The day debate died at Ateneo

FR. Ramon Villarin, Ateneo president, gagged? (

DO we have to wonder any further why the good fathers of the Ateneo de Manila Univeristy—progressive Jesuits that they are—led by its president, Fr. Ramon Villarin, recently toed the line of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and censured certain members of the university’s faculty for expressing their views publicly on the Reproductive Health bill now pending passage in Congress?

Since we’re no longer living in the Dark Ages, shouldn’t anything and everything be worth talking about and standing up for, short of acts espousing rebellion, anarchy, murder, human sacrifice, incest and pedophilia, even in the most Catholic of institutions?

These questions and more have cropped up in the wake of the Jesuits’ decision to weigh in on the matter that should have been resolved within the confines of the academe. Short of threatening them with heresy, the fathers reportedly told teachers not only to keep quiet, but to reverse course on a matter that should have been threshed out between them and their God.

As a virtual market place of ideas, a university of Ateneo’s size and reputation (one of the best universities in the Philippines and in Asia)  should be duty-bound to promote and facilitate the free flow of discussions for or against certain issues.

By doing this, officials don’t only open the debate on a raging issue, they also encourage those against, say, RH among its faculty and student body to galvanize their ranks and advance their arguments. Sadly, this wasn’t the case.

By relinquishing its independence to the CBCP, Ateneo, acting like a steward of the Inquisition, has sadly chosen the path of least resistance.

MANNY Pangilinan: Man enough (

We’re supposed to be living in a democracy, not a theocracy, aren’t we? As long as an idea isn’t patently illegal, the best way to defeat, discredit and thrash it is by advancing or countering it with another hopefully better idea.

You don’t ban an idea you don’t like outright, hoping that it would wither away and end the debate. On the contrary, you risk fueling controversy even more by doing so.

May the best idea win! That’s the true essence of a democracy. In fact, that’s the only way to go, democracy or no democracy, lest we end up taking up arms and blowing each other’s brains to settle disagreements.

If we settle scores that way, one of the biggest losers would also be leaders of the Catholic church, whose hearts bleed inexplicably for the rights of the unborn, while countless unwanted and unplanned babies, and their at-risk mothers, are born everyday.

Should a supposed conflict erupt and get bloody, these same bishops would probably be the first to wail and beat their breast for the unborn children these supposedly grown men and women would have brought to this world had they not perish in a war of attrition pitting pro and anti RH.

SEN. Tito Sotto: way off his league (GMA-7 photo)

You might think such a scenario is over top, even twisted. Based on its more recent track record, I wouldn’t put it past the church’s hierarchy. Time and again, it has been known to keep silent, gloss over and even stonewall on such issues ranging from priest fathering children and, worse, pedophilia in its ranks.

I’m sad because I was born and raised a Catholic and still identify myself as a Catholic. But by the way the Catholic church in the Philippines, specifically its bishops, has been acting lately, it has done nothing but cement its image as a closed organization of Mafiosi in robes governed by a code of omerta, intimidation and the penchant to twist and turn around facts. It has become its own worst enemy.

At least underground syndicates pay bribes, but the church, as many have pointed out time and again, don’t even pay taxes, and yet is able to throw its weight around on state-related matters it has no business meddling in.

If you’re afraid people would become promiscuous because of RH, then do your job by guiding them. It is as much a challenge for the church as it is for the government for people to act responsibly, despite the availability of choices, based on their convictions.

What the Jesuits of Ateneo did recently is contrary to their mandate to educate, open the minds and facilitate genuine debate among the youth, which Ateneo has been known for.For one, it doesn’t have medical and engineering schools like the University of Santo Tomas and La Salle, the two other leading Catholic institutions in the country, which are said to be also against RH. What Ateneo excels in are liberal arts and law, courses that promote free and rational thinking that tries to make human beings out of closet savages.

BISHOP Soc Villegas, inquisitor? (davyop)

But what did the fathers do, short of excommunicating the school’s teachers for signing a petition supporting the RH Bill? They threatened them not with the fires of hell, but with the possibility of getting fired. They probably figured that excommunication, in this day and age, is akin to a paper tiger–toothless, powerless and irrelevant to strike fear in the hearts of those who are to be ostracized.

And, in case we have forgotten, this was also the same group of priests who tried to prevail upon billionaire businessman and philanthropist Manny Pangilinan to stay on in its board, after the latter was found guilty of plagiarism for having lifted lines from Oprah Winfrey’s speech. Pangilinan unwittingly used the speech to address Ateneo graduates that year.

