[Closing Remarks: ADZU’s President’s Forum: “Schools Serving Society,” 15-18 Jan. ’13]
The context of this gathering, on the one hand, has been the Centennial Celebration of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University, founded in 1912 by the Jesuit missionary, Fr. Manuel Sauras, as the “Escuela Catolica”, that was renamed four years later the “Ateneo de Zamboanga.” From this viewpoint, the context is the year-long celebration of a center of learning and service, whose reason for existence has evolved from a mission to defend Roman Catholicism in Mindanao against the threats of vibrant Protestant education coming from the likes of Silliman University, to the vibrant Jesuit, Catholic, Filipino, and emphatically Mindanao University that Ateneo de Zamaboanga University (ADZU) is today. More than ever conscious of its renewed mission to instruct, to search for truth, and to serve the community, not in isolation from but together with other HEIs in Mindanao, it now allows its Catholic and Jesuit heritage to preserve not just a Catholic gated community in Zamboanga City, but to serve the needs of the broader Mindanao community of Muslims, Lumads, and Christians in a globalized world. Today, ADZU is deeply grateful to be able to come together not only with sister Ateneos and Catholic Colleges and Universities in the country, but also with Silliman University here represented, other Christian Universities and Colleges, and even State Universities and Colleges, in “partnership” for peace and development in Mindanao.
That brings us to the other context for this gathering: the current situation in Mindanao that puts us a historic crossroads: either we remain mired in the mud of centuries-old injustice and inter-tribal, inter-religious, inter-faith prejudice, recrimination, distrust, violence and war, or we seize the opportunity of the moment to pull together to pull out of the morass and move into a new age of human development, human prosperity and peace; either we allow ourselves to do whatever we have been doing before we came to this gathering in prolongation of the the status quo, or we decide to come together in newfound common purpose as HEIs to contribute to two key challenges at hand: the Framework Agreement of Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Peace and Development Framework Plan of Mindanao 2020 (Minda 2020).
It is in this double context that we were welcomed to this gathering by the President of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University.
We were privileged to listen to the President of the Philippines, His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III, himself a historic figure of newfound hope, speak of new breakthroughs against poverty and backwardness in the country, and challenge us to research that is relevant for nation-building; we are not just to complain, but to come together to find solutions to actual problems.
We listened to Sec. Luwalhati R. Antonino, Chair of the Mindanao Development Authority, tell us of the challenge of MINDA 2020, that is not just an economic development plan, but is a development plan for shared human society in Mindanao, conscious that today’s many problems in Mindanao are not caused by poverty but by injustice. Its vision is of “Mindanawons of all cultural or socio-economic backgrounds” having attained by 2030 “a sustainably uplifted quality of life through their collective achievement of a peaceful, developed, autonomous, and integrated Mindanao that is the vanguard for the country’s sustainable development.” Its overall goals: “(1) Definite and lasting peace… (2) Overall well-being marked by good health, ample education, and social cohesion… (3) A unified, dynamic and sustainable Mindanao economy… (4) A participatory and culture-sensitive Mindanao governance and political framework that asserts self-reliance and self-determination, and (5) Active and synergistic international economic, cultural and political linkages.”
We were happy – and perhaps all genuinely edified – to listen to Hon. Mujiv Hataman, governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, tell us his personal stories of his struggle to fulfill the President’s mandate to him: to end corruption; to end the self-serving, capriciousness of petty rulers; to make government useful for the people. We were appalled at his accounts of ghost students, ghost teachers, ghost supervisors, ghost employees, ghost buildings, of teachers teaching with ghost teachers’ licenses (LET), actually teaching with but grade III qualifications, of farm-to-market roads built on islands with ghost carabaos and farmers; we were shocked at his accounts of public servants in LGUs who do not go to work. At the end of his arresting talk, interspersed with much personal humor, I think we would have all wanted to confer on him a Ph.D. honoris causa in Ghost Busting. At the same time, I think, we were all somehow saying, “If there is one man who can risk and sacrifice so much in the interests of justice, integrity and progress in Muslim Mindanao, is there any way we can help? Is there any way that our institutions can help? Is there anyway we can help preserve this man from the wrath and vengeance of those he reforms?”
There were other speakers who challenged us: Miriam “Dedette” Suacito from the vantage point of her Nagdilaab Foundation in Basilan; Mr. Jimid Mansayangan from the viewpoint of the Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao who have been painfully left out of a “development” that has alienated them from their lands, their cultures, and their idea of the peace and harmony in the world that God created perfectly; Sitti Djalia Turabin Hataman, the “mother of the five children of Gov. Mujib Hataman,” from the viewpoint of women, and particularly women in Mindanao; and Marian Roces of Braintrust led by Prof. Ciel Habito, from the viewpoint of the inspired manner in which Minda2020 was crafted.
To all of these challenging speakers, we had our challenging questions, some of them rather disturbing. Is greedy capitalism the problem? Is Islam the problem? Is Christianity the problem? Is religiously-influenced culture the problem? How do religious practices square with the challenges of development today? How do the mindsets of tribes square with the mindset of the commonweal?
Despite these question, or because of these questions, we have come to our collective resolve. As HEIs in Mindanao we will support the Framework Agreement Bangsamoro. As HEIs in Mindanao we will support the Peace and Development Framework that is Mindanao 2020. For this reason we have approved our Common Statement.
Where it is affirmed that the main cause of underdevelopment in Mindanao is injustice, as HEIs we come together in shared pursuit of justice in Mindanao, through which each is given his or her due, each carries his or her burden in supporting a shared humane society in Mindanao, each pursues social justice that is continually defined by the call of the common good – not the “common good” defined by intrusive settlers in the private interests of settlers, not the “common good” defined by Lumads in the private defense of ancient traditions, not the “common good” defined by Christians in the private defense of Christian theology, not the “common good” defined by Muslims in the private defense of teachings that fall short of the fullness of Allah’s Light, but by each group overcoming isolation and privacy in dialogue and shared insight, knowledge and values-in-living, to search in intelligence and in freedom for a new common good, allowing our intelligent instruction, vibrant research and compassionate outreach to regard difference and diversity as an ever deeper challenge to Mindanao solidarity. In the academic freedom that it the soul of all HEIs, be they public or private, we commit today to pursue this higher common good, this Masliyyah, that appears to be the interior spirit, the holy challenge of reason seeking Truth and Truth seeking realization in the the FAB and in Minda2020.
In making this commitment, all the HEIs here gathered thank Fr. Tony Moreno, S.J. and ADZU for making it possible.