Coming Together to Move Forward

Inaugural Address as President of the Ateneo de Davao University

Good afternoon.

First, a word from my heart: I am thrilled that you are here! Thank you all for coming – from Zamboanga, Cagayan de Oro, Bacolod, Iloilo, Cebu, Las Piñas, Manila, Hong Kong and Connecticut! I thank especially Dr. Licuanan and Bro. Armin for taking time out from their busy schedules to be here; I feel specially honored. I thank Fr. Jojo Magadia and all my brother Jesuits here, including the Presidents of the other Ateneos: Fr. Tony Moreno of Ateneo de Zamboanga University, Fr. Bobby Yap of Xavier University, Fr. Jun Viray of Ateneo de Naga University (AdNU) and Fr. Jett Villarin of Ateneo de Manila University. Warmest thanks to all who are here from the AdNU and the city of Naga. I thank the friends of my youth and my relatives who are here from far and wide. When I was studying at the ADMU and my sisters at Maryknoll, Joe Mari Chan used to bring us to school in his car; I am so happy that he and his wife, Mary Ann, are here. I am overjoyed especially that my step-mother, Mom Es, and my father have come to grace this occasion – with all his 92 years of life, love and wisdom. I thank all of you who represent the community of the Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU). I am thrilled! I take it: you are here, in good will, in love, in friendship and in support of the mission that has been given to me by the Board of Trustees of the AdDU. It is a mission, I believe, that comes to me as a Jesuit ultimately from God. It is a sacred trust for special service. Your being here affirms me in this mission, inspires me, gives me courage, and shall always be a special source of inspiration and strength as I meet the challenges ahead.

Second, another word from the heart: I am also thrilled to be here! Those of you here from Naga know how much I love the Ateneo de Naga and how that love can never die. I went to the AdNU in 1999 with only one friend; when I left AdNU a little over a month ago, it was being separated from hundreds of friends that was most difficult. Your surprise send-off at the airport brought me to tears! These have been friends who helped me learn the ropes of University administration, meet challenges of ongoing improvement in delivering quality basic and tertiary education in Bikol, helped me discover and accept responsibilities in contributing to the improvement of education in the Philippines. Despite today’s pain of separation, it was you who empowered me with the knowledge, insight, and the experience that enables me to face the challenges of Ateneo de Davao today with equanimity and a smile. For this, Ateneo de Naga, thank you! I thank you as a graduate thanks an alma mater for preparing him to face the challenges of the world. And as a well-trained graduate is not daunted but thrilled by the challenges that the world brings, I am thrilled to be here at the Ateneo de Davao!

I am thrilled to be here also because of what I have experienced since I arrived a little over a month ago on May 15.

First, Mindanao is beautiful! My hobby is photography. My camera is in love with Mindanao, and I feel I am on a honeymoon! On a trip to Koronadal in South Cotabato we were awed at the beauty of Mt. Matutum in the morning light. We travelled further to marvel at the beauty of Lake Sebu in the late afternoon light, after being dumbstruck at just one of its seven waterfalls. One Sunday, despite the rain, we went wild photographing incredible flowers on the way up to Lake Agco on Mount Apo; it was close to the steaming medicinal mud of this lake that I resolved one day to climb this highest mountain of the Philippines; I have since applied through Mr. Benjie Lizada for inclusion in the challenging mountaineering group called, “The Social Climbers.” Recently, on the suggestion of some of our student leaders, we travelled along the scenic Pacific coast of Davao Oriental, admiring gentle beaches and rolling waves, eventually to reach Cateel and its cascading Aliwagwag Falls. It took my breath away. On the way back through the highlands leading to Compostela valley, we saw trees as high as ten stories, giant ferns, and lush primary growth forests, and we prayed that all that natural beauty be preserved for future generations.

