The Atenean in Politics, Public Service and Development

[Address: ADMU Ignatiana Festival, July 21 2012]

It is not quite clear why I have been chosen to be with you in this segment of your Ignatian Festival entitled, “The Atenean in Politics, Public Service and Development.” I am not a political practitioner. The zenith of my personal political career was a class election, and I have never served in any public service position. I am a Jesuit, though, concerned for such as the urban poor, peace, human rights, inter-cultural and interreligious dialogue, educational reform, food security, climate change, and the environment. That might qualify me for “development.”

I think, however, the organizers just wanted me to help animate reflection on the Atenean in politics, public service and development – and its possible relationship to Ignatian spirituality. I am honored to partner with Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. For me she is an example of how Ateneo de Manila University education and formation can condition a student’s blossoming into highly-competent public service grounded in Ignatian spirituality that demands uncompromising integrity and an appropriate lifestyle. I am glad you have heard her personal testimony in this regard.

Unfortunately, Ateneo education does not always have this result.

Ateneans in Public Service

I have been introduced as having spent time in Ateneo de Naga. I am now in Ateneo de Davao. And I am an alumnus of Ateneo de Manila. From my experience, various names of Ateneans in public service come to mind: Abang Mabulo, Dato Arroyo, Jesse Robredo, John Bongat, Sonny Dominguez, Jesus Dureza, Paul Dominguez, Rey Magno Teves, Antonio Carpio, Benjie Lizada, Beng Climaco, Aquilino Pimentel, Ernie Garilao, Ronnie Puno, Junjun Capistrano, Risa Hontiveros, Luz Ilagan, Walden Bello, Dick Gordon, Jejomar Binay, Butch Abad, Paquito Ochoa, Renato Corona, and Noynoy Aquino. I am sure you can think of many more. Jun Dalandan’s incomplete list of ADMU alumni and alumnae currently in political office or public service already includes 263 names.

What Binds Ateneans Together?

All Ateneans. Yet, not all the same. People who come from Ateneo de Naga are Ateneans, are they not? Even from the Ateneo de Davao, Ateneo de Zamboanga, and Ateneo de Cagayan de Oro, Ateneo de Iloilo, they are Ateneans, are they not? What binds Ateneans together? There was a time being an Atenean meant they shared the same English accent. There was something arreneeow about all Ateneans. Is that what binds Ateneans together? But that Ateneo accent that was once cultivated through a liberal use of Hausman’s exercises – remember: “Thirty thousand Thebans went thrashing through the thicket”? – no longer seems to be used, must less hold Ateneans together. In fact, in the political world of today, as President Aquino has demonstrated, eloquentia is best manifested not in English, but in Pilipino. Taglish today is spoken by most, oblivious to canons of eloquence. When you talk to older alumni, some of their fondest memories are of days when there were still no alumnae, so that that which binds them together are experiences of post and jug and wack-wack that resulted from juvenile pranks that challenged the gods of the campus! In those days the female was still the object of one’s erotic fantasies on the other side of the creek, and their occasional arrival on this all-male campus was an event that would cause students in neckties to abandon their books in the library and rush through the corridors to stare at the spectacle specimens in green and gold from Maryknoll. Otherwise what bound Ateneans and continues to bind them together was that they were not La Sallites, and that during Ateneo-La Salle games they were on the right side of the stadium, cheering “Fablioh!” and “Halikinu-kini-kina”. But of course, the Blue Eagle is very different from the Blue and Gold Knight which is quite different from the Davao Eagle. Just as the academic experience of teacher Greg Abonal in Naga was different from the experience of Onofre Pagsanghan in Manila and of Macario Tiu in Davao. For some, the greatest Ateneo Jesuit was Roque Ferriols, for others it was John Phelan, for others it was Rudy Malasmas.

There is an Ateneo experience, I think. But it is not evenly spread, not evenly distributed. One immerses oneself in a smorgasbord of knowledge and values, of training in the humanities and in professional skills. Depending on the titans and dwarfs, the lights and shadows, the leaders and the goof-offs available on campus and in the world in one’s time, one gets what one gets, at times soaring to the heights, and other times not quite taking off, at times moving from insight to wisdom, at others, well, just moving on. A glorious part of the Ateneo experience is friendship. Friendships made in school, formed in shared struggle against the same terrors or in shared suffering under the same disciplinary regime or in shared joy from the same intramurals, class nights, parties and haunts, are among the great treasures of the Ateneo.

