JESUITS are celebrating this year the bicentennary of the restoration of their religious order in 1814, after its suppression across Christendom in 1773. The Society of Jesus, which founded Ateneo de Manila in 1859, was expelled from much of Europe and its colonial domains, under pressure from rulers seeking to control the Catholic Church in their lands, and bristling at Jesuit resistance to political pressure.
Many may then find it triply ironic that when anti-government protesters massed on National Heroes Day August 25 in Rizal Park, named after our Atenean national hero, the Jesuit-founded and -led Ateneo was venue for launching the pro-Aquino Koalisyon ng Mamamayan Para sa Reporma. Kompre is a purportedly reformist group led by administration stalwarts; its lead convenor is Government Service Insurance System board member Karina David.
Also at the Kompre launch were Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Transportation and Communication Secretary Peter Abaya, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, and Development Bank of the Philippines director Alberto Lim, according to a lengthy article in Ateneo’s college paper The Guidon.
The university recently shamed former First Lady Imelda Marcos by inviting her to its top scholarship fund’s jubilee, then publicly deploring her presence on account of her martial law abuses and anomalies. Back in 2000, its high school grounds hatched the Kongreso ng Mamamayang Pilipino (Kompil), which led protests that ousted then-President Joseph Estrada.
But now, Ateneo apparently hosted administration officials and allied personages and groups joining hands to support President Benigno Aquino 3rd, as unrest mounts over his trebling of the corrupt pork barrel, creation of the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program, and undermining of both legislative and judicial independence.
Just school rooms for rent
What’s going on? In fact, Kompre merely rented rooms at the Institute of Social Order (ISO), an Ateneo affiliate. Some ISO people may support the movement, but officially, the university is not involved. Still, people reading and watching news on the launching may think Ateneo hosted and supported it. A Channel 5 online report was headlined (translated from Filipino): “You [protesters]have Luneta, we have Ateneo.”
Hence, some alumni want their alma mater to clarify that it was merely a leased venue, in the same way that it disavowed Imelda’s inadvertent invitation. Otherwise, Ateneo may come across as siding with Aquino against the mounting disaffection with its presidential alumnus, including anger in religious and academic circles.
Leading bishops have called on the President to resign, and Metro Manila university faculty and students have marched against his regime. Misgivings have stirred even across the globe. The New York Times frets over “political mischief” in his floated idea of ruling beyond 2016 and clipping judicial powers.
No, Kompre, it’s not only one issue
The pro-Aquino movement held workshops for an expected 400 attendees, presumably to counter what GSIS director David said was “the problem with Filipinos focusing on one issue, getting peeved, and everything is seen as bad” (translated from Filipino).
Apologies to this writer’s esteemed fellow former Civil Service Commission chairperson, but one must retort that misgivings about Aquino are neither few nor flimsy, and certainly not just one. As many have documented and detailed, especially fellow Atenean, international journalist and columnist Rigoberto Tiglao, the Aquino presidency has abetted or perpetrated, among other anomalies:
• The five-fold surge in smuggling to $19 billion annually, based on International Monetary Fund data, which lost P200 billion in revenues, as Aquino himself admitted in his State of the Nation Address last year
• The near-tripling of the graft-ridden Priority Development Assistance Fund to over P20 billion a year, according to the Department of Budget and Management’s National Expenditure Program
• The illegal DAP of P147 billion, by DBM’s count, allocated to programs and projects “not covered by any appropriation,” as the Supreme Court found, directly contravening Article VI, Section 29 of the Constitution: “No money shall be paid out of the Treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law.”
With that unprecedented mass of anomalies nearing, if not exceeding half a trillion pesos, Filipinos are not just irritated (“naiinis”, as David put it), but have every reason to be outraged. Especially since the leader who let or made these excesses happen, promised to eradicate them.
Kompre claimed it was set up to “ensure that the people’s hard-fought gains under the current Administration are continued past 2016 by broadening and deepening the reform process and making the necessary institutional changes in our governance and economic frameworks.”
What hard-fought gains? After four years of Aquino, poverty and joblessness have declined little, Manila’s ports are clogged, commuter trains are overcrowded and accident-prone, vehicle license plates are in short supply, food prices are soaring, purportedly prepositioned disaster relief takes forever, and a power shortage looms.
Most egregious of all, Aquino continues to shield his Kaklase-Kakampi-Kabarilan coterie of close associates and allies, prompting Catholic bishops to decry “selective” pork barrel investigation and prosecution. The economy and public finance are strong, but that was already in train following the 2005 fiscal reforms.
Universities must seek objective truth
So should Ateneo president Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin SJ, whom this writer counts as a highly respected friend, issue a disclaimer about Kompre like the one he made amid online protests over Imelda? There’s a better approach, one that partakes of not only the university’s mission to seek truth, but also the Jesuit discipline of rational argument.
There’s nothing wrong if Ateneo or any other institution of learning gives the government a platform to argue its side, as long as opposing views get equal time and space. At the height of the 2005 political crisis, this writer, as Cabinet Secretary, presented the official perspective at several universities and colleges.
The institutions included La Salle, MIriam, St. Paul Quezon City, Santo Tomas, and UP Manila. Among many schools offered the talk, only Ateneo did not care to listen, though Jesuit priests and seminarians at the Loyola House of Studies did, along with the Catholic Biships Conference plenary in January 2006.
May this loyal alumnus then propose that Ateneo host an alumni debate on the performance of the Aquino administration. Secretaries Roxas and Abad, or other Ateneans now in public office could extol Tuwid na Daan. Former secretary and ambassador Tiglao, if available, could take the opposing side, along with, say, former chief justice Renato Corona. Plus lady Blue Eagles on both sides.
Let’s have One Big Fight to tell the truth about the Aquino presidency.