Whither Ateneo in the Age of Duterte?
A group called “Ateneans for Duterte” recently popped up on my Facebook feed. Its avowed goal, which I can no longer read since the group has been locked, was something to the extent of proving to the world that not all Ateneans hate the president.
With its 153 members, however, success has been elusive for the Dutertista Atenistas. I’m afraid many Atenistas are liberals, and a good number of us are even part of the much-derided yellowtard variant thereof.
For the first time in decades, Ateneo de Manila is out of sync with the political times (to the chagrin of our one-hit wonder alumnus, Jimmy Bondoc). In the years to come, it will explore unchartered territory, using principles it has honed over the last few decades.
As an outgoing member of the faculty (this piece doubles as my farewell letter), I can affirm that Ateneo’s politics today is broadly anti-authoritarian, making it an easy target for populists who claim that society needs dictatorial disiplina. Many of our faculty were active in the anti-dictatorship movement, and we venerate them for their contributions. These older faculty have imparted to us young teachers and students a sense of the past attuned to the machinations of unbridled power.
Because many of them fought Marcos, they are critical of state authoritarianism. Because many of them are social democrats and Christian humanists, they are critical of communism’s totalitarianism. And because of its rootedness in Catholic social teaching (liberation theology, to be honest), many contemporary Ateneans are serious about the Church’s preferential option for the poor. Which is why they criticize a drug war that targets the poor.
The university was not always oriented this way. Ateneo’s annoying arrogance draws from its avowed duty to train the nation’s leaders.
In the '60s, this claim to leadership created entitled blowhards, who, to this day, confuse public service with self-aggrandizement, while annoying everyone with fake a rrrrooollling, Hispano-American English spoken from the jowls (the much-derided Arneow accent). Consider the Dutertian coward Dick Gordon, who, along with his boss, now stands accused of crimes against humanity. Or the other Dutertian, RJ Jacinto, whose Atenean sense of entitlement manifests in believing that owning a radio station makes one a talented musician and that owning a steel business makes one a qualified economic advisor.
These alumni from the Arneow of yore would be ill-placed in the Ateneo of today, basketball cheers notwithstanding. The university, while still attracting some rich kids, is no longer as elite. Many of the super wealthy now have international schools and the southern gentry (read, Alabang) have Opus Dei/PAREF schools. Upon graduating high school, students from these more expensive high schools go abroad and skip Loyola. Meanwhile, the school “on the hill” has attempted to increase the number of its scholars.
More importantly, Ateneo’s intellectual DNA began to transmute from the late 1960s onwards. A confluence of factors – Vatican 2’s admonition towards a more engaged Church, Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio which called attention to economic inequality, the blossoming of liberation theology in Latin America, the Filipinization movement in pedagogy – led to the creation of the socially aware Ateneo I have spent the last 27 years with, an Ateneo that sees “sin” not simply as consisting of individual acts, but also created by socio-political structures that systematically disadvantage the poor. It is a form of spirituality that even a godless heathen like myself can value.
In 1968, five student leaders published the landmark manifesto “Down from the Hill” on the college newspaper, The Guidon. The manifesto condemned the “power elite” for appropriating “unto itself the fruits of the country’s economic resources.” It likewise condemned Ateneo for serving the rich, and enjoined the university to reimagine its goal of leadership to one that served “the oppressed masses” of the country.
By 1975, the university had set up its Office of Social Concern and Involvement (OSCI), which, until today, anchors our efforts at community involvement. At around this time as well, Ateneo became the breeding ground for an incipient Catholic, humanist socialism, which condemned Marcos, but also the violent methods of the Communist Party.
None of this is to say that Ateneo became a school of the masses. The university continued to attract the power elite. This power elite continued to govern the nation. And the university supported many of them.
Sometimes the symbiosis went too far, as when former university president Fr. Bienvenido Nebres allowed Ateneo to be used as a deodorant for the corrupt Arroyo regime (at the height of her unpopularity, GMA continued to mention her numerous projects with Ateneo). Providentially, Noynoy Aquino replaced Arroyo in 2010, and his college friend, Fr. Jose Villarin, replaced Nebres in 2011, thus continuing congenial cooperation between the university and the Palace.
I maintain, at the risk of being labeled pro-Aquino (which I am in a limited capacity), that the Aquino-Ateneo connection was born out of principle; it was an affirmation of the university’s continued faith in the country’s liberal-democratic experiment – an experiment that is undergoing significant strain under a budding dictator.
Today, for the first time in more than a decade, Ateneo finds itself a castaway from the halls of power. The most powerful man in the country despises us as a haven of the yellowtards and oligarchs he despises. Many of our young alumni have been eased out of government positions they once occupied. And, naturally, we are trolled.
What will Ateneo’s intervention in national life be in the next few years? I really don’t know. But we have a proud tradition of social involvement and anti-authoritarianism that will anchor many of our students, faculty, and alumni.
When Ateneo students dragged their teachers out to the streets to protest the Marcos burial, I knew that tradition was alive. On my last school year as a member of the faculty, I had never been prouder to be an Atenista. – Rappler.com
Lisandro E. Claudio is an outgoing faculty member of the Ateneo de Manila University. Though he is looking forward to the “greener” pastures at Taft, he will miss his alma mater.