Coming Together in the Power of the Spirit


Statement of the Philippine Province Jesuits on Fighting the Evil of Illegal Drugs

It is with deep concern for the welfare of our nation that the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus joins His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle in appealing to the “consciences of those manufacturing and selling illegal drugs to stop this activity” and “to the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives.”

We agree that the menace of illegal drugs is real and destructive. The imperative to defeat this evil does not belong to the President alone, the Philippine National Police, and the instrumentalities of human government. It belongs to us all. The evil that attacks the human with the power of the demonic, should unite us, not divide us. Battling this enemy, we learn how ineffectual, how flawed, our weapons are. Instead of turning our weapons on one another, we must unite, coordinate, and allow good to ally with good; we must fight this enemy together. Truly, the menace of drugs is not just a political or criminal issue. It is evil that attacks our humanity, turns human beings into zombies, policemen into murderers, criminals into lords, and the poor into the victims of their own security forces. The heartless killing of Kian de los Santos proves this. We cannot fight evil with guns and bullets alone. This evil we must fight with insight, cooperation, cunning, the enlightened use of political and economic power, self-sacrifice, prayer and God’s grace.

It is in this spirit that we welcome the call of Cardinal Tagle and the Archdiocese of Manila to a multi-sectoral dialogue. We need to come together to understand the situation in depth. We need to understand why the soul of the war on drugs is a human soul, and why the enemy of this war is not human rights, but lack of commitment to human rights. We need to understand why we cannot fight for human beings by denying them their rights. In a society where the human has so lightly lost his soul to corruption, hedonism, and disrespect for the human person, we need to understand how the poor are illegal drugs’ worst victims, addicted, trafficked, then shot by the guns drug money buys. We need to understand how denying the international drug cartels their markets does not mean killing the poor who are their victims, but reforming the structure which keep the poor poor. We need to understand that building the drug-free, smart, socially-just religiously diverse society envisioned by the Duterte administration needs patient multi-sectoral collaboration of good people 24 August 2017 collaborating with good people. We cannot build the Philippine nation on the cadavers of the Filipino people.

In this spirit of dialogue, where it is clear that the rule of law and the respect for human rights thwart evil, the recommendations of our Ateneo de Manila Human Rights Center pertinent to extrajudicial killings and Operation Tokhang Reloaded might be seriously considered.1

Truly, we must conquer evil with good. Though we wish to be in solidarity with all victims of injustice, we must move beyond expressions of outrage to constructive action. Teach the youth, wealthy or poor, in our families, schools and our communities, about the evil of illegal drugs; engage them so they are helped to overcome bad habits and engage in good. Join groups that are involved in rehabilitation; many of these are diocesan or parish based; many of them are Civil Society Organizations. Capacitate ourselves to get involved. Join groups that partner with government to strengthen our security forces’ commitment to rights-based policing. Involve ourselves in research that studies the drug trade in the Philippines. Work together with the Church, government and CSOs to truly defeat the drug menace in the Philippines. Use privileged power and information to win this war.

Where the fullness of life that the Lord came to bring us (Jn 10:10) is not to be undermined by the evil of drugs, we must be “as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves.” (Mt. 10:16). Some demons can be expelled “only by prayer and fasting” (Mt. 17:21). But prayer and fasting should also lead us to come together in the power of the Spirit to overcome this evil.


1 From: Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC), Summary & Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines, 2017

  •   To enact a law clearly defining “extrajudicial killings” in line with internationally recognized standards.
  •   To conduct an impartial investigation and prosecute all cases of extrajudicial or summary killings. This entails proper documentation of each alleged violation, including the preservation of the evidence gathered.
  •   To ensure the protection of witnesses to alleged enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings and their immediate families.
  •   To ensure that police officers engaged in anti-drug operations are aware that killing perpetrated by them where suspects resist arrest does not enjoy the presumption of regularity, and as such, they must prove the legality of such killings.
  •   In relation to the implementation of the Double Barrel Project:

o To ensure that it is not contrary to the Philippine Constitution and other relevant domestic and international laws…

o To guarantee the right of every Filipino to access information, official records, public records, and other documents and papers pertaining to official acts.

o To ensure transparency in processes involved in the Collection and Validation of Information Stage where the identity and criminal activities of suspected illegal drug personalities are documented and verified by police officers.

o To ensure the credibility of intelligence information used as basis for the confrontation of subjects in the House-to-House Visitation Stage.

  • To ensure access to the effective remedies, such as the writs of amparo, habeas corpus, or habeas data, which protect the rights to life, liberty, and property of the people. This includes according priority to cases that seek the issuance of these writs.
  • To revitalize the efforts in increasing knowledge and awareness of human rights among the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police.
  • To extend an invitation to the special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to conduct a fact-finding mission on the alleged extrajudicial and summary killings.




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Funding For RA 10931, But the Greater Challenge is Quality

The 85th Anniversary of the Philippine Association of the Colleges and Universities (PACU) gathered together some of the most distinguished educators of the country in the Ballroom of the Conrad Hotel. Celebration was in the air not only because at 85 this oldest educational association in the country counts among its ranks major movers and shakers in Philippine education today: Dhanna Kerina Bautista-Rodas, Caroline Enriquez, Anthony Tamayo, Vincent Fabella, Ester Garcia, Michael Alba, Reynaldo Vea, Ma. Christina Padolina, Francisco Benitez, Peter Laurel, Karen de Leon, Guillermo Torres, Jr, and many others. But it was celebrating also because in the recent journey towards the passage into law of the Universal Access for Quality Tertiary Education Act (UAQTEA or RA 10931) PACU played the strongest role among the COCOPEA associations. A breakthrough in that journey was when the COCOPEA officers, quietly arranged by PACU, met with Sen. Ralph Recto and found in him a powerful supporter of the complementarity between public and private education, with private education underscored. It was only fitting then that Sen. Recto deliver the celebration’s keynote address on PACU’s 85th.