It is in this context of natural beauty, that I have met members of the community of the AdDU, and some of the people with whom they work. In the encounter with its faculty, staff, teachers and students, I have met another type of beauty: people responding courageously to problems in society and in the environment, even as they continue to care for and love their lives, their jobs, their families and their friends; people believing that the Jesuit, Catholic and Filipino University in Davao has a major role to play in this response. I have met people seriously interested in the defense of the upland watersheds, struggling with how to respond to politically powerful personalities who allegedly grab lands and take lives with impunity. I have met government officials and church officials appalled by 800-plus summary executions carried out locally; they are now calling for mass action on July 1st to demand that this stop. I have met people who passionately believe that the air we breathe must be free of the toxins brought by chemical agricultural spraying. I have met people who are convinced, rightly, that the deathblow to our forests is the deathblow to the future of our planet and of our race. I have met people passionate about protecting our mountains, our rivers, streams and coastal areas from the ravages of open-pit mining, and people deeply concerned about climate change, and the need to protect the environment against human industries that further pollute or damage it. I have met people passionate about peace in Mindanao, passionate about “waging peace” in an area of our country where too long, due to deep misunderstandings between clashing cultures, people have been waging war. In waging peace, I have met people hungry and thirsty for justice and judicial reform as indispensible requisites for waging peace, even as they are aware that this hunger and thirst can put them in harm’s way. I have also met people passionate about eliminating corruption and what Dr. Ronnie Amorado calls the “Kakistocracy,” that is, “the rule of the unprincipled, unethical and the unqualified” both in the public and private spheres. Among these I have also met people committed to eliminating smuggling in our city’s ports, no matter the cost. I have also met people deeply concerned that life and its demands are increasingly pulled away from the current concerns and diminishing influence of the Catholic Church, and that society seems to have yielded its moral leadership to the priests and priestesses of secular fashion, consumerism and hedonism.

When I was still in training as a Jesuit scholastic, I got involved in Jesuit vocations promotions through a group called the Jesuit Contacts. Our Provincial Superior at that time, Fr. Benigno Mayo, told us: “When you look for prospective Jesuits, search for the wild horses. Wild horses you must tame – only tame. If you get the lazy horses, you will have to push them from behind. When you do so, they kick you!” I am happy that the people I have encountered here at the ADDU are not lazy horses, but wild steeds, passionate in their desire to respond to the problems of society. I am certain as President I will not have to be pushing them from behind. What I think I will be doing is pulling them together, helping them to run together, and not apart from one another, and certainly not against one another! What I think I will be doing is clarifying to where we are all running together and why, bringing to bear the concerted, thunderous power of wild steeds running together onto the problems that challenge us.

What We Already Share

We will not have to push from behind. Together, especially after the multi-sectoral University Planning Workshop we conducted in Eden Nature Park last 19-23 May, 2011, we know we are first a university committed by that fact to instruction, research and community service.

We agree that our instruction must be excellent, providing not only quality basic education and competent professional training in such as engineering, nursing, communications, and entrepreneurship, but just as important, providing competent human training., forming our students to use their freedom to grow as human beings: to learn avidly, to love fully, to recognize the difference between right and wrong, to choose right over wrong, and so to take their place responsibly in society. We agree that we have not done this well enough, that many who are corrupt in high places have come from our classrooms, and that we must work hard to improve our output here. We agree that university research must be done, not just by certain individuals or institutes from the periphery of the university, but from its center. It is the same with outreach. Outreach must not be outsourced to individuals or institutes on the fringes of the University, it must emerge from its center. We agree, instruction must be enhanced by our research and outreach, just as our research must be enriched by what is learned or not learned in the classroom, and informed by what is encountered in serving our communities. We agree that outreach must be driven by the commitment to communicate truth to our students and the commitment to search for truth for our world.

That is the university. But we also agree that our university must be Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino. As Catholic it must proceed ex corde ecclesiae, from the heart of the Church. Its heart must be Jesus Christ, whose Love for us even today manifests the Love of the Father for ourselves and our world. As Jesuit, it must appropriate the fourfold mission of the Society of Jesus, committing itself , first, to the proclamation of the Faith; second, to the promotion of Justice without which the Faith is a lie; third, to sensitivity to cultures, and fourth, to inter-cultural and interreligious dialogue at the frontiers of today’s world. As Filipino, it must prepare its sons and daughters to engage the world locally and globally as trained and savvy Filipinos; it must allow the world to impact on it with openness, but also with critical self-possession.

On these, we agree. This is our shared mission. Here, we will not have to push horses from behind, but we will harness the passions and energies already within to move forward.

Moving Forward Together

But we will move forward together. How shall we learn to come together more?

I will invite all to come together more as a community of professionals and of friends in the Lord, even while respecting the right of members of our community to organize within the parameters of law. I will invite all especially to open themselves to a more intimate friendship with the Lord, who shall lead us to a deeper friendship with each other as he missions us to greater university engagement with our world. I will invite all to discover this friendship and the joy of this friendship especially through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola complemented by a formation and spirituality program to introduce new faculty and staff to the culture of the Ateneo de Davao, and to nurture those who commit their lives to its service in this spirituality. I will pray that these efforts – fully dependent on God’s grace – succeed in his power and his Spirit, in the hope that this intimate friendship with the Lord can be better shared with our students and the communities we serve.

For this, with the approval of the Board of Trustees and religious superiors, we will build and create structures to support our coming together – in work, in reflection, in study, in sports and recreation, in prayer and in worship – among these a Community Center and a center for the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in Samal. We will also work hard together to better compensate performance in mission-based instruction, research and outreach.

