The Academic Role vs. the Merely Academic Role

[Introductory Remarks to the ADMU School of Government’s Academic Conference on “The Future of Mining in the Philippines.” ADMU, SDC, 22 November 2011]

In these introductory remarks, I certainly do not want to pre-empt the presentations that are to be made by experts more knowledgeable than myself, These include evaluative presentations on mining with respect to the environment, with respect to law and policy, with respect to economics (including the distribution of the economic benefits), with respect to social costs. As an outcome of this academic exercise, I think we all wish to be enlightened about: “the Future of Mining in the Philippines.” Does mining in the Philippines have a future? Are there any recognizable conditions for this future? Are these conditions at all achievable? I am certain the discussion on these questions will be sanguine.

On the other hand, some remarks from me concerning the “academic nature” of this discussion may be in order. Academe, with its own rites and robes, its culture and imperatives, may sometimes be considered “set apart,” “neutral”. For ADMU, academe is something which happens “on the hill” from which one comes down when graduating in the real world. Academe is the world of rarified books, and robust research and measured language, the careful balancing of positions so that all sides of a problem are weighed and considered. Academe loves theses and anti-theses, and antinomies all the more! Out of such, emerge the grand academic papers, the doctorates, the reports, that for their academic nature, can sometimes be taken seriously, or roundly dismissed.

But, I think we may all agree, the spirit of academe is betrayed if it remains merely on the purely theoretical plane, and misses somehow to connect with reality, to utter truth. The venerable Fr. Ferriols decried academic exercises when they remained purely in the realm of concepts – “sa daigdig ng mga puro konsepto.” For dwellers in these merely-conceptual worlds, he had a simple characterization: “tanga!”

The academic discussion, in my view, can play the indefatigable searcher for truth, painstakingly gathering data and generating theories to articulate truth, none of which ever quite make it. In its sincerity to find truth, academe can also play the honest broker, seeking to mediate between opposed positions, finding its joy in reconciling opposed positions, as between those who are pro-mining and anti-mining.. In both of these roles, however, truth may be sidelined – by the sheer endlessness of the academic search, which sneers at reality making unenlightened decisions, or by the horror that the reconciled position often has nothing to do with reality. Something that is “merely academic” is irrelevant.

I would like to suggest that the academic discussion that we promise ourselves today on a very contention subject not be “merely academic.” For what is “academic” in a university that is Jesuit, Catholic, and Filipino cannot mean merely “neutral,” but is rather committed to strain for the Truth: the truth of Creation, the truth of this world created for all people, the truth of repeated abuse of and sin against Creation, the truth of our shared need to come to common Reconciliation with Creation. It must connect to the perceived 187 billion dollars worth of minerals in the Philippines that, environmentalists argue, are integral part of ecosystems of mountains, forests, rivers, animals, flowers, streams, oceans, including the human being, his communities, his tribes, his peoples, his cultures and civilizations. Our Constitution says that these minerals belong to the State, not national government alone, not the IPs alone, nor the private investors alone, and certainly not the foreign “contractors” alone. It must connect to the awesome power of the mining companies to harm, to disturb, to destroy, not just for now, but for generations and generations to come. It must strive, with the evidence at hand, to take clear position for truth, aware that if it does not take this position, those who abuse truth do. Those who abuse truth, abuse life. They lie. They kill.

I wish you a meaningful academic discussion.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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