Training the people to make the future bright

It takes an accomplished speaker to grab people’s attention while talking about education. Sen. Recto managed this through a combination of self-deprecating humor and a message that spoke to the heart of the educators present. Announcing his intention to honor the 20 minutes allotted to him, he quipped, “Telling a politician to be economical with words is like asking an alcoholic to limit himself to a teaspoon of beer.” But on his teaspoon of beer, he recognized the role private education has played in contributing to the “intellectual prowess” and “moral fiber” of the nation, having educated 13 of 16 of the nation’s presidents, and many of its industry leaders, infrastructure builders, CEOs, and professionals functioning both in the Philippines and abroad. The founders of the universities and colleges represented in the hall “were not driven by any monetary reward… Rather, each and every one of them was guided by the selfless desire to improve the lot of the nation… When they established the schools they looked into the future, and told themselves: We will train the people who will make it bright.”

But tributes having been paid the schools’ founders, their current administrators in the hall were interested in how UAQTEA would be funded. The economic managers had urged the President to veto the bill, claiming it was unsustainable and would cost some 100B. When the President signed it anyway into law, DBM Sec. Benjamin Diokno then tried to hi-jack its implementing rules and regulations, stating he would chair the committee to write this. CHED’s Commissioner de Vera also came out with some confusing statements on how the law would be implemented on a staggered basis, first funding the SUCs, then the LUCs, and only later the UniFAST. Happily, CHED Chair Patricia Licuanan meanwhile convened the one body the UAQTEA mandates to craft its IRRs, namely, the Board of the United Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST), which she chairs. Also through the UAQTEA, private education is represented on the UniFAST Board through its chair, Dr Pio Baconga.

Funding Based on Public-Private Collaboration

The message from Sen. Recto was clear. The UAQTEA was not just about funding free tuition in SUCs and in LUCs and killing private HEIs. The UAQTEA was about tertiary education for all delivered through a system of educational delivery where public and private HEIs are collaborators. “Private and public schools are not rivals for the market but should be partners for progress,” he said. “They are not competitors for enrollees, but collaborators in providing education for all.” Therefore, private schools have clear access to the benefits of this law: “I believe it would be wrong to fence the law with ‘do not enter’ signs addressed to private education.” Therefore, the explicit mention of private HEIs as beneficiaries of the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES, Sec. 7) as well as of the Student Loan Program for Tertiary Education (Sec. 8).  “The law forfeits its noble intention if it is a death warrant of private schools in disguise. We do not want to provoke a stampede that will trample private schools to death.” The manner of funding must not undermine the spirit of public-private collaboration in the law.

To the question therefore as to whether the law could be funded in its entirety, he said:

“To be candid, these mandates may not be fully-funded immediately, given the state of public revenues.” He stated in the open forum that this year to fund EAQTEA some 25B might go to the free tuition of SUCs, 20B to the TES and 20B to the Student Loan Program for Tertiary Education.

“But what is important is that there exists a statute which requires the government to include private schools under the canopy of affordable tertiary education…”

Referring to last year’s budget he stated, “In all, unreleased appropriations reached P63.43 billion in 2016, on top of the unobligated allotments of P544.53 billion.”

“I am confident that Congress can find the ways and the means to fund the law – including mandates which private schools can join, even on a small, pilot basis.

Challenge to Quality

“But for me the more important word in the law is not ‘free’ but ‘quality.’”

“Budget must be linked to results. And if state subsidy is obligatory, then it makes reforms in the SUCs mandatory.” Reforms in the SUCs can come about only through robust quality assurance guided by the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework (AQAF).

It is the same for private HEIs. If State funding will flow into them through the TES and the Student Loan Program for Tertiary Education, their quality must be quality assured through the AQAF.

The UAQTEA is not wrong

Recently, Bienvenido Olas, Jr. of Businessworld, has listed four reasons why the UAQTEA was wrong[1]:

First, “the Government has no extra cash to cover extra spending on these already substantial expenditures.” But Sen. Recto has shown that money can be found to fund the UAQTEA.

Second, “spending in public elementary and secondary education is still limited and it is unwise to further expand spending in public tertiary education.” But if more funding is needed for public basic education, it should get it. Quality tertiary education is based on quality basic education. But this does not mean that government does not have a role to play in providing universal access to quality tertiary education. “The battle for the future is waged in classrooms today, both private and public.” Sen. Recto says. “We cannot win the future if we splurge on war and yet economize in education. But building the country’s talent pool is not the responsibility of families alone. Government must provide equity.”

Third, “Students who are absolutely destitute do not reach university level. They drop out after elementary or after high school and start working… So those who reach universities are lower middle class to rich students.” But while the UAQTEA intends to help the poor, it insists that the poor who reach the tertiary level must be academically qualified. Destitution alone does not qualify for tertiary education. Through the K-12 reform, the drop-out rate needs to be monitored, but it is expected to diminish. Meanwhile, SUCs understand themselves to be missioned to poor students that are academically qualified. Through quality education the poor can be truly liberated from poverty while being prepared to make significant contributions to the common good. That is also experienced in scholarship programs in all quality private HEIs.

