudices that are deep-seated and sometimes explode into the open when social disputes, crimes, and violence occur.

Such tasks of correcting erroneous beliefs and eradicating or least substantially reducing biases and prejudices have to start from early childhood through parenting at home, through informal and formal education, in religious schools, and through simply being together in ordinary day-to-day dialogue of life. Such dialogue takes place in markets, offices, in schools, in work places, in the streets.

While it may not be possible to dialogue with terrorist themselves, their religious scholars could convince them of their erroneous Qur’anic interpretation. But many Mindanao terrorists and disillusioned youth could be dissuaded by political action, specifically the early government approval of the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that expresses the basic aspirations of the Bangsamoro for self-determination in their own territory under the sovereignty of the country.

Peace and reconciliation, therefore, are not impossible. There is realistic hope despite terrorism. Ordinary Christians and Muslims want to continue living in peace.

 4. Filipino Joy in the midst of Poverty

Even in the apparent hopelessness of poverty, Filipino faith is deep and resilient. We believe strongly that everything, every time and season, fortune and misfortune are in the hands of God. Everything depends on God’s will. In misfortune and disaster Filipinos do grieve deeply but also have the ability to laugh, rather than curse the darkness.

The Filipino spirit of united voluntary cooperation, bayanihan, also helps promote joy. The poor help one another. Thus poor farmers do bayanihan, planting and harvesting.

They welcome one another with warm hospitality. The strong family kinship is transported abroad where poor overseas Filipino workers missing their families back home greet one another kuya (brother) or ate (sister) thus reducing homesickness and giving one another some sense of family joy.

Such are some cultural and religious reasons that create the Filipino spirit of joy in the midst of poverty and daily struggles for a better life.

 

+Orlando B. Cardinal Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines

 

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May Atty. Boy Rest in Peace

Homily:  Mass of Christian Burial of Atty. Marcos “Boy” Risonar, Davao Memorial Park, 14 June 2017

 

07risonarThis afternoon we come together in Eucharistic celebration to lay to rest Atty. Marcos “Boy” Risonar.

It is ironic that in a moment of such intense bereavement we come together in “celebration.”  His passing is the painful loss of a son, a father, a husband, a brother, the untimely death of a champion of the poor, a fighter for human rights, an advocate of genuine land reform, a revolutionary driven by a love for the downtrodden and a desire in God’s name to bring justice to each man and each woman in our troubled society.  As those who genuinely champion social justice and are willing to pay for it as he did in detention are rare, it is difficult to call this gathering a “celebration.”

Yet that is what it is.  God has called Atty. Boy to himself, and though we may wish to re-write his life story to give him more time with us, to allow him to serve his beloved farmers through his labors in the Department of Agrarian Reform a bit more, and to enjoy the care of his mother, the love of his wife, the blossoming of his children, and the smiles, laughter and affection of his grandchildren a bit more, the Lord seems to have had other plans.  When his cancer could no longer be contained, God called him to himself, possibly to spare him more pain, or possibly to spare the family more suffering, but more probably simply to bring him earlier to his eternal reward in heaven.  Jesus said, whatever he did for the wronged laborer, for the struggling fisherman, for the toiling peasant, for the mother, wife, child or grandchild whom he loved, that he did for him.  We celebrate because despite our loss, we are filled with hope that to him the Lord, the Judge of the universe, will say:  “Come, you who were blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and your gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. … For whatever you have done to one of these the least of my sisters and brother that you have done to me.” (cf. Mt: 25:31-46).

We gather in celebration.  But ours is Eucharistic celebration.  Atty. Boy participated in this Eucharistic celebration many times in his life, regularly in the parish church of St. Paul, and recently for the Simbanggabi Novena as Christmas approached in the Chapel of the Assumption of the Ateneo de Davao University.  At these Masses that are one with the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord,  Atty Boy fulfilled that which his baptism entitled him to do together with the Christian Community: he offered to his Father the Body and Blood of Jesus; he participated in and so became part of the Paschal Mystery by which death is dealt its death blow, so that all who believe in Christ might live not unto death but unto eternal life.  Ultimately, this is why, even in our moment of bereavement, we can speak of celebration, Eucharistic celebration.  It is through this Eucharist that we know Atty. Boy redeemed, pulled into the life of the Trinity, and one now with the Father and the saints of heaven.

As we lay him to rest, we wish to thank the Father for all the blessings we received through Atty. Boy as a revolutionary, a fighter, a public servant, a loving member of the family, a friend.  As we lay him to rest, through the community of the Church, may we not forget his goodness.  Instead may we carry on that which God left undone for us to carry on.  The harvest is plentiful but the laborers like Atty. Boy are few.  Pray God the Lord of the harvest to send us into the fields.

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