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NOTES FROM FR. JOEL: The President and the King

[Address to the ADDU General Faculty Convocation, Finster Auditorium, June 2, 2016]

We have a new President of the Philippines, our Philippines. His name is Rodrigo Duterte. And he is ours.

We have a new Mayor of Davao City, our Davao. Her name is Inday Sara. She is also a Duterte. And she is ours.

We have a new social media sensation, and for many, a new heartthrob. His name is Baste. He is also a Duterte. And he is ours.

We come together with new hope, both on a national and local level. The hope? Change is coming. Change is here.

Joy and Trepidation

It is a hope which fills us with joy: Finally, on the national level: a President from Mindanao. Finally, a President whom we know, many on a professional level, others on a personal level; many through the news we read in Sun-Star, Mindanews and Edge; others through the intimacy of text messages. Finally, a President who understands Mindanao, the alienation of the Muslims and indigenous peoples wrought by centuries of historical injustice, the problem of ancestral lands and traditional forms of self governance stolen from Mindanao peoples through a treaty of foreigners or legislation of northern Filipinos, the problem of uneven distribution of development opportunity where political, economic, cultural and even religious power advantaged the few over the many, raping Mindanao of its natural resources, bringing substantial fortunes to some, abject poverty to others, forcing opponents of its structural injustice to take up arms in a revolution that to this day demands resolution.  Finally a President who understands the evil of large-scale mining, the need to protect our Mindanao heritage, our environment, our common home, from development aggression, and even the need to protect in our cities’ green spaces to advance the quality of urban human life.   Finally, a President who understands the difference between the call of friendship and the call of country, a President who rejects imperial Manila, a President who will resist the external trappings of political power, a President who will fight crime and illegal drugs resolutely, a President most of all whose heart is with the poor.

It is a hope which also fills us with trepidation. This Digong is ours, but he is also not ours. We know where he lives, the people around him, the style of his governance, the rhythms of his lifestyle, the story of his life. We know we can talk to him, that he will give us a hearing. But we know we don’t control him. He will say what he will say. He will do what he will do. He will choose as he will choose. He will forge alliances and spurn others. He will cultivate friends and make enemies. Some of his decisions will elate us, others will jar us. Some will inspire us to collaboration, others to conscientious objection. Despite the trepidation, we will deal with him with hope. We do not want to be disappointed. He is not ours, yet he is. He says one thing, and means another. He announces the preposterous, and intends the rational. Most of the time, we will know what he means. I think. He means well. We are buckled down for an exciting ride.

Change is coming. We hope. For Mindanao and the poor, change is here. But we are part of the change.
We must own that part, I suggest, as a singular grace. It is a part that calls for reflection and prayer, learning and depth, freedom and commitment.

In Fidelity to Our Vision and Mission

We play that part necessarily in fidelity to our vision and mission.

We are a Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino University. But first and foremost, a university. We are teachers, scholars, and students who come together to search for truth in academic freedom. We are about truth. In instruction we communicate truth, in research, we discover truth; in outreach, we serve our communities in truth.

In the exercise of our being university we participate best in the change.

In our search for truth we not limited by religious doctrines, theologies, national ideologies or particular economies, not even by a Duterte ideology or economy.

As a Catholic university, we are privileged to preside over the tension between knowing Jesuit Christ as the truth and having in this world to search for truth. We cannot be self-satisfied in the Lord whom we know as Truth, knowing – as Duterte knows – that the truth of our God and the truth of our faith and the truth of our words do not ring true with the suffering of the poor, the hypocrisy of religious leaders, the failure of the “Church of the Poor” sufficiently “to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the shelterless, to visit the sick, to ransom the captive, and bury the dead…” The “Church of the Poor” is embarrassed by a Church of the Established, the Self-Righteous, the Privileged that is too often trapped in sin. Yet, stung by the truth beneath this prophet’s scorn, we are not paralyzed by our shortcomings, foibles and sin, but still moved by the mercy of God, calling us despite our sins, missioning us to continue to struggle to be the Church of the Poor we ought in truth to be.

The Catholic university must furthermore continue its search for truth in a world where religious commitment and relationship to a God of Truth is too often occasion or cause for violence, war, and barbarity.