Fourth, “People’s values will be corrupted because personal and parental responsibility will be assumed by the State. As a result, children’s education from elementary to university level will no longer be the responsibility of their parents but of the state.” But the 1987 Constitution states: “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all” (Art VIX, Sec 1). “The State shall establish, maintain, and support a complete, adequate, and integrated systems of education relevant to the needs of the people and society.” Education is not just a private, personal and parental responsibility, but a means towards the achievement by each of the common good. It is a public good. Far from people’s values being corrupted through universal access to quality tertiary education promoted by the State, the higher education necessary for the critical preservation and advancement of human values, the promotion of social justice, and the advancement of the common good is more equitably distributed.

Congratulations to PACU on its 85th! And our sincere gratitude to Sen. Ralph Recto for his support of genuine universal access to quality tertiary education in both public and private HEIs.


[1] Please see:

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Seventeen.  Kian was just seventeen. 

I was seventeen when I decided to join the Jesuits.  Some today may think that that was much too early to make a radical life decision, that there were too many other possibilities in life that I ought first to have explored before deciding for a life involving the evangelical counsels, poverty, chastity and obedience.

For a while, my father felt that way too.  I’d actually wanted to become a priest very early on, when serving Masses regularly in our parish church at 8 years of age introduced me to a love for the altar and a youthful admiration for the diocesan priests of the parish.  When I got to the Ateneo de Manila High School, my class moderator in first year, Fr. Ernesto Javier, noted my desire.  He told me to join Challenge House, which I did.  For two years, during my second and third year high school days, I’d left home to explore the challenge now of becoming a Jesuit priest.  It was a good experience. But I left Challenge House because my father felt it was unhealthy for me to be thinking only about the priesthood at that age.  He wanted me to get out, explore the world, interact more with other-thinking people, and “get a girlfriend.”  So that’s what I did.  But after a retreat under Fr. Raymund Gough during my first year of college, I discerned the call to the priesthood undeniable.  Fr. Horacio de la Costa, then Provincial of the Jesuits in the Philippines, concurred.  On July 16, 1965, I entered Sacred Heart Novitiate.

I have since lived more than three times those seventeen years as a Jesuit in the Philippines.  After my ordination to the priesthood in 1983, I began my priestly service in the Resettlement Area of San Pedro, Laguna.  Yesterday, I returned there for the first time in some forty years to preside over the renewal of marriage vows of a couple, Jojo Eduque and Sonny Castro, whose marriage I’d witnessed in that church 40 years ago yesterday.  Jojo and Sonny remembered the dirt floor and the few rough wooden benches that were part of the luxurious setting of their marriage.  The church I’d built in 1988 had meanwhile been totally replaced.  But the kamagong crucifix was still there.  Happily, there were some elderly women who peered into my face and remembered a youthful priest forty years and forty kilos earlier who’d served the urban poor community of San Pedro Resettlement.  One declared that she was part of a livelihood project called “Lovers’ Own” which my father in Beautifont had helped me run for the people.  Awesome.

So much has unfolded in my life because of a decision I made when I was seventeen.  Or, from a possibly more accurate perspective, so much has happened because of a decision God made manifest to me when I was seventeen.  I was only in first year college, but life had already unfolded so richly, and in its further unfolding would take me to doctoral studies in Germany and Austria, teaching at Ateneo de Manila, service of the urban poor community of Kristong Hari, Commonwealth, the rectorship of San Jose Seminary, the presidency of Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Naga University, and currently Ateneo de Davao University.

So for me, it is a very personal thing.  At seventeen I was still in first year college.  That today is the equivalent of eleventh grade.  At seventeen, when I was pondering the differences between marriage and the priesthood, between management engineering and joining the Society of Jesus, I was the age of Kian de los Santos on the same academic level as he. That Kian was framed, shot and killed in a police action gone rogue, at a time when his life was yet unfolding, is a matter of deep personal pain for me.  It could have been me at seventeen.  It could have ended all.   In the case of Kian, it did end all.

It has been stated that this is an isolated case.  But even if it were isolated, it is one case too many.  The President has just signed the Universal Access to Tertiary Education Act into law providing real hope for quality education to all Filipino learners such as Kian.  But where are we if the State on the one hand undertakes to promote their welfare through higher education, but on the other hand kills them in senior high?  Where are we if the State on the one hand undertakes at great material and human expense to fight a war against drugs for their sake, but on the other hand kills them.  When a life is taken, describing it as an isolated case rings hollow, if not cynical.   When a life is taken even as genuine collateral damage in a police operation nothing can replace that life.  When a life is taken through abominable police action that frames an innocent person as a criminal and shoots him to increase the statistics of “progress” in the war against drugs, this is a crime that cries to the heavens for justice.

The war on drugs must be fought.  The drug menace is international evil, driven by powerful forces of evil.  This is still the case.  It has for too long victimized our people with impunity.

But the war on drugs is fought ultimately because those forces of evil disrespect human lives.  They are evil because they destroy human lives, human futures and human culture particularly in the Philippines. For cheap money, they bring their victims to chemically-induced highs, but cook and extinguish their brains till little is left of the human being.  In this way, they destroy whole families and whole communities.  They attack the entire nation.  The President has declared that the Philippines, corrupted by these drugs in all levels of government, local and national, and even in its security and its law enforcement agencies, is a narcotic state.  Push back is needed.

But not in the way it is being done.  If the war on drugs is fought out of respect for human life, it must be guided by respect for human life.  The President must be the first to cry out for this because that is why he is fighting the war in the first place, out of his love for the country, and especially out of his love for the poor.  Where security and police forces are already flawed because of their vulnerability to corruption and disrespect for human life, even more care must be taken to lead them on the straight path, to direct them to destroy the enemy, and not the victims of the enemy.  Certainly, the President must rally his forces to win the war and to legitimately defend their lives against the onslaughts of the enemy.  At the same time, he must be keen not to encourage the dark culture of death against which he is fighting his war in the first place.  High numbers of people killed dahil nanlaban – because they resisted – do not indicate the war on drugs being won.

