Academic Freedom: Gift and Burden

[Address: COCOPEA Tribute to Senator Edgardo J. Angara]

Academic Freedom: Gift and Burden

Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.

One of the riddles with which I continually wrestle is the tension, often the conflict, between the good which is pursued for private individuals or private groups, and the good that is pursued for all.

That one pursue one’s good, ought certainly not be shunned; indeed, where by some play of cultural caprice, people are given more to meekly accepting suffering, ignorance and injustice, rather than to staunchly combatting it, that one actively pursue one’s good, is cause for encouragement, rather than discouragement. It is similar when individuals band together with other individuals to pursue a shared good. For it is through this primal private energy that one finds food to still one’s hunger, cloth to cover one’s nakedness, and shelter to survive against the heat of the tropical sun and the wetness of torrential rains. It is through this primal private energy that humans find the creative vitality to celebrate life in song, poetry, art, history, learning, science, worship, and so are able to flourish as human beings. Over this energy in our society, we rejoice.

Until, at least, rejoicing turns to weeping, when the good of some individuals, or the good of some corporations, or the good of some ways of worship, feeds off the ignorance, the weakness, the poverty, the vulnerability of others, and pursues a good insatiably by diminishing the good of other individuals or other groups! The weeping may be marked by frustration and lead to despair when structures in society hinder the correction of these imbalances, forcing oppressed individuals for sheer survival to violence, or impelling large groups for redress to insurrection or to war.

So we return to our abiding riddle. When is it that the pursuit of private good by either individuals or groups must mature, metamorphose, change into the pursuit of the common good? When is it that the creative self-directed forces in society, need be transformed necessarily to the determined pursuit of the common good in such manner that the common good is not an option but an obligation, not an alternative but an imperative.

Senator Angara has been many things over his fascinating life: a lawyer, a member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, the President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the founding President of the ASEAN Law Association, the President of the University of the Philippines. But I have come this evening to pay tribute to him as a legislator. Having served in the Senate for four terms, each term lasting for six years, he has served as an upper-chamber senior legislator for twenty-four years. This means, as a legislator, before God and country, he has carried the burden in conscience through legislation to promote the common good; he has co-exercised the legislative power that binds citizens to the promotion of the common good; he has used his mind, his knowledge, his wisdom, his skills, his influence, to discern what the call of social justice for the country is, and how best that is approximated through actual legislation, never really perfect, but perfected in being historically real in a dynamic democracy.

And so we recognize, not without awe, the impressive body of legislation that this Senator over a quarter of a century has either authored or co-sponsored: the National Health Insurance Act (Philhealth), the Senior Citizens’ Act, the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act, the Renewable Energy Act, the Procurement Reform Act, laws creating the National Museum, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the Natatangng Manlilikha Award, the Credit Information Act, the Personal Equity and Retirement Account Act, the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation Charter, the Pag-Ibig Fund Charter, the Pre-Need Code and Financial Rehabilitation and Insolvency Act.

In all of these, there has been the abiding promotion of the common good. There is no social justice if the health needs especially of the poor are not addressed, if senior citizens are not properly cared for, if the backwardness of our fisheries is not remedied, if we are not weaned away from the use of fossil fuels through the development of renewable energy as climate changes inexorably. There is no social justice if we do not protect our historical heritage, if we do not award our creative artists with appropriate recognition, if we do not protect the integrity of our financial transactions and systems. Of course, not all these laws are perfect, and not all their provisions have flawlessly promoted the common good. Many of their provisions are the result of negotiation and compromise, necessary to break legislatively gridlock, and to keep the legislative machinery itself alive within our lived democratic plurality. But that is the duty and burden of the legislator: the real, and not just the hoped for, common good. At work in all of them has been the conscience of an individual Filipino and a Christian, Sen. Edgardo Angara, in tireless pursuit of the common good with his own insight and his own wisdom.

It is in this context that we specially salute Senator Angara for being our legislative Education Czar. Through his authorship or sponsorship we have the Free High School Act, the laws creating Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and most recently, the passage in the House, the Senate and the Bicameral Conference Committee of the K-12 Law. Concerning the latter, which we all endorsed at great private expense in recognition of the common good, I personally recall how Sen. Angara promised us he would deliver. He did. When the President signs this into law, Sen. Angara shall have played a substantial role in legislating all the major educational structures in our country today.

Having said that, allow me to return to the riddle with which we all wrestle: the tension, often the conflict, between the good which is pursued for private individuals or private groups, and the good that is pursued necessarily – as a moral imperative – for all. It is in this context that I wish to thank Sen. Angara for one special gift – or one special burden – in his package of educational legislation: his sensitivity to, respect for, insistence on academic freedom for higher education. Of course, we can say, he could have done none other since academic freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution. But having provided for the protection and guarantee of academic freedom in RA 7722, none of whose provisions ought to be interpreted as inimical to academic freedom, is for me a gift of legislative wisdom. There is a difference between basic education and higher education, a difference often overlooked and too often violated, but at the heart of higher education: and that is academic freedom. This is the freedom for higher education institutions to pursue truth as none other have pursued truth previously, to think thoughts as none other have thought thoughts previously, and to think systems as none other have thought systems previously. This is the freedom to discover, to create, to innovate limited only by truth; it is the correlative duty to autonomously protect the disciplinal rigors of finding truth. It is I believe from the halls of higher education entrusted with academic freedom where we best meet the challenge of our abiding riddle, and find a role intimately related to the role of legislators: to use our multifarious disciplines and copious resources to articulate the demands of the social good not only of some, but of all, to find the common good demanded by our shared humanity and our shared environment in a difficult world, often despite the preferences of government, despite the caprice of the market and despite the pull of private good.

Thank you, Mr. Senator, for promoting our academic freedom. In paying tribute to you this evening, I pledge, as I believe my colleagues in higher private education pledge as well, to continue to exercise our academic freedom to solve the challenge of our abiding riddle, to labor continually and freely from within the halls of higher academe at finding the common good as social justice requires.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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3 Responses to Academic Freedom: Gift and Burden

  1. Cristina Tabora says:

    One more reason to like Angara. (The other is his very pro-Tourism stance.) Go, Ed!

  2. Leigh Deem says:

    Whoah, this post enlightened me of numerous laws Sen. Angara legislated. Thank you, Fr. JET.

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