Seventy years of finding truth and engaging in service to the community; of serving the people and responding to problems of social injustice; of training students to understand and live their faith in a world marred by discrimination, prejudice, greed and inhumanity; of responding in cold-blood to issues of extra-judicial killings and contractualization, as well as turning a blind eye on individuals who all but plead for their constitutional rights.
This is the Ateneo de Davao University throughout the years- a shining and gargantuan crystal tower that speaks of hope in the midst of dark clouds and impending doom. And yet, it is so much more than that.
An institution of ‘action’
“Strong in faith! Strong in faith!”
The Ateneans chanted as they concluded the mass for the Feast of St. Ignatius de Loyola last July 30. The Martin Hall exploded with cheers of festivity as both students and faculty celebrated the vision of their founder— a vision of faith and social justice.
According to the University President Fr. Joel Tabora,SJ, AdDU graduates are envisioned to be sui generis leaders in a way that they will be able to promote the faith that is inseparable from the promotion of social justice.
“It [AdDU] is a university to train students to understand and live their faith, promote justice throughout their lives, understand the importance of cultures, engage in a healing and uplifting dialogue between religions, and to protect our common home,” Tabora expressed.
In this context, AdDU has progressed from being more than just a ‘teaching’ university but also an institution of action. Concrete interventions were initiated to answer the call for social justice. These include its sustained support for peace in Mindanao through the promotion of inter- and intra-religious dialogue. AdDU also took a resolute stand for environmental protection through its opposition to large-scale open-pit mining and in its unwavering defense of green space in the comprehensive urban plan. In terms of its role of promoting peace and order, AdDU has given immense contribution to a drug-free Philippines through its Center Against Illegal Drugs (CAID). Additionally, it has shown its support for educational reform in the country through its support for the K-12 program, the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education (RA 10931), and its contribution to the improvement of Islamic schools through the Madaris Volunteer Program.
Despite the advocacies and programs that makes AdDU’s name as shiny as its crystal towers, there are some inconspicuous blots in the landscape. While AdDU boasts of its promotion of social justice and concern for the poor, labor issues last October brings to question its firmness on the principles which it claims to hold.
The Samahan ng mga Manggagawang Blue Collar sa Ateneo (SAMABCA)’s protest last year on AdDU’s termination of contract with their agency, BCMSI, and the apparent ‘cold-bloodedness’ when it came to giving attention to the workers’ labor rights, is an epitome of this so-called ‘hypocrisy.’
“Muingon ang Ateneo na dapat mag complain mi sa Blue Collar kay under agency man mi. Niingon ko sa Ateneo na kung kami man gud magsulti sa agency, di man gud mi paminawon. So since kamo man ang kliyente, siguro naa man moy tingog,” SAMABCA president Anecito Detomal said at that time.
AdDU’s inaction when it came to this issue purported the speculations that it was failing to live up to its principle of forming men and women for others and that it was denying its social responsibility to the marginalized sectors of society.
“Pari man, nganong ingon ani ilang gibuhat. Pinakagagmay na posisyon sa kompanya tapos under agency, nganong nakaako man sila’g buhat ana? Katong nag rally mi medyo nasuko daw sila, ang mga pari. Bastos gyud ning gibuhat sa amoa,” Detomal used to stress in a heat of frustration.
“All they want is to be regularized and to hold a decent job after rendering five to 20 years of service in the institution. Instead, the Ateneo management responded with cold-blooded and calculated legal maneuvers to trample on their constitutional rights,” Ernesto Kalan Jr., the industrial relation offices of the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) was noted as saying.
Annual Tuition Fee Increase
AdDU’s annual tuition fee increase also sparked criticism among students. In the academic year 2016-2017, AdDU implemented a 5.67% increase in tuition fee and 2.31% increase in other school fees. In 2017, the university employed another 5% increase, reasoning out that the funds were needed for infrastructure and for maintaining the ‘strength’ and ‘quality’ of the teaching force. Despite these rationalizations, however, students were convinced that the tuition fee increase was a manifestation of AdDU’s commercialization as a university.
“Commercialized at mahal na masyado ang tuition fee ng mga Atenista. Nagataas ang ating tuition fee, pero hindi natin nakikita ang improvement sa college,” Omar Mañigo, then spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students (LFS), commented during a rally last June 2017.
Additionally, what raises more eyebrows is the fact that AdDU seems to lack ‘genuine consultation’ among its students. Last January 2017, the Multi-Sectoral Committee held a series of consultations regarding the proposed tuition and fee increase for Academic Year 2017-2018, but instead of opening it to most, if not all the students, only five students, all of whom were representatives from the SAMAHAN Central Board, were invited.
Tuition fee hikes may not be a welcome sight to most students, but it poses an even greater burden on those who are paddling to make it through college. Students see this as an insensitivity to the plight of their less privileged counterparts and as a form of bias towards looking only at progress without considering the casualties.
Gearing towards the future
The past 70 years of AdDU has been marked by a mixture of substantial efforts to promote social justice, as well as problematic episodes wherein the foundation of our principles as a Filipino, Catholic, and Jesuit university have been challenged. However, these realizations come with the awareness that nothing is ever black and white— that there is always a silver lining behind the dark clouds. With the key efforts to contribute to society, AdDU has scaled the heights of promoting social justice. Today, Ateneans are called to look at themselves in the mirror and closely examine the blemishes of this glorified institution.
AdDU is a paradox of the idealized crystal tower and a storm of impending doom. This is exactly the lesson that the past 70 years has taught us— that the quintessence of perfection is flawed.