Where the President himself was shocked at the extent of the use of drugs in this country and its corruptive effects, it may be helpful for him not only to declare that we are now a narcotic state but to make the nation aware of who exactly the big players are and where exactly the big distribution centers are located.  He may wish to explain the operations of security forces against a strategy of winning against strategic targets.  He may wish to tell us that if the war on drugs was not won within six months, where the nation now is in its strategy of winning this war.  He may wish to help us understand how he measures his successes, or even his failures.

He may acknowledge that since his war on drugs many groups in civil society and in faith-based communities are contributing to the war on drugs through personal and communal efforts at battling illegal drugs and helping their hapless victims.

He also may wish to state unequivocally that the killing of a Kian at seventeen does not advance the war on drugs.  It debases it.

Not too long ago, human rights lawyers associated with the Center Against Illegal Drugs (CAID) of the Ateneo de Davao University conducted a three-day seminar in Samal for law enforcers from Mindanao on human-rights-based law enforcement.  The intervention was very well received by the law enforcers.  For many of them it was the first time they had be given the opportunity to reflect systematically on their responsibilities as law enforcers in the protection of human rights.  Perhaps something like this may be done in other parts of the country in order that our security forces gain personal insight into their responsibility to protect and not destroy, nor even to instrumentalize, human life.

The war on drugs is a battle for human life, for human dignity and the integrity of human society in the Philippine context.  The enemy of the war on drugs is not human rights.  The enemy of the war on drugs is thinking a President will be pleased with large numbers of chalked-up deaths “dahil nanlaban” that have no demonstrated strategic value in winning the war; or it is the Commander in Chief giving the troops the impression that the murder of such as Kian at seventeen is defensible in the context of a narcotic state.

The death of Kian is not defensible.  He was only seventeen.  Think of all the possibilities killed.  Think of his goodness extinguished.  Think of his bereaved family, friends and nation.

Justice for Kian!

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From Squash Court to Ohana

[Mass of the Renewal of Marriage Vows of Sonny and Jojo Castro, Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, San Pedro Resettlement Area, San Pedro, Laguna.]  


This is rather awesome.  Forty years ago, you were in this church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of Barangay Narra, San Pedro Resettlement Area, to give yourself to one another in marriage.  You had chosen this out-of-the-way church among God’s poor because your cousin, Jojo, was priest-in-charge here at that time, and because it would be an out-of-the-box way to celebrate an extraordinary relationship that began with a blind date on a squash court.  Lita and Abade Baltazar, had brought you, Jojo, while Chit Baltazar and Vicvic Villavecencio had brought you, Sonny to that squash court.  It was apparently not love at first sight; in fact, Jojo was simply amused at Sonny charging around the court to hit the squash ball, and off-court was more amused at Sonny’s penchant at that time for bright floral Hawaiian shirts and the puka necklace around his neck.

Well, after a series of group dates arranged not too subtly by Lita Baltazar, with two cupids, Ina Ledesma Bautista and Diding Jison, firing amorous arrows their way, they ended up here in this church where vows were exchanged for a nuptial relationship that would in Sonny mirror sacramentally the love of Jesus for his Church, and in Jojo, mirror the love of the Church for her redeemer.  Since then, that sacramental love has unfolded in a grace-filled and unprecedented way.  It brought Sonny and Jojo from this church of the San Pedro Resettlement Area to Manila, Hong Kong, the United States, Brazil, San Francisco, Miami and even Tagaytay.  Its enduring and at times deeply privileged moments of ecstatic love – a human experiencing of how divinity is bound awesomely to humanity in love  – brought forth Jonesy, Jamie, Jacky, JV and Joelle.   40 years ago, they were present in this church only potentially, but today they are now here in full actuality, in flesh and blood and smiles, and having plotted and schemed to come from the other side of the world to celebrate the love at 40 that had brought them from heaven into this world.

And today, if you ask Sonny or Jojo what it’s been like over forty years, I think they’d both say it hasn’t been an uninterrupted romantic LA-LA land dance among the stars nor a walk through a thorn-less rose garden.  Their walk down the aisle 40 years ago has led them down their camino which brought them to breathtaking vistas and fascinating people, but not without its potholes and hazards and stumbling blocks. Both would say they’ve had to work at their marriage to manage their idiosyncrasies and iron out their differences and learn how to be accommodating and supportive to the point of learning to enjoy one another’s “manias.”  Imagine, Jojo is spontaneous and adventurous, liking to savor the experience as it presents itself, Sonny is obsessive-compulsive, liking to plan, manage and control.  Jojo loves to travel to places she’s never seen, no matter the risks;  Sonny prefers the familiar, and safe places, reserving risks for the serious stuff, not the fun stuff in life;  and in the bedroom, Jojo loves the air-conditioner turned to arctic, while he loves the air-conditioner turned to San Francisco.  [No, I will not say anything more about how opposites are harmonized in the bedroom!]