Despite the patent dishonesty that surfaced in the wake of such a controversy, it was clear to everyone that Ateneo didn’t want to lose a prominent personality and generous benefactor like Pangilinan.

But Pangilinan, instead of pretending nothing happened,  did the right thing by apologizing publicly before resigning. Neither did he make up excuses and implicate his speech writers. He didn’t condone them either. He admitted that they made a mistake, but he also took up the cudgels for them because he believed they were too young not to be given another chance.

Pangilinan’s stand is so unlike Sen. Tito Sotto’s, the church’s de facto stooge in its fight against RH, who’s capable of citing all sorts of reasons, even monks copying the bible from Greeks, after being caught red-handed plagiarizing from a blogger soon after making a privilege speech denouncing RH.

I’m tempted to say that the church’s fixation on the poor, which, to its credit, it has championed since time immemorial, is connected with its very existence. As a society becomes more educated and wealthy, one of the first institutions to lose its influence is the church. This has already happened in secular Western Europe, and may soon happen in the United States.

I’m not knocking the help the church gives and continues to give the needy, but it makes me wonder if the church doesn’t have any hidden agenda in helping them other than what the gospel exhorts us to do. It seems evident that the church, meaning the hierarchy of men, not the faith and its members, including a good number of religious, looks like it desperately needs the poor to justify its continued existence.

If the church continues to meddle and play hardball on RH, using all sorts of delaying tactics to muddle the issue and discredit and threaten its supporters, I won’t be surprised if it soon finds itself preaching in huge, towering but near-empty cathedrals dedicated to a supposedly wise, merciful and loving God.

2 thoughts on “The day debate died at Ateneo

  1. I can understand why the Ateneo’s actions have caused you to wonder, as you said, “we’re no longer living in the dark ages …” whether intellectual discourse has any room in an institution of higher learning, especially a Catholic university. I’m sure the Jesuits support discourse, not just on this subject. The university recently “toed the line of the CBCP” because as a Catholic university, it cannot be seen as speaking against the Church’s moral doctrines regarding abortion.

    Yes, you and I live in a “democracy” but don’t forget that institutions like the Catholic Church in general and the Ateneo in particular are by no means democracies. On the contrary, they are autocratic if not monarchial (well they don’t behead people anymore). In that regard, they can and will impose their views on the people within their purview. And yes, that also means the faculty even though that seems contradictory to the notion of “academic freedom”.

    I’m sure the good fathers at the Ateneo would like to have handled this affair differently but having its faculty support something that is against the Church’s accepted moral doctrine, their choices were limited, if not dictated, by their association to the Holy See.

    Is debate dead at the Ateneo? The Vatican has the answer.

    • Very good point/s,Xandi. I assume the Jesuits wouldn’t have mind the debate. They weren’t expelled from the Philippines during the Spanish times for nothing. They’re generally known as progressive thinkers. I got the chance to speak, albeit briefly, to one of Ateneo’s part-time teachers. She also has a daughter who studies college there. Mother and daughter are quite vocal in their support for the RH Bill. The daughter even has a blog citing different studies regarding its long-term benefits. In short, they know what they are fighting for. I asked the mom if she’s worried that their stand would put them in hot water. She said no because the Jesuits themselves are divided. Divided but not closed to debate.

      This was before the Jesuits censured their teachers. It’s safe to say the atmosphere there is totally different now. Like I said in my entry, it’s not farfetched for them to lose their jobs should they oppose the official line.

      It only goes to show that the hand of the church, or the hierarchy of men that make up the church, and not the laity, would stop at nothing to get what it wants, even aligning itself with nincompoops like Tito Sotto. I’m just sad and disappointed that a supposedly independent and progressive institution like the Ateneo wasn’t spared, causing it to cave in from the pressure. Like you said, it had no choice. If the church today would have its way, I won’t be surprised if it brings back the Inquisition. Thank goodness for democracy and secularism.

      Without these two pillars of a modern society, we would be back to the Dark Ages. Perhaps, there would be little problem if that society shares our faith and, we, in return, subscribe to the official line. But what if that society is, say, Muslim and we happen to be, as devout Christians, the minority? Would we be willing to renounce our faith to spare ourselves from being beheaded? Tough choice, right? That’s why we should always uphold freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and the right to debate within certain legal parameters, of course, by all means. Otherwise, the consequences could mean death–figuratively and literally.

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