As Filipinos hear President Benigno Aquino 3rd expound on his administration’s achievements, plans and programs in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) opening Congress, it’s good to remember that people are what make advances and aspirations happen, and ideas and initiatives take shape.
Hence, it is perhaps providential that on the Saturday before SONA on Monday, Ateneo de Manila University held its second Ignatian Festival commemorating Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, which established and administers the Ateneo.
For the event, the university invited Jesuits as well as alumni in government, business, media and social causes, to share their thoughts and experiences in serving society and living up to the Ateneo ideal of being persons for others.
If grand plans for the country are to take shape and make impact, women and men must give their time, talent, toil and treasure, often with little recompense and much sacrifice and failure, to bring change and progress to the world.
Underscore sacrifice and failure. If there is one lesson in earthly struggle that a religious order named after Jesus Christ must not fail to teach, it is that changing the world and establishing God’s Kingdom on the planet demands the willingness to sacrifice all, even life, and rise up from utter failure, even death.
President Aquino expounded on these very points in his Ignition Festival keynote speech at the Ateneo Grade School Irwin Theater. He recalled how Ignatius, despite the saint’s aristocratic family, became a soldier and, after a spiritual conversion while recovering from a battle injury, a servant of God.
“For us Ateneans,” the President admonished in Filipino, “this is one of St. Ignatius’s most important lessons: Leave your accustomed comfort zone and reach out to others. Never fear to walk the winding path of righteousness and veer away from the easy road to wrong.”
The elementary, high school and college (A.B. Economics, 1981) alumnus added: “It is not enough to know the problem—you have an obligation to contribute to the solution; it is your duty to right the wrong. And isn’t it so that if you were to do nothing, you would become part of the problem?”
Hear, hear. The last line in particular applies to those in positions of authority, influence, power and wealth. If top officials of leading institutions of government, business, religion, academe, and culture say and do nothing in the face of violence, abuse and plunder, then they become party to those enormities.
Take the wanton plunder of state funds and the selling of government favors, most recently headlined in the alleged pork-barrel-skimming by a syndicate of bogus non-government organizations (NGOs), and the reported demand of a $30-million bribe from the Czech company Inekon bidding to supply railcars to the Metro Rail Transit.
If, as President Aquino told his fellow Ateneans, those who do nothing become part and parcel of the problem, then he should give his exhortation the impetus of example by handing over both cases to the Ombudsman for speedy, impartial investigation, hopefully free from political agenda or interference.
While he’s at it, Aquino can rectify his past negligence in abetting jueteng and smuggling by asking the antigraft czar to probe and prosecute police and customs officials responsible for the unbridled prevalence of illegal lotteries and the fivefold increase in contraband under his watch. Be true to your words, Mr. President. Be part of the solution, not the problem.
On the other hand, even Aquino critics must applaud if and when the Department of Agrarian Reform finally distributes his Cojuangco family estate Hacienda Luisita to its landless farmers two months from now, as DAR recently announced.
Such a milestone in social justice is sorely needed at this time of a widening gulf between rich and poor, with more Filipinos joining the Forbes billionaires list while poverty incidence remains unchanged, and unemployment and hunger worsens, despite surging economic growth and tens of billions of pesos in direct aid for millions of poor families.
Indeed, one primary Ignatian message to the mostly privileged alumni of Ateneo has to be narrowing the growing inequality in Philippine society. This socio-economic stratification is the most divisive force in the country, which feeds crime, violence, exploitation, oppression, and insurgency.
Disparities in income, education, power and status even prevent normal communication and interaction among social classes—the very elitist, if not oppressive dichotomy among people which Jesus sought to break down and crash through in His day. And the solution, then as now, must include the more fortunate fulfilling the Christian mission to ease the burdens and uplift the lives of the least fortunate of their brethren.
The Ignatian Festival featured many alumni who have devoted major portions of their lives, abilities and resources for the betterment of others.
Associate Justice and former Labor Secretary Arturo Brion served the cause of workers’ rights and interests before joining the High Court. Run by a board with several Ateneans, Marywoods School in Bukidnon educates youth to be future leaders in their les privileged communities. Also featured were business people and ventures combining profit and social development.
The common denominator in all these men and women of service is the willingness to share and sacrifice for others, never letting ambition and get become the driving force in their lives and undertakings.
Far more than brilliant ideologies and impressive programs, it is the individual and collective efforts of committed women and men for others that hold the key to ending deprivation and division and establishing one nation in peace, harmony and happiness under God.
Sharing and sacrifice is the way to bring heaven to earth.