But where the Church would say this faithful, enduring, exclusive love that in its imperfection is perfected in God’s providence is the sacrament of marriage, 40 years ago present in this church in exchanged consent then only potentially, but today revealed in this church in all its smiling actuality, manifesting how God loves us in extraordinary adventurous creative out-of-the-box in-the-flesh ways, and how we love God back with all our hearts and minds and bodies and souls.   But in Sonny and Jojo’s married life the most sublime manifestation of the sacrament of matrimony is in the communio of their family, the unity of their family centered on love and on one another and in many subtle ways on the communio of the triune God.  Ohana is not an immediately Christian category; it a Hawaiian anthropological institution.  But in the lives of Sony and Jojo it is  a manifestation of powerful divine grace, where Ohana means family, and family means being together even when geographical distance separates, enjoying one another’s presence, looking out for one another, leaving no one behind, relishing the bondedness with each other that overflows generously in bondedness with others.  It is a reality which saw Sonny laboring with his OC genius to bring home the bacon, and Jojo frying the bacon into cheerful family breakfasts and, in the bountifulness of their Ohana, Jojo enjoying herself preparing sumptuous meals for hungry family and friends, even preparing baon for her kids and sonny on the go.  As Sonny managed the banks and the business, Chef Jojo was also Mang Jojo chauffeuring the kids to school and to all their extra-curricular activities.  While other families would bond in free time in restaurants, malls or movie houses, the Castro family would bond in soccer, with Jojo and Sonny having watched some 4,000 games of their superstar children on the football pitch.  Where the malady today of many families is the communications gap between generations, it was easy for the kids to talk to Sonny about their education or their careers, just as it was easy for them to talk to Jojo just about anything, with Sonny pitching in the latest jokes in the exchange.  Perhaps, that is what we celebrate most profoundly today about this marriage, this Ohana, this unfolded unconditional love for family that mirrors the revealed unconditional love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father in the Holy Spirit, this triune divine Ohana that spilled over into his Church, his Ohana in our world, so intensely experienced in Sonny and Jojo’s family.

What is slightly humorous about all this is that when I asked Sonny to describe how over the years the sacramentality of his marriage unfolded, his first instinct was to turn to the Internet to look up the history of marriage instead of reflecting on the history of their marriage.  But his instinct was not unguided, since what he found was that marriage starts with a gift from God.  And that was all he needed from the internet. He then started recognizing and savoring the ciphers of how deeply and profoundly they have been and continue to be gifted by God through 40 years of marriage on different continents, with magnificent gifts in Joelle, JV, Jacqueline, Jamie and Jonesy, with precious gifts of loving relatives and loyal friends, with gifts of earthly and spiritual treasure, intelligence, wisdom and fun making up their Ohana, all gift of God’s enduring love, all sacrament of humanity and divinity kissing eternally in this remarkable marriage.



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The UniFAST Board Must Implement RA 10931 In Its Entirety

As CHED Chair Dr. Patricia Licuanan is convening the expanded UniFAST Board in order to craft the implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) for the Universal Access to Tertiary Education Act (#UAQTEA or RA 10931), I would like to recall the first three resolutions approved jointly by the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) and the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA).[1] I believe these shed important light on the spirit in which these major public and private educational associations would like the IRRs of RA 10931 crafted:

“That the Philippine System of Education provides access to quality higher education to all qualified Filipino students” (Resolution 1).   All the key words in this resolution are significant: system, access, quality, higher education, qualified students, Philippine, Filipino.

“That government scholarships be provided in quality higher education institutions both public and private.” (Resolution 2) The higher education institution (HEI) in which a government scholarship is granted is not indifferent. If the goal is to output quality higher-educated citizens for the common good, the quality of the HEIs is crucial, whether they be public or private.

“That qualified Filipino students able to pay for their higher education pay for it; that qualified Filipino students unable to pay for their education be fully supported in their higher education by government through scholarships and allowances as needed, especially in programs or courses consistent with the National Development Plan and contributory to the realization of Ambisyon Natin 2040” (Resolution 3).

The Constitution provides for free tuition only on the basic education level (Art. XIV, Sec 2[1]). Beyond basic education, it provides for quality higher education “accessible to all” (Art XIV, Sec 1). Access does not mean free. It means quality higher education is available, even if one must pay for it. It means, for instance, that if one desires education whose standards are internationally recognized, one need not have to go abroad to access it.

PASUC and COCOPEA take the position that students who can pay for their higher education should pay for it, either through their own or their families’ private resources or through loans that they can re-pay eventually.

But PASUC-COCOPEA also jointly resolve that qualified students who cannot pay for their education because of their economic situation be fully supported, not only with free tuition and fees, but with other forms of necessary assistance such as board and lodging, transportation, or even personal out-of-pocket allowance. The resolution comes from long-standing experience with scholars that the material scholarship alone is not enough to educate well and lift a family out of poverty, but that if a qualified student is properly supported through higher education, the support can eventually lift a whole family out of poverty while providing Philippine society with Filipino citizen of higher education, that is, reflective and critical in his or her humane citizenship and excellently trained in a chosen profession.

It is in this spirit, I think, that the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (RA 10931) was crafted, passed and signed into law. Its IRRs and appropriate funding should ensure its faithful implementation. In this context, allow me the following reflections:

Access to quality higher education through SUCs

RA 10931 is not a law to provide free higher education to those in our society who can afford to pay for higher education. It is not a law designed for students in an SUC to get flashy cars or exotic trips from their wealthy parents who no longer have to pay high tuition for quality education. That is why RA 10931 has a ”voluntary opt out” clause “to enable students with financial capacity to pay for their education at the SUC … or make a contribution to the school” (Sec 7). When this was being discussed, I argued that it seemed to legislate against the natural law. But it was nevertheless legislated as a matter of truth or as a matter of honor for the students and their families concerned. The opt out is not mandatory, but a genuine option where state resources in support of higher education need not be squandered on the wealthy but preserved for genuinely needy but qualified students.