In this spirit of friendship in shared mission, where will we go?

With St. Ignatius and the Philippine Province, I shall invite all to a deeper openness “to thinking with the Church,” especially the local Church. The local Church of Mindanao has distinguished itself in discovering life and vibrancy in basic ecclesial communities; it has also distinguished itself through the Bishops-Ulama Conference in dialogue with the Muslim Community. As a Jesuit and Catholic University we will continue to work with the local Church in these areas. But also in a grateful proclamation of our belief in Jesus Christ, and the beatitude of belief in him for human wholeness and hope in an increasingly secular and troubled world.

Further, I will invite all to deliberate and discern on how we can best address the concerns specifically of Mindanao. The concerns of Mindanao are myriad.

Among them are the challenges to belief in a loving God of peace, the challenges to dialogue, a deeper understanding of our plural cultures in Mindanao, the call for inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. In this context, I propose that AdDU become the center of anthropological instruction and research in Mindanao, in order that we might better appreciate and celebrate its plural cultures and improve our service to our students and families in contemporary society.

There are painful concerns with problems of individual and social justice, of crass violations with impunity of human rights, the right to life, and the right to private property. I propose that AdDU, especially through its law school, be a center of judicial reform in Mindanao and in the country. I propose that the University through the law school also come to the service of the national community in helping draft and advocate laws that complement our outreach services.

Of deep concern to members of our University community are problems related to the environment. What can be done to protect the environment from irresponsible mining activities? What can be done to mitigate the ill-effects of human activity on climate? I propose that we make ADDU a vibrant center for environmental conservation and preservation, and that we ally ourselves with other similarly-minded universities and NGOs for this purpose nationwide and worldwide. In the context of our ongoing and increasing need for energy, I propose that we make the ADDU a center for instruction, research and outreach in renewable energy – hydro and wind energy, but especially solar energy.

I am certain, as our dialogue and discernment within the university progress, we will more deeply recognize to where we are being missioned as a University. With the ample yet limited resources we have, we must look at the issues and prioritize the areas of our intervention, even as we continue to ally ourselves with other Catholic schools and universities through the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) or with other like-minded colleges and universities through the Coordinating Council for Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA). Our interventions must be university-level interventions, well-researched and well-thought out. We will not satisfy ourselves, nor help others appropriately, with mere appeals. We will labor and search for solutions.

Finally with the CEAP and the COCOPEA, and in the presence of Bro. Armin and of Dr. Licuanan, allow me to say that we will do all in our power to improve the quality of our own instruction in basic and in higher education through our own structures of quality assurance. In this context, we will proactively support the efforts of government to improve our national educational delivery through the K-12 program. This is clearly an educational adjustment that will not only affect basic but tertiary education as well. Next year, we will be telling our incoming high school freshmen that they will have six more years to study before reaching college. I propose, Bro Armin and Tatti, that you allow the ADDU and other similarly minded private schools to take the initiative in designing years 11 and 12 so that our graduates of this program would be ready either for work or for college by 2018. If allowed, the pioneering efforts of a University such as ours may offer the nation a paradigm of educational excellence for the future.

As Friends in the Lord and in His Mission

Together, as a university, Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino, I know we can surge forward. We do so profoundly conscious that we will build on the achievements of those who have preceded us. We build on the administration of Fr. Ting Samson who wisely led our community away from what has been referred to as its “dark ages,” brought the university to its coveted PAASCU institutional accreditation, and wisely shepherded the resources of the university to the powerhouse it is today. We build on the achievements of Fr. Ed Martinez, who presided over the bold expansion of the AdDU, building out its academic programs and facilities, giving AdDU, despite its limitation in land size, world-class instructional facilities. We build on the insight, sensitivity, vision and energy of our founding father, Fr. Ted Daigler, SJ. Just as we build on the excellence of such as Fr. Rudy Malasmas, Fr. James Donelan, Fr. Jorge Esguerra, and of our lay partners such as Ms. Zenaida de los Santos, Mr. Orlando Darang, Ms. Luzviminda Ilagan, Ms. Aida Rivera Ford, Ms. Connie Echevaria, Atty. Epiphanio Estrellado, Atty Hildegardo Iñigo. We surge forward knowing that our strength shall always be in running together as friends in the Lord, powered by our shared mission from the Lord, caring for each other and caring for those whom we are privileged to serve.

In this service, today, together we pray for generosity, begging the Lord to teach us his generosity, to teach us the service that he and our people deserve, finding our deepest joy in knowing that we do his holy will.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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