MANILA, Philippines – The official student publication of the University of Santo Tomas sparked controversy for an opinion-editorial article calling pro-Reproductive Health (RH) bill Ateneo and La Salle professors “intellectual pretenders and interlopers.”
The Varsitarian article titled "RH bill, Ateneo, and La Salle: Of lemons and cowards" was posted on the publication’s website. The piece quickly circulated on social media and drew sharp reactions, angering many netizens.
In the article, The Varsitarian criticized professors of the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and De La Salle University (DLSU) for expressing support for the RH bill despite the Catholic Church’s opposition to it. Both Ateneo and La Salle are Catholic universities.
The paper questioned not just the stand of the professors but their competence as well.
“How could Ateneo and La Salle professors dismiss the medically established dangerous side effects of contraceptives when they are not even physicians? In contrast, UST, which has the oldest and the foremost school of medicine in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, has always warned about the dangerous side of contraceptives.”
“UST and her physicians surely know whereof they speak. They’re scientists and experts, unlike the Ateneo and La Salle professors who are intellectual pretenders and interlopers!”
In contrast, The Varsitarian hailed UST for standing against the RH bill, which the campus paper called an “anti-poor, social engineering measure that not only denigrates the natural law but also runs roughshod over maternal health, kowtows the contraceptive imperialism of the West, and generally blames the poor.”
“UST is a Catholic institution. It is a pontifical institution—the second to be so named in world history. Nobody should question whether the University supports the Church’s stand as the Gospel of Christ is UST’s—and any Catholic institution’s—pillar and foundation.”
“It’s the Philippine state and its depredations – its mismanagement and appaling corruption that are to blame,” the Varsitarian said. “A closed reading of the merasure which show it promotes abortifacients (sic).”
The bill, pending in Congress for about 17 years, is still on the period of amendments in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The Varsitarian said the ADMU and DLSU professors who expressed support for the RH bill should resign. It added that the universities “treated them with kid gloves.”
“They have clung on to their faculty membership in Catholic institutions. They want to have their cake and eat it, too. They’re intellectual mercenaries, nothing more, nothing less.”
The Varsitarian said, “But alas, it seems intellectual honesty and moral conviction are in such short supply in Katipunan, Quezon City and Taft Avenue, Manila.”
‘Toe the line’
The Varsitarian argued that the professors could not simply invoke academic freedom.
“Perhaps even worse, a Filipino Jesuit professor has been quoted by his student in the latter’s Facebook as scoffing at the alleged threat of the bishops to remove Ateneo’s Catholic title, saying that Ateneo in any case does not have the word ‘Catholic’ appended to its name, so what’s there to lose? We’re pretty sure Saint Ignatius would have no confusion on where to put that jesuitic Jesuit—in Heaven or Hell?—in his famous Spiritual Exercises.”
Being Catholic universities, it said ADMU and DLSU should have “clamped down” on the professors, especially those teaching theology.
“Ateneo said it respects the academic freedom of its professors: it had nothing to say about the intellectual dishonesty of its faculty members who are teaching in and receiving high salaries from a Catholic institution who however chose to bite the hand that feeds them all in the name of academic freedom.”
The Varsitarian added that the professors must follow the bishops’ teachings as “successors of the Church’s apostles and possessing the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church.”
“The student of a Catholic school must receive Catholic teachings without adulteration, without debasement,” the Varsitarian said.
The publication said it was “quite gratifying that the UST has cracked the whip and reminded its faculty members that they’re members of a Catholic institution and should toe the line.”
It referred to a letter of UST Secretary General Fr Winston Cabading, O.P. reminding UST professors that the school “reaffirms our fidelity to the magisterium of the Church” in light of the statements from the pro-RH professors of Ateneo and La Salle.
‘Nothing wrong with expressing stance’
The Varsitarian’s stand is contrary to the position expressed by Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) national advocacy chair Fr Joel Tabora.
In a press briefing last August, the Jesuit priest said there was nothing wrong with the Ateneo professors’ expression of support for the RH bill.
“I certainly cannot say that they have done this unconscientiously; they declare it explicitly that they say this in conscience. In the context of the university, this is something which, I think, should be considered normal when people come up with a position, calling forth the positions of others,” Tabora said.
“You have different groups of people who come together, advocating strong positions, but in the end, in a democratic, plural society, people have to come together and understand what is the demand of the common good, what is the demand of social justice. And I think, in a plural society, no one group can dictate on the other groups,” Tabora added.
Conscience, preferential option for the poor
Ateneo alumnus and businessman Manuel V Pangilinan also cut ties with the university last month partly due to the school’s stand against the RH bill. He is also against the Ateneo's stand on mining.
“[The Church] should earn its rightful place in the national debating table by showing tangibly and significantly its concern for the poor and the corrupt, and sharing the burden with business and government the enormous task of nation-building – including the appropriate moral formation of our people and our leaders,” Pangilinan said.
In their statement, the pro-RH Ateneo professors said the RH bill's provisions “adhere to core principles of Catholic social teaching,” such as preferential option for the poor and primacy of conscience.
“Embracing the preferential option for the poor asks us to look at the world from the perspective of the poor, and create conditions for them to be heard, defended against injustices, and provided opportunities for their empowerment and attainment of the fullness of human life,” the Ateneo professors explained.
Here are the online reactions to the Varsitarian article:
[ View the story ""Lemons and cowards": Online reaction to the Varsitarian editorial" on Storify ]
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