Where RA 10931 now provides free higher education to all those who are admitted to it, in the light of the PASUC-COCOPEA Resolutions but even and especially in the light of RA 10931 itself, the quality of the SUCs must be attended to and improved, not only by the administrators of the concerned SUCs but especially by the politicians whose laws or bad habits may have harmed the SUCs in the past. As the leaders of the PASUC made abundantly clear during our Conversations, the proposal to grant free tuition in SUCs, leading to SUCs being overrun by burgeoning populations without their being able to provide quality education, was an abomination to them. For them, it is upsetting when politicians only increase access to SUCs while ignoring the funds necessary for improved quality. No iskolar ng bayan ought have to suffer a poor quality school.

Where SUCs are now being fully funded by the State, they ought now become the HEIs of choice, as they are powerfully in China. But for this, much rethinking must be done to generally improve the quality of SUCs through a serious culture of quality assurance. SUC funding should not be based merely on student population, but also on the recommendations of truly external quality assurance agencies using internationally acceptable quality standards and procedures. PASUC and COCOPEA have committed themselves to a culture of quality assurance based on the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework of the ASEAN Quality Assurance Network (Resolution 7). The products of all quality assured HEIs, public and private, must be recognizable and acceptable in all ASEAN countries. Unto this goal, accreditation agencies must be accredited by external agencies to ensure international levels of quality.

Where RA 10931 has granted free tuition in all SUCs, LUCs and state-run TVIs, the State must ensure that the students who go to these schools receive truly quality education. Hence, “The CHED and the TESDA shall ensure quality standards in the review and consequent endorsement of the budget of the SUCs, LUCs, and state-run TVIs.” (Sec 10). This may mean that the number of those who go to SUCs may need to be limited while the quality standards of the school are raised to international levels. The admission standards of SUCs should guarantee excellent academic performance for Philippine Society.

Access to quality higher education through private HEIs

This is also why RA 10931’s universal access to quality tertiary education does not rely only on SUCs and free tuition in SUCs. All cannot be admitted to SUCs. Indeed, “The State recognizes the complementary roles of public and private higher education institutions and technical-vocations institutions in the educational system and the invaluable contribution that the private tertiary schools have made and will make to education…” (Section 2).

Therefore a qualified student who cannot be admitted to an SUC, LUC or state-run TVI, or who simply opts to go to a private HEI or private TVI based on its evidenced quality, may be helped by this law through its Tertiary Education Subsidy for Filipino Students (TES, Sec. 7) and its Student Loan Program for Tertiary Education (Sec 8).

Through the TES, the qualified student may receive “tuition and other school fees in private HEIs, and private or LGU-operated TVIs, which shall be equivalent to the tuition and other school fees of the nearest SUC or state-run TVI in their respective areas.” The provision is similar to the manner in which the value of the vouchers for senior high schools was determined based on the cost of public educational provision in the area.

Where this TES may not be sufficient to cover the tuition and fees required by a private HEI, the student may avail of the Student Loan Program to make up the difference between the TES subsidy and the actual tuition and fees required by the private HEI.

Loans will be repayed through the students’ future contributions either to the GSIS or the SSS.

IRRs for the Implementation of RA 10931 in its entirety

It is the UniFAST Board led by CHED Chair Patricia Licuanan that must see to the crafting of the IRRs and propose appropriate funding for RA 10931 within the next 50 days.

The IRRs and the funding of RA 10931 should be for its implementation in its entirety. It is not a law only for free tuition in SUCs. It is not a law that limits state-supported access to quality tertiary education to SUCs.   It is not a law that can be arbitrarily implemented first for SUCs, then for LUCs, then for state-run TVIs, then only for private HEIs. It is not a law that is crafted only to correct the mismatch between academe and industry. It is a law about universal quality tertiary education enacted in the context of a national development plan that envisages a socially-just society by 2040.

It is a law that must do as it promises: provide universal access to quality tertiary education. This is possible only through the living complementarity between public and private education in the country today.

Alongside provisions for students in SUCs, LUCs, and state-run TVIs, equivalent provisions must be made for students in private HEIs and private TVIs through robust allocations for the TES and the Student Loan Program.


[1]2nd Round of the PASUC-COCOPEA “Conversations on the Complementarity between Public and Private HEIs” held at the Ateneo de Davao University, 12-13 January, 2017.

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Mother in Heaven, Show Us the Way

[Homily:  ADDU Fiesta of Our Lady of the Assumption]

We come today in celebration of Mary’s Assumption.  We celebrate Mary in heavenly glory.

But celebrating Mary in heavenly glory is necessarily a celebration of Mary, the simple woman, still a virgin, chosen by God in the small town of Nazareth to play a role in his plan to intervene  in history to redeem the world.  When we focus on Mary in the midst of the Blessed Trinity in heaven, we also recall her humility and courage in allowing God to use her in his redemption of humankind.  Assumed body and soul into heaven, we now celebrate her as Queen of heaven and earth.  But that queenship is but a crowning glory for her readiness, despite her fears and misgivings, on this earth and for all eternity to be the Mother of the savior:  “Let it be done unto me according to Thy will,” she said.  It was the consent which united to God’s saving will human free will, uniting divinity with humanity, uniting to the Word of God’s compassionate yes to humanity humanity’s humble yes to divinity.  In celebrating Mary assumed into heaven for having said yes to God’s will on earth, we celebrate her Assumption most profoundly – beyond song and dance, eating and drinking – when we honor her in ourselves saying yes to God’s will on earth.