As a Jesuit university, we are to serve the faith, promote justice, heighten sensitivity to cultures, engage in inter-religious dialogue and preserve and protect the environment, even as we appropriate Ignatian spirituality. The Duterte Presidency with its inevitable focus on Mindanao, I believe, will challenge us specially to this, even as the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus has just formally promulgated its “Philippine Province Roadmap 2016” which “will direct greater apostolic focus, preference, resources and energies to Mindanao,” specifically to:
“the continuing poverty and marginalisation of peoples, specifically the most impoverished among the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and Muslim communities;
“the pervasive military conflicts between Government and rebel groups in many areas, which inflict violence on the IPs, cause massive displacement (i.e. internally displaced peoples of IDPs), generate threats of extremist involvement, especially among the youth, and create further impoverishment and suffering;
“the threatened ecological processes (like food production, water supply, climate and disease control) from the degradation of the natural environment and its vulnerability to uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources, both of which are integral to sustaining the cultures and lives of IPs; and
“the continued struggle of the entire region of Mindanao for lasting peace and reconciliation based on authentic and inclusive human development, rectifying centuries of historical injustice and promoting the intra- and inter-faith dialogue that is integral to New Evangelization.”

As things have unfolded, this Roadmap is our Roadmap as a Jesuit university. It will be travelled by Jesuits and partners in mission, even as the Jesuits look for their own new General this coming October and for new Jesuits to fulfill this mission in Mindanao.

As a Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino university we will seek a deeper understanding of Mindanao as Filipino in relationship to the Philippines, the Asia Pacific region, the Middle East, and especially China.

Concrete Challenges

It will be up to us in the GS, JHS, SHS, Colleges, Law School and Graduate School to find our special contributions to realising the hope of the Duterte Presidency – which dovetails so well with the hopes of the Philippine Province and our own university.

The GS has taken on the theme, “Start Bright!” Learning is fun the GS, and takes young learners away from the gloom of boring classrooms and the fear of terrorising teachers to the joys of discovery amidst flowers, trees, cultural treasures and caring teachers of Mindanao. The JHS has taken on the theme, “Aim High!” It aims high at perfecting its commitment to environmental education for Mindanao integrated into all its disciplines and developing values for responsible leadership. The new SHS speaks of the “Ateneo Way to Success.” That certainly is not just success in wealth, popularity and prestige. It is rather success in preparing youthful leadership who will help make the world – and Mindanao – more just and compassionate, its economy more environmentally responsible and sustainable.

In their quest for excellence, combining liberating humanistic formation with professional education, the colleges, graduate school and law school are challenged to integrate the fruits of research with the rigor of instruction and with competence in community service; they are challenged to allow the encounter with Mindanao communities to inspire their research and enrich their instruction; they are challenged to use their instruction to whet our students’ interests in the concerns of Mindanao, encourage them to research, and challenge them to meaningful service in the communities.

They are not unfamiliar with a road that exacts commitment and hard work in their profession. But now, in an age of Mindanao’s Duterte, the call may be to allow their genius rooted in Mindanao experience to create a higher education experience that is sui generis. Let their teaching, their research and their community service deal with the poverty and marginalization of our Mindanao peoples, the military conflicts between our government and our rebellious groups, the degradation of our natural environment linked to uncontrolled exploitation linked to our unbridled consumption, the struggle of Mindanao for lasting peace based on a rectification of historical injustice in which we and all Filipinos are involved.

Under the Duterte administration, on the national level, let us support his drive against crime and illegal drugs, but let us be passionate in our insistence on human rights.

Let us work with our students to build in them a respect for and fear of the law, but let us contribute to an informed discussion on the death penalty.

Let us continue to insist that the Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro be implemented, including the passage of a BBL, even as we promote studies in depth and informed conversations concerning a federal type of government.

Let us understand the possible link between federalism and the further entrenchment of local political dynasties.

Let us continue to respect and promote the cultural and political rights of our indigenous peoples.

Let us support the efforts towards peace with leftist and left-leaning organisations based on a shared advocacy of social justice. That begins with the Pakighinabi session on June 8 with Fidel Agcaoili and companions.

Let us continue to fight development aggression, especially large scale mining, land grabbing and monocrop farming, which is destructive of our forests and biodiversity, toxic for our rivers, and violative of the rights of our indigenous peoples.

Let us continue to advocate the use of renewable energy over fossil fuels, and oppose its monopolisation by large companies. Let us work so that the production and use of renewable energy be brought to the people.

Let us contribute to an elevated culture of domestic politics and sound foreign policy. Unto these ends a new ADDU Center for Political and International Affairs (CPIA), which I have just approved, will be helpful.

Let us promote and protect the joy of genuine loving in our families, taking care that we prepare our students for happy marriages.

In basic education, let us continue to work for a meaningful implementation of the K-12 law; in higher education, let us work for a more responsible use of academic freedom, quality assurance, the complementarity between public and private education and the autonomous self governance of higher educational institutions.