But friendships are personal affairs, gifts of fortuitousness or grace, experienced in vastly different ways. There are friendships in crime, as well as friendships in the Lord. Where there is so little of the Ateneo experience shared by all, what do we expect of the litany of names of Ateneans in politics and public life? Can we expect that because they have gone to a Jesuit school they shall behave in the same manner and with the same values. In fact, they don’t. Can we expect that they will all work together in camaraderie, friendship and integrity where politics demands compromise, realpolitik, and sometimes even ruthlessness? They don’t. Can we righty expect that they will be paragons of service and integrity?

We expect this, don’t we? “Men and women for others!” is it not? Christian education. They were taught about God, the human being, and the world, the difference between right and wrong. They were taught to go to Mass on Sundays, to read the bible, to pray. Many still carry a rosary in the pockets. Some actually pray it – and even know that there are now five luminous mysteries whose center is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Most made retreats, many at a time when retreats were part of the formation requirements of the Atenean. Now, in step with unquestioned Ateneo tradition, they work hard to give their kids a Jesuit education. But are we surprised when we meet Ateneans who are not what we expect? Are we shocked when they have made decisions that favor selfish interests rather than the common good? We take notice. We raise an eyebrow. But how do we show we care?

For a gathering such as this a legitimate question would be: on what do we found our expectations of Ateneans who are in politics, public life or development?

How does Ateneo Relate to the World of Public Service in General?

Of course we know that students who go through the regime of training and formation at any particular era in the history of the Ateneo remain free. In fact, the hope is that they grow in freedom. The Ateneo does not fabricate robots, nor is it a military school where cadres are commanded all to march in the same direction, shouting the same slogans, yielding obedience to the same leader, shooting all at the same enemy. The Ateneo has no ability to order its minions against an enemy.

Ateneans, we imagine, are taught to think, to reflect, and to judge and act in freedom. The freedom, we imagine, is formed at the university.

If they choose a life of virtue, well and good; that confirms the school in the quality of its education and formation.

If they choose a life of vice and corruption, it is chosen in their freedom and does not necessarily detract from the school’s quality.

If in public service their judgments and actions fall short of the demands of social justice and the common good, it is ultimately their fault, and not the school’s.

While all this in fact may be true, it may also be an invitation to us to do a better job at our work of education and formation. How committed is the Ateneo institution to the challenge of social transformation? When we look at the regime in our school –the manner in which we conduct our classes, the manner in which we converse with and challenge our students to service, the manner in which we influence their convictions on what in life is big and what in life is petty – on what do we base our expectation of Ateneans in public service?

More Pro-Active Training and Preparation for Public Leadership

St. Ignatius was a leader. He had a great appreciation for leaders. I believe he looked to our schools to serve as venues for the education and formation of leaders for the Kingdom of God.

Without going into great detail, allow me to suggest that those of us who are responsible for Ateneo education, administrators, faculty members, counselors, coaches, moderators and the like, need to review the manner in which we are educating and forming Ateneans from the perspective of leadership towards the common good. By this I mean a leadership that comes from freely accepting the challenges to work for the common good.

As a Jesuit University we are first and foremost a university. In the long-standing tradition of universities, that means a community, a universitas, of teachers and students who of their own accord come together in the pursuit of truth in academic freedom. The truth that is sought is theoretical, the truth necessary to understand huge topics such as God, humanity, and nature. There is a God. It is wonderful and meaningful to be human. The universe is awesome. But truth is also practical, the truth that founds my convictions of what ought to be in our world and in the world in which we live. It is a pursuit of truth that is anything but superficial, just as it is a confrontation with the ought that is anything but safe. It is here in the university that that must be done.