We say that yes often. At every Mass, in every Rosary, whenever we pray the Our Father, we pray, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  But we also admit, often we pray these prayers without attention to what we are saying;  often the prayerful formula masquerades as genuine prayer, so that the radical yes to God’s revolutionary will is reduced to a superficial yes to the will of the status quo, a consenting willy nilly to the way today’s society collectively wills to reserve prosperity only for a privileged few, to keep people ignorant, unreflective and subservient to this will, to so define social development that the established increase and consolidate their wealth on the labor and subservience of the majority, no matter the exclusion of the abject poor, no matter the devastating costs on the environment.  But when we with Mary today pray, “Let it be done to me according to your Word,” we are consenting to do the Father’s will, as his Son, the Word of God’s love, the Word of God’s Compassion, the Word of God’s Justice, looks at ourselves in our society today, ourselves confronting a society where so many families are broken by economic needs, or by destructive addictions, or by inabilities of family members to talk to each, to reconcile difference, to recognize the Spirit trying to bring family members to look up from their cellphones and tablets and talk to one another as human beings.  We are consenting to do the Father’s will in responding to a society where there is yet so much appalling ignorance, where so many are unable to access the quality education we access, where so many educated fall short of the quality reflectiveness we need for social justice and social revolution, where in Muslim Mindanao teachers fall short of the qualifications necessary to deliver basic education to a population hungry for education, and children all over the country get education without getting educated.  Thy will be done.  We are consenting to do the Father’s will against the way we use drugs for special entertainment, just to break the boredom through a chemically induced high, or how we binge ourselves to drunkenness, and, drunk, throw morality out the window, abuse each other, then blame the other for the abuse we invite, and so turn a night of abandon into a nightmare of personal transgression, violence or even death.  Thy will be done, we pray.  Thy will be done, when we neglect to smell the flowers or appreciate the clarity of the rushing waters, and so allow profit-seeking corporations to destroy the mountains, cut down the forests, kill the rivers and poison the fields we use for planting the food we eat.  Thy will be done when we finally gain insight into the historical injustice committed by ourselves against Filipino Muslims or against the communities of our indigenous peoples, and know that lasting peace cannot come without doing justice.  Thy will be done, when after all the bombing and killing to preserve the State and the common good, the confusion persists as to who the real enemy is, and confusion reigns as to whether God wills war or God wills peace, and when today the children, especially the children, feel they have no home in their homeland, and where in all the dust and rubble, they are simply hungry.  God’s will be done.  We pray it all the time.  But somehow getting truly involved in doing God’s will eludes us.  We get distracted by petty matters of great concern.  Yet, on this Feast of the Assumption, when we recall that we too are meant to be assumed as Mary into heaven, we must renew ourselves in our willingness to say, “Let it be done to me according to your Word.”

The theme of our Fiesta, which is owned not only by the student community, but by the entire University community, faculty, staff, administrators, students, is:  Mary, Our Mother, Protector, Intercessor and Guide as we dream and work for genuine solidarity and peace. Gratefully, from the time Jesus on the Cross presented Mary, his mother, to us as our mother, we call her mother, Ina, Inay, Mama, Mama Mary.  As our mother, in these confusing and dangerous times, she is our Protector.  She points us to her Son loving us all, and so points us to all that is essential in life.  In the power of her Son, she shields us from the enemy, even often from the enemy within.  She is our Intercessor.  In times of need, we pray, “Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary… never was it know that anyone who fled to thy protection, invoked thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided…”  From our experience, we know she never fails.  She is our Guide.  As a Mother she is at our side to counsel and advise.  She is our Mother, protecting, inspiring and guiding us as we dream and work for genuine solidarity and peace.  We dream, not the wistful experiences of disjointed consciousness in slumber, but we dream, consciously and conscientiously cultivating great desires to work together in solidarity with others that brings about social justice, and thereby genuine peace.  In the joy and great privilege that we have to be part of this school and so participate in this fiesta of Our Lady of the Assumption, let us find our solidarity with the poor and the excluded.

Many of you still recall Fr. Ning Puentevella who recently published a little book with many beautiful illustrations called Mary, Quite Contrary.  It is a remarkable book of a humble Jesuit with an extraordinary love for Mary.  In talking about Our Lady of the Assumption, Fr. Ning says, “What we affirm of her, we hope for ourselves.” As Mary is in heaven, so too do we hope to reach heaven;  as Mary was redeemed through the death and resurrection of her Son, so too do we hope to be redeemed in his death and resurrection; as she in heaven was transformed in flesh and in spirit, so too do we hope to be transformed from these earthly vulnerable concupiscent pain-ridden bodies and drooping spirits to the glorious fullness of body and spirit, ultimately the “fullness of life” in heaven that that her Son came to our world to bring us (cf John 10:10);  as she whole and ecstatic embracing her Son is embraced by the Father in the love of the Spirit, so too do we hope to experience in heaven the ecstasy of this heavenly embrace.  And as we do well consciously to dream of this today by embracing our responsibilities for social justice, solidarity and peace on this earth, we ask our Mother, to show us the way.

She does so by pointing us to her Son, the Way, the Truth and the Life, looking into our hearts from the Cross, pointing to her as our mother.  She points us to her Son, and all that this entails, as only a Mother can.


