[OPINION] Should we ban the Marcoses from our campuses?

Dean Tony La Viña

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[OPINION] Should we ban the Marcoses from our campuses?
I would think I have succeeded more as a teacher if my students were more angry at the Duterte administration's human rights record than being upset at the Marcos children visiting us

This is a teaching moment that the Ateneo de Manila community should not miss. It’s also a teaching moment for other institutions, like the University of the Philippines, which has faced similar situations.


Hard questions 

I ask my questions not sarcastically or rhetorically but in the spirit of inquiry to make us a better learning community.

1. Should we draw up a list of people to ban from our campuses? What is the criteria for that list? Will the criteria be sufficient and we can dispense with a specific list? 

2. What is the process to be followed in defining the criteria and finalizing the list? Who should be consulted aside from the obvious ones like faculty, students, and alumni? Should the President of the university have the final say? Should it be the Jesuits or the Board of Trustees of the university? 

3. Allow me to speculate about the people who could be in a black list:

(a) The Marcoses – that’s Imelda, Imee, Bongbong, and Irene. But how about their children and grandchildren? How about the Aranetas (a family with strong Ateneo and Jesuit links and twice related to the Marcoses by marriage)? How about the Manotocs? How about the Romualdezes? Through the years, many members of this family have studied and continue to study in the Ateneo de Manila.

(b) Should we also ban Cabinet members, cronies, and supporters of President Marcos who helped perpetuate the dictatorship? Should we include their children and grandchildren too? To push the point further, how about US government officials as the US government was the main backer of the dictatorship for 14 years?

(c) How about President Duterte and his family, Cabinet officials, and political allies? After all, more people have been killed in the 3 years Duterte has been in power compared to the whole length of the Marcos dictatorship. Should we ban those who laugh and cheer whenever Duterte curses and blasphemes against God, threatens bishops and priests, and denigrates women?

(d) Should we choose and pick who among the senatorial candiates will be invited to debates in the campus? In 2022, if Bongbong Marcos runs, will we forego sponsoring a debate inside the campus because of fear of protests?

(e) Should we ban rich people (and their families) and officials of corporations that are unjust to workers, the urban poor, farmers, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized sectors? Should we do the same to those who are responsible for destroying the environment? To push the point further, should Ateneo not solicit or receive funds from such individuals and corporations? Obviously, for this category, we would need to have a process of determining which individuals or corporations are good and which are bad. 

(f) Should we ban Chinese officials from coming inside the campus given what is being done to us in the West Philippine Sea?

(g) If we ban people, should we also ban “bad” books, poems, art pieces, videos, films, websites, etc? Whats the criteria and process for that? 

I suggest that my readers fill in the blanks for your favorite bad people and things in this country and the world that should be banned from a Jesuit, Filipino, and Catholic University. We will soon discover that a blacklist is a black hole, bottomless and can go on ad infinitum. 

Students’ protest and its disturbing outcome

For the record, I support the students’ right to protest the presence of a Marcos in the campus. I spend significant class time in all my subjects in all the schools I am teaching in for students to remember and understand the Marcos regime with the purpose of helping ensure that it never happens again. But while appreciating the protest, the outcome is disturbing and unsatisfying. 

Yael Buencamino, Arete’s Executive Director who resigned voluntarily in the interest of transparency, is a national treasure. We have all seen her work in these past years and it is of the highest quality. I think she is irreplaceable – certainly it would be difficult to find someone of her caliber. Her love for this country cannot be questioned if one knows her work. She made Loyola more beautiful (not in the Imeldific sense but in the Platonic fashion of helping all of us see the truth) while many times disturbing and provoking us with the exhihits she has curated.  Her resignation is for sure a class act and I am glad Fr Jett Villarin, president of Ateneo de Manila, recognized that.

I find it important to ask though whether the Ateneo community – especially the faculty – missed an opportunity to rally around a colleague who made a controversial decision that students have protested against. I personally am sorry to have not pushed back on this issue although I recognize also that things developed very fast as it does in these times. 

Banning people is wrong

I am particularly disturbed that a discussion on banning people from the Loyola campus has arisen in the context of the Arete, the one place in the Ateneo de Manila where I thought imagination and creativity would be allowed to flourish. Short of allowing pornography, obscenity, and promotion of hate and violence, l would have thought we could think, do, discuss, debate, and show anything in the Arete and that everyone would be welcome there.

For the record, I do not believe in banning anyone from our campuses. I would not honor Imelda, Imee, Bongbong, or Irene with awards and I would respect protests against them but I would not ban them from the campus for political or other forums or when they come for personal reasons. I certainly will not have their children, grandchildren, in-laws, etc be ostracized. I would always err on the side of tolerance, respect, compassion, and kindness while also speaking truth to power.

Even with my record as an anti-dictatorship advocate and my consistent teaching about this topic, I would never have thought that inviting Irene (my classmate in Vince Rafael’s history class) to the campus would be controversial. I reject the idea that Yael invited Irene because she is a relative via the Aranetas. Again, this is not to say that students cannot protest the presence of a Marcos, but frankly why would one mobiize against someone like Irene?

This controversy is about human rights. Yes, it is about the human rights violations  that happened in the Marcos era. But it is also about how we value human rights today. And excluding people from university spaces, which I propose has a public character, is a violation of human rights.

An alternative approach 

I do understand times have changed and students feel strongly about this. I am clearly not in tune with this thinking. I realize now that in my teaching, I have to emphasize more the future rather than the past so that we are focused more on making sure a dictatorship never happens again. I would think I have succeeded more as a teacher if my students were more angry at the Duterte administration’s human rights record than being upset at the Marcos children visiting us. 

Is there an alternative approach to dealing with issues like this? Clearly, telling decision makers to use their common sense does not work when what used to be common is not necessarily accepted as such. The blacklist approach can be attractive but it does not fit an academic community. Obviously, we must all be prudent moving forward but we need to find constructive ways to do this better if we are not to be consumed by internal strife everytime the real world intrudes into our hill. – Rappler.com

Tony La Viña teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government. 

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