Under the Duterte administration, on the local level, where we will be working with Inday Sara and the members of the City Council, let us continue to work for a Davao open to the world yet preservative of its character, history, culture and heritage. Let us work for a city well integrated in the countryside, where the city provides for industry, commerce, education, recreation and residences, but also for quality human living. Let us work for a city where all have access to parks, playgrounds and green spaces – including and especially a Shrine Hills developed for the enjoyment of all. Let us lobby for a transportation system that works, and for streets where traffic flows. Let us work for a religiously-inclusive city that is truly supportive of healthy families and neighborhood communities, and where no Davaeño is a squatter in his own city. For these ends, the newly-approved Ateneo Institute on Environmental and Urban/Regional Studies (ATINEUS) will be helpful.

Sustainable, Remunerated and Volunteer Work

Let us work, understanding that all these will have its costs.

It will cost us energy, time, dedication and resources, both institutional and personal.

Let us work to sustain ourselves in our mission. The institution, in dialogue with the unions, will seek to provide salaries and benefits to the best of its ability. But if we face the challenges of our day, we will not be sustained by salaries and merit increases alone, but only by an alignment of our inner selves – our personal will – with the work that we do, that what we do is what we really want to do. We are sustained as well by the affirmation we receive from our students and alumni/ae, and the recognition we receive from our superiors, colleagues, families and friends, that what we do is meaningful and important. We are sustained by an inner peace.

For this reason, even as the Duterte age dawns, we must anchor our hopes in realism, accepting our institutional and personal limitations, our multiple commitments not only to instruction, research and outreach, but to our families, our friends, our selves and our God.

We must take care of ourselves. And one another. Perhaps, help each other with time management. Help each other to physical and spiritual health. Converse with one another. Celebrate each other’s achievements, each other’s insight, each other’s gifts. Encourage, rather than discourage; strengthen, rather than weaken; inspire, rather than tear down. In the richness of our lives, time is truly scarce. But when we have no time for one another, we are utterly impoverished.

All this – with all of the deadlines for lesson plans, the submission of grades, the work in the field, the service of others, the reports on projects, the chores at liquidation – is part of the university community we ultimately want to be part of, want to be proud of, and want to make work.

Last Tuesday, I went to Zamboangita, Bukidnon. It was fiesta there, the feast of Our Lady, Mediatrix of all Graces.

The community there is very grateful for the many things ADDU has done for them. When they say ADDU they mean the institution certainly. But what they specifically mean are the ADDU volunteers who have shared with them of their time and talent, Engr. Richard Manapol who helped them with value engineering in the construction of the St. Isidore SHS, Karl Ebol who monitored the expenditures in its construction, the InDex volunteers, Batch II who immersed themselves in the Zamboangita community but helped it with its political discernment, the volunteers from UITO and Computer Studies, who brought and set up their computers, the Arrupe volunteers who with the School of Education helped in capacity building of teachers and who with the Samahan are now working on a year-long Pagbabahagi program to respond to the material needs of the school.

Last Tuesday when all the thanks were being expressed to me representing the institution, I was grateful for and proud of our volunteers.

As I am proud of all of you. For, considering the limitation of our remuneration, we are at core all volunteers. The root word for “volunteer”, you may recall, is the Latin, voluntas, meaning will. You are here at ADDU, and stay here, because you will to be here and will to stay here.

In responding to the gratitude of Frs. Nilo Labra, mission superior, and Ernald Andal, SHS Director, I said, “You’re most welcome. We have the same mission!”

Same mission.   At Zamboangita, I asked Fr. Andal how he is able to sustain his teachers, to whom the school can only afford to pay some PHP 8,000 monthly, while public schools are paying PHP 18,000 to 20,000. He said he “smiles at them.” [The smile is worth PHP 10,000!] But beyond that, he helps his teachers improve in their teaching skills, and assures them that if they have to move on, they would have his respect, but at least they would move on as better teachers. In this context of trust, many of them coming themselves from the school and loving its mission, choose to stay. It’s where they will to be. They are the school’s core volunteers.

As you are ADDU’s core volunteers, volunteers from the heart, if you are here not just because of your salaries and benefits considerably higher than PHP 8,000 a month, but ultimately because you will to be here sharing the same mission as the teachers in St. Isidore, and because what you do is ultimately aligned with your heart.

The service asked of us as ADDU under the Duterte administration is ultimately what we volunteer to do, what we will do.