As a university we are Jesuit. From GC 34, this is easily explained. We are a university that in its autonomy accepts the mission of the Society of Jesus. Since the time of Ignatius, I believe that mission has been constant. The propagation and defense of the faith. But over the years it has been more and more profoundly unpacked. Today it is the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, sensitivity to cultures, inter-religious dialogue, the preservation and defense of the environment at the frontiers of our experience. If realized, that makes for exciting university life proceeding from the heart of the Church. From the perspectives of the faith in an increasingly secularized, confused, and sometimes deranged world, from the perspectives of poverty and the inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity, from the perspectives of a global culture militating against the richness of local cultures and of our culture contributing to the richness of global culture, from the perspectives of the wealth of diverse religions and our need to learn from them, the university is where the demands of social justice are discovered and articulated.

This is no easy thing. I believe we have yet to organize our various academic disciplines to come together in this ongoing articulation. But it is here in the realm of the imperative for social justice that academe must come alive in public relevance. It is here where the contentious multi-disciplinary multi-stakeholder discussion on mining vs. the environment vs. agriculture vs. tourism, or on climate change vs. industrial growth vs. consumerism, or on population growth vs. economic development, or on private sector growth vs. the national patrimony and the like must be carried out. The demand of social justice is not just that wealth and power be diffused, but that the competing concerns of various aspects of the good life come to articulation, evaluation and consideration as imperative for a particular historical moment.

In this context, the Ateneo that is both University and Jesuit provides a challenging platform for the formation of leaders.

Where there is an apparent dearth of great leaders in the political world and in public service today, it may be an imperative for Ateneo to more pro-actively call forth leaders from among its students who shall make the long-term pursuit of social justice their own. Clearly, this must be done through an explicit effort to form their freedom towards this.

It may be imperative to motivate our students to want to lead, and to pay the price of leadership. The aversion to politics as dirty must be overcome, if we are not to be overcome in self-righteousness. Students must be helped to plan their moves towards effective leadership in life, and to willfully embrace the disciplines that keep them free.

It may be imperative to exercise our students in articulating the demands of social justice, understanding the complexity of the concern, and the ongoing need for disciplined study in articulating this.

It may be imperative to hone our students in leadership skills, including appropriate followership; to coach them in their leadership, to motivate them to want to serve with greatness.

It may be imperative to introduce our students to Ignatian spirituality through the Spiritual Exercises for its wealth in motivating a person towards Christian leadership. Here, leadership is inseparable from a discerned following of Christ. But following Christ, recognizing him as Messiah, Christian leadership confronts evil, sin and the world with humility and optimism, and serves the Kingdom of God.

In a word: Ateneo must more pro-actively cultivate good public leaders.

Care for those who are in leadership

For those Ateneans who are in leadership positions, it is tempting to say that Ateneo should care for them. However, this may be presumptuous. They may not want to be cared for. They may in fact have come to a point were they may care for Ateneo.

On the other hand, leaders may be invited to manifest their wishes to Ateneo. Being an Atenean in leadership does not mean belonging to an Ateneo party. That is clear. But being raised and formed in the Jesuit Univesity tradition may mean willingness to participate in its mission. This includes its ongoing studies and reflections on social justice in an academic field where proponents of different persuasions may come together for this purpose. Here, the conversation between academe and the “real world” may be very enlightening.

After all, the the question I raised earlier: “on what do we found our expectations of Ateneans who are in politics, public life or development?” has yet to be answered in depth. They are, I think, clearly founded in freedom – formed at least partially at Ateneo, and maintained through Ateneans holding public responsibility continuing to freely struggle to understand and respond to the imperative of social justice.

If as a result of the Ateneo experience, no matter the profile of one’s Ateneo friends, the Atenean in public service has not chosen in freedom to allow values of the faith, justice, sensitivity to culture, inter-religious dialogue, respect for the environment to inform one’s vision, decisions and activities in the political frontier, there is little Ateneo can do but try to do better with the next generation.

But given the free appropriation by the public servant of the Ateneo’s mission as part of his or her public vision and agenda, then the Ateneo community should care for those leaders, take them seriously, work with them in truth, laud them when they are right, chide them when they are wrong, and continue to pursue its mission of truth, evangelization and social transformation with them.


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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