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Ateneo president ‘affirms’ right of students to hold gov’t accountable

Ateneo de Manila University President Fr Roberto “Bobby” Yap affirmed in a letter on Wednesday, November 25, the right of students to “hold their government accountable in its duty to serve and help those affected by the pandemic and the calamities.”

Yap's letter referring to the call of about 500 Ateneo students for a nationwide academic strike was a departure from the previous stand of the university.

Earlier, the university distanced itself from the student protests which also demanded accountability for what it called was government's “criminal negligence” in handling the aftermath of recent tropical cyclones that struck the country and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Friday, November 20, university officials merely acknowledged the protests and clarified that these were “not in any way sanctioned by the University."

This time calling on the entire Ateneo community to “unite in the face of the various challenges facing it,” Yap stressed how recent events have highlighted the need to “dig deeper and draw from our shared value” of caring for people.

Yap's message, entitled "A Call to Solidarity & Creative Action" and published on the university website, quoted the call of Pope Francis in his latest encyclical for “a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good (Fratelli Tutti #154),” 

Yap took over as university president last August 1.

He highlighted how “discernment within the community… have brought out the need for deeper conversations” after recent calamities triggered discussions on the gaps in the government’s disaster response. 

“I am heartened in seeing students express grievances as well as call for compassion for those affected by the crisis. I affirm the right of citizens to hold their government accountable in its duty to serve and help those affected by the pandemic and the calamities,” he said.

'Education for justice'

Yap said Jesuit education “upholds the truth that we are co-responsible in building a society able to include, integrate and lift up those who have fallen or are suffering.” 

“The sense of human solidarity is felt strongly within our university community – students, faculty, professionals, staff, administrators, alumni, and parents. We strive to foster a culture of 'listening-to-the-other' and the capacity for collaborative action,” he added.

Yap added that the call for an academic strike “manifest a consistency across generations” in times of crisis such as rehabilitation work after the typhoons of the early 1970s, the institutionalization of the Office for Social Concern and Involvement and socially-oriented faith-based organizations, and active non-violence that culminated through the 1986 EDSA Revolution.

“In line with our education mission, we recognize differing positions by offering various options consistent with our objective of integral formation for those who wish to engage in protest actions,” Yap said.

The Ateneo president further encouraged people to uphold the university’s mission to “not to give up what we are doing, but to hold fast to the learning that we are crafting and innovating as a community for and with others.”

“There are many voices and many modes of expression. We are called upon to grow in the habit of respecting the views of others and to the desire to be bridge-builders who foster productive collaboration,” Yap said.

Last November 14, over 500 Ateneo students pledged through a petition to stop submitting school requirements until the national government "heeds the people's demands for proper calamity aid and pandemic response."

The movement has since evolved, with Ateneo students urging other Filipino youth to stand with them in holding the Duterte government accountable and in calling for a nationwide academic break.

The petition has triggered the ire of public officials. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque warned students, “Babagsak po kayo (You will fail your subjects.)” President Rodrigo Duterte also threatened to defund the University of the Philippines, the country's premier state university, if its students joined the academic strike.

Recognizing ‘differing positions’

In response to the student strike, Yap said that the university administration and the student body have started a dialogue and released a joint statement on Monday, November 23. Also part of that statement were the Office of the Associate Dean for Student Formation, alumni, and student groups.

The statement detailed the university’s efforts to recognize the right of students and groups to organize and protest. 

The dialogue also resulted in an agreement to better coordinate mobilizations held on campus property to maintain order and ensure that safety measures are in place, according to the joint statement. 

To further protect its student community, the university said in the joint statement that scholars who filed for withdrawal of classes whether or not they participate in the strike can keep their scholarship for the succeeding semester if they do not have a failing mark in the first quarter. 

They may also get an incomplete grade at the end of the second quarter under the condition that they must sign a conforme that they should have a final passing grade for the concerned classes before enrolling in a succeeding semester. 

According to the joint statement, strikers will be working with university officials to come up with concrete steps to make communities more resilient, among others.

“We will continue to work with each other to bring the community together and ensure that the commitment and plans made during the meeting today can be followed through with concrete action,” the groups said in the joint statement. –

Russell Ku

Russell Ku is a Rappler volunteer from the Ateneo de Manila University. He is a senior taking up Bachelor of Science in Communications Technology Management. He’s currently an Inquiry staff writer for The GUIDON.