Even if it means transcending limitations: by re-organising ourselves to maximise our strengths and overcome our weaknesses, by working at the professional studies, by finding the quiet for more reading and writing, by learning to better communicate our convictions and concerns, by being willing to understand, discuss and debate the pros and cons of the death penalty or of federalism or of constitutional change or of the use of drugs by our students. We transcend limitations by re-entering ourselves in reflection, thought and prayer, and finding the courage for the prophetic declaration. We transcend limitations by re-discovering ourselves in service.

ADDU has long traditions of volunteer work. We are formed in freedom through volunteer work. In disasters we call for volunteers, our psychologists from COPERS are always among the first responders, during elections we depend on volunteers, in reaching out to the poor, we volunteer. The partnership we have forged with the DepEd in contributing to the Tboli culture-appropriate Senior High School is based on the volunteer work of our anthropologists and education specialists, of our architects and engineers. The work that we have done with the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Institute in Taungyi, Myanmar is based on volunteer work originally from our Department of Education. You also know that ADDU has been working through the CEAP to send volunteers to teach in Islamic Schools of Bangsamoro areas; we have just sent out the second batch of the Madaris Volunteer Program (MVP).
Recently, we started the ADDU Cardoner Volunteer Program, a year-long volunteer-service program offered to graduates and faculty members of ADDU. The program recalls that by the Cardoner River, St. Ignatius was overpowered by a mystical experience through which, in the words of his Autobiography, “the eyes of his understanding began to be opened; though he did not see any vision, he understood and knew many things, both spiritual things and matters of faith and learning, and this was with so great an enlightenment that everything seemed new to him. It was as if he were a new man, with a new intellect.” Through the new program, the hope is that such an experience be given to the volunteers. In this first batch of Cardoner Volunteers, we are sending volunteers to the Bangsamoro areas, Lake Sebu, and Taunggyi, Myanmar. Those who go on these programs don’t get paid salaries. They just go. They go because they want to go.

For St. Ignatius it was very important for us to be in touch with “that which I desire,” id quod volo, that which I will.

In the Spiritual Exercises, asking, stating, begging for what I want precedes every prayer in which ultimately we ask God what he wills.

As President-elect Duterte is about to take cudgels for national leadership, as change is coming, and you are here, what is it that you want?

Meditation on the Kingdom

Let me end by recalling to you the meditation on the Kingdom – which spans the first and second week of the Spiritual Exercises. It spans the experience of the forgiven penitent with the experience of the missioned disciple.

St. Ignatius asks us to meditate on an earthly king who invites his supporters to work with him on his mission.

“Whoever wishes to come with me must be content to eat as I eat, drink as I drink, dress as I dress, etc. He must be willing to work day and night, so that sharing in toils, he may share in my victory.” The earthly king could be Leni Robredo; it could be Rodrigo Duterte. St Ignatius invites us to consider that the normal subject would say yes, since the king is a good person, or be considered weird.

But St. Ignatius then invites us to consider that Jesus calls – Jesus who proclaimed the Kingdom of God and on the Cross became himself the unlikely King. We are asked to consider our logic in saying yes to an earthly king. Wouldn’t all who have judgment and reason necessarily say yes to the Eternal King?

“Follow me,” he said. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Say yes to this King. Volunteer.

In this context, we ask how are we to be a Jesuit, Catholic and Filipino University as Mr. Duterte takes the reigns of government. I think, we must understand that which we want – before the earthly President, then before the Eternal King.   Be part of the change. Be a channel of His grace. We must listen, discern, and serve. Volunteer. As an excellent teacher, a compassionate counselor, an ardent researcher, a courageous defender of human rights, an ardent advocate of the common good, a staunch defender of the environment, an advocate of educational reform.

Finally, allow me to remind you. In the meditation on the Kingdom, when the disciple considers how one can distinguish oneself in following the Lord, Ignatius does not point to getting honors or winning merit points or advancing in academic rank or publishing in refereed journals or building schools for the indigenous peoples.

Instead, he counsels “working against one’s sensuality and carnal and worldly love” and volunteering to be like Jesus who “emptied himself… being obedient to death, even death on the cross” (Phil 2:7). For this purpose, peering into the eyes of the Crucified Lord in our Assumption Chapel and letting him peer into yours may be helpful.

We have a new President of the Philippines. But we have an Eternal King. His name is Jesus Christ. And he is ours.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ is president of the Ateneo de Davao University. He is also Vice President of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and chair of its Advocacy Committee, and President of the CEAP in Region 11. MindaNews was granted permission to reprint this piece, first published in Fr. Tabora’s blog,http://taborasj.wordpress.com/author/joeltaborasj/)

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