Yellow Pad


“Lux in Domino?” (BusinessWorld, 14, April 2019, online version), I am happy to note, has stimulated a vigorous discussion, if not an earnest discussion.

The issue is about how the Ateneo administration handled the indignation over the presence of Irene Marcos-Araneta in an art installation exhibit on campus.

In gist, the essay explains why the Ateneo de Manila leadership did not measure up to its standard of shining the light of reason, and may I add, compassion.

Ateneo President Fr. Jet Villarin accepted the resignation of Ms. Yael Buencamino, Areté’s executive director, who personally invited her aunt (by affinity) to the affair in what is known to be open space. But how could Yael be accountable for a wrongdoing when Ateneo had no explicit rules and guidelines that unwelcome the Marcos family? The precedents establish the presence of Irene Marcos on campus, harmlessly attending different types of activities, which the Ateneo community tolerated or could care less.

More importantly, Fr. Villarin’s memo to the community signals exclusion of a person or a family, indeed condemned by many, from Ateneo’s open spaces. But then, this memo goes against the grain. For Ateneo, as a Christian institution and for that matter as part of a civil society, should uphold tolerance, plurality, and compassion.

“Lux in Domino?” is thus a plea to defend tolerance and plural identities.

The feedback to the essay, either in agreement or in disagreement, is most engaging and thought-provoking. I am of course pleased that the feedback, in the main, supports my view. Those who disagree, nevertheless, raise questions that need to be answered through deeper reflection.

I will quote some of the comments from my friends because they are so well said, and they deserve to be read by a wide audience.

From old friend Mike Limjap: “Sayang lang what Areté represents…freedom of the mind. Fr. Jett has placed the institution in a no-win situation.”

From Ser Peña-Reyes, faculty member at the Department of Economics at Ateneo de Manila: “To tolerate does not mean to condone.” Ser also quotes a line said by Al Pacino who played the role of a seasoned and perceptive blind man in “Scent of a Woman:” “And if you think you’re preparing these minnows for manhood, you better think again, because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instills.”

From Pilita Venturanza, a lawyer, a practicing Catholic and an Ateneo alumna: “To me the whole thing smacks of self-righteousness. And this is me, a rabidly anti-Marcos person. The student council stand on the issue is expected since young people are usually very idealistic and tend to think in terms of black or white. But I expected more from the Administration.”

Those who disagree have a common identity with those who agree: They all condemn the Marcos dictatorship.

The basic argument of those who support the position of the Ateneo administration on this issue goes this way: Our institutions have failed us, and the Marcoses have yet to be made accountable for their crimes. Our people, particularly those who suffered from the Marcos dictatorship, have yet to be served justice. In light of the failure of our institutions, we have to find other means to exact justice. Symbolic acts like public shaming are proper.

Moreover, the Marcoses are determined to recapture power, and hence even their smallest actions have to be met head on to prevent them from gaining ground. The Marcoses have only contempt for the people by not acknowledging their crimes and by nonchalantly treating the country as a playground to satisfy their indulgences. As long as the Marcoses have not shown contrition, there can be no compromise.

A friend who disagrees with me argues: “What the Marcoses do now is solely to pursue an agenda — to recapture Malacañang and to restore their political dominance. Give them, any of them, public space to advance that agenda and they will exploit it.”

I can respond to all this in different ways.

A most pragmatic piece of advice comes from Ser as well as from Leah Panaganiban-Castro — my comrade during our student activist days and a fellow alumnus at the School of Economics. Separately, they said, “choose your battles.” Indeed, I would rather redirect our protests towards, for example, exposing the stealth to manipulate the outcome of the election protest towards removing Vice-President Leni Robredo and replacing her with Bongbong Marcos.

The issue though is not just about the tactics of fighting the Marcoses. At its core is how we will remain consistent with our own values. Even the conduct of war has rules that apply to all.

Let us return to the argument of my friend who is most concerned over how the Marcoses exploit public space to return to power. (Ateneo is of course a private institution but it professes to open its doors to the public.)

The argument denies plural identities. It denies Irene Marcos the enjoyment of the arts. It is a stretch of imagination to reduce her visit to the museum to exploiting the activity towards advancing a political agenda. Why will we not allow Irene from appreciating the arts? Is unwelcoming her to an art exhibit the proper way to punish her for the crimes of the Marcos dictatorship?

Denying her public space (or a playground) is an act of suppression and intolerance. The very definition of pubic space means barring no one from such space. Public space rejects special privilege; it is for the use of the majority and the minority, the good and the bad (so long as the bad does not use the space to threaten life or property). By constricting public space, we unconsciously become little Marcoses or Dutertes We claim the moral high ground by remaining true to our values, which include tolerance and civility.

Mon Miranda, a childhood friend of my departed wife Mae, sums up this thorny issue for me: “Basic human decency requires that minimum respect be accorded Irene.”

In the spirit of Lent and Easter, let me quote the relevant biblical passages.

From Matthew 7:12, “So in everything do unto others what you have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Incidentally, Confucian teaching has a similar verse.)

From Luke 6:27-28: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

We believe in mercy and forgiveness at the same time that we believe in justice. How we reconcile this seeming paradox is always a challenge.

Some will argue that there can only be forgiveness only upon the attainment of justice. But that is not a definitive interpretation. Neither is it the only correct view. From the Exodus (citing from The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993), Yahweh is “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children.”

Happy Easter!


Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.