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CHED Chair PBL Must Convene expanded UniFAST Board

In the excitement of President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (#UAQTEA) or RA 10931, people have jumped to wanting to implement it without reading it.  Sec. Benjamin Diokno of the DBM has declared that he shall head the formulation of its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRRs), and CHED Commissioner Popoy de Vera has come out in a Malacañang Press Briefing to describe a staggered implementation of the law, first funding free tuition in the SUCs, then in accredited LUCs, then presumably the UniFAST over a period of three or four years, if I understood him correctly.   For a law that was very carefully crafted by Congress after extensive consultation of stakeholders towards providing not only access to higher education to all but also of ensuring its quality, the sense is the IRRs are now already being crafted by persons who are primarily interested in denying it appropriate funds or by persons who do not appreciate the genius of this bill in its recognition of the constitutionally-mandated complementarity between public and private education.  Clearly, the economic adviser who pressured President Duterte to veto this act should not head the committee on its IRRs.  And the spokesperson for CHED should wait for the legal formulation of legitimate IRRs before explaining how it is to be implemented.

Again, RA 10931 is not just about free tuition for the privileged few in SUCs.[1]  It is about universal access to quality higher education for all where public and private HEIs work together to provide all quality higher education.  That is what must be funded and implemented in its entirety.   Otherwise, the law is undermined.  Otherwise, where the President is committed to the rule of law, his secretaries honor this commitment in the breach.

The law is clear:  Concerning the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 10931, “within sixty days from the effectivity of this act, the UniFAST Board, in consultation with the CHED, the TESDA, and other relevant stakeholders in higher and technical education, shall promulgate the implementing rules and regulations necessary to ensure the efficient and effective implementation of this Act.

The membership of the Unified Student Financial System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) Board is defined by the Unifast Law (RA 10687) and expanded by the EAQTEA law (RA 10931).

According to the UniFAST law, the membership of the Board consists of the following:

“(a) The CHED Chairperson as ex offico Chairperson;

“(b) The Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) as ex offico Co-Chairperson;

“(c) The TESDA Director General as ex officio Co-Chairperson;

“(d) The Secretary of the Department of Education (DepED) as ex officio member;

“(d) A representative from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) as ex officio member;

“(e) A representative from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) as ex officio member;

“(f) A representative from the National Youth Commission (NYC) as ex officio member” (Sec. 14)

The UAQTEA law or RA 10931 expanded this membership by five to include the:

“(a) President of the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges as Member;

“(b) Chairman of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations as Member;

“(c) Chairman of the Association of Local Colleges and Universities as Member;

“(d) President of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) as a non-voting Member;

“(e) President of the Social Security System (GSIS) as a non-voting Member” (Sec 13).

For the IRRs of the EAQTEA Law (RA 10931) it is CHED Chairperson Patricia Licuanan who must convene the expanded UniFAST Board consisting of twelve members, 10 voting and 2 non-voting).  It is the IRR that this Board promulgates that shall govern the implementation of the RA 10931.

This said, allow me some personal reflections:

The economic managers who have formulated the National Development Plan which envisions a socially just society by 2040 should befriend the EAQTEA in its entirety.  Certainly, higher education must address the mismatch between academe and industry or between academe and the economy.  But higher education is not only about jobs.  It is about forming Filipino citizens who value their being Filipino in a just and peaceful Philippine society, their humanity in a humane global society, and who therefore critically understand the difference between freedom and arbitrariness, duty and licentiousness,  religion and ideology, radicalism and extremism, efficiency and corruption, and affirm personal dual responsibilities in followership and leadership.

The funding for the EAQTEA should be for its provisions in its entirety.  Funding must not just be for blind access to but deserved quality higher education.  Quality education is not a monopoly of the SUCs, just as universal access is not a virtue of private Education.  But outputting graduates optimally who will contribute well to the realization of Ambisyon Natin 2040 must result from the wise encouragement and financial support of the complementary between the country’s public and private HEIs today.  The cooperation between public and private HEIs is acknowledged by the new partnership between the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) and the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), which will soon be expanded to include the Association of Local Colleges and Universities (ALCU).  That is why the heads of these organizations are now part of the UniFAST Board.

The UniFAST Board will have to determine how scarce resources can be best used to optimize the output of quality graduates through the EAQTEA.  Prioritization of SUCs over LUCs over private HEIs may undermine this.  Support, on the other hand, of qualified students wishing higher education to serve the higher manpower requirements of the “smart population” envisaged in Ambisyon Natin 2040 in either public or private HEIs of evidenced quality may advance it.  The prioritization may therefore be for those quality scientists, engineers, social scientists, doctors, nurses, and even religious and moral leaders required by Ambisyon Nating 2040, and not those going to this or that type of HEI.

In the long term quality will have to be nurtured through the HEIs’ commitment to quality assurance within the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework.  Both PASUC and COCOPEA have formally committed themselves to this.

Finally, to make this work, funding must from the beginning be large enough to make not only the Tertiary Education Subsidy but the Student Loan Program for Tertiary Education function in proper complementarity.  The latter fund is wisely not a hand-out, but a loan seriously to be repayed.   The loan fund, therefore, will eventually revolve, allowing more and more qualified students access to quality education.  Unto this end, the law states, “Repayment shall be effected by incorporating a portion of the loan amount or a portion thereof in the employee’s monthly Social Security System (SSS) or Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) contribution, as the case may be, based on a reasonable schedule of repayment and interest rates, as may be formulated by the UniFAST Board” (Sec. 8).  It is for this reason that RA10931 provides that both the Presidents of the SSS and the GSIS be non-voting members of the UniFAST Board.

In the end, it is not the DBM Secretary that is to provide funds for this milestone in educational legislation.  It is Congress, through the General Appropriations Act (Sec. 15).  I am grateful that such legislators as Congressman Karlo Nograles and Sen. Loren Legarda have shown themselves to be very supportive of quality higher education for all.   As President Duterte rightly said after he signed the act into law, it is now up to the Congress to fund it.  Among the many things that Congress funds, quality higher education for all must certainly be a priority!




[1] Please see:

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