The apologyBy Patricia Evangelista
Philippine Daily Inquirer
In A nation of sinners, they are the moral few.
In a Sept. 30 editorial that waxed poetic over UST’s proud history of orthodox thought, student paper The Varsitarian claimed superiority over the “intellectual mercenaries” of other Catholic universities. The paper imagines itself and its university as rebels of the new world order, “going against the grain, going against the tide.” In upholding the stand of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines condemning the Reproductive Health bill, they have lived up to their Catholic name, the proud children of a pontifical institution—“the second to be so named in world history.”
The Varsitarian finds “quite shocking” the statements made by professors of universities Ateneo and De La Salle in support of the RH bill. They are “dishonest” in their convictions, are “naive and misguided,” their opinions are “lemon,” and are “intellectual pretenders and interlopers.”
It believes that to be Catholic demands upholding the gospel according to the bishops, the men they call “successors of the Christ’s apostles.” It finds it “quite gratifying that UST has cracked the whip.” A letter, written by UST Secretary General Fr. Winston Cabading, OP, is quoted in the paper, and emphasizes that “any statements or actions by faculty members [found] offensive to Catholic ideals and teachings may be a cause for dismissal after due process.”
To the paper and to the UST administration, Catholicism is defined by the CBCP. To enter a Catholic school, to teach in a Catholic university is to stand by the Catholic standard declared by the bishops. There is no room for personal conviction once an individual declares himself Catholic or chooses to work and study in a Catholic institution.
“But what’s more appalling,” says the paper, “is that the Jesuit and Christian Brother administrations of Ateneo and La Salle didn’t reprimand their faculty members for openly defying the bishops.”
The Varsitarian followed with an attack on those who have “clung on to their faculty membership in Catholic institutions.” Already it has decided that Ateneo and De La Salle professors are without intellectual conviction, forgetting that there is nothing intellectual in the conviction of rank absurdity. There is no attempt to give those who oppose the benefit of the doubt. Automatically those who side with the bill are cowards and mercenaries. “They want to have their cake and eat it, too.”
Yet by the paper’s standards, the Church itself has committed appalling wrongs. It has allowed its own priests and nuns to make statements in behalf of the RH bill. It failed to crack the whip after the Catholic President of the Philippines came out in public support of the RH bill, claiming excommunication was never an option. It continues to offer sacraments to RH advocates and politicians, and is yet to punish the Catholic pretenders of De La Salle and Ateneo.
The sense of superiority carried throughout the editorial is misplaced. The editorial essentially has a single point, irrelevant of its haphazard and largely illogical shopping list of reasons why the RH bill is a plague on the Philippines. “Over and above academic freedom, the Catholic university exists for evangelical purposes.” The same commitment “is demanded of students.”
And yet this same university continues to accept the tuition of students of varying religions, allowing into its classes Muslims and Protestants whose personal moralities are certainly not approved by the CBCP. Unless and until UST demands the conversion of these students before they accept their diplomas, it concedes the multiplicity of morality, and the fact that a Catholic university is more than just a mouthpiece for the orthodox Church.
What is forgotten is the fact that UST is a university built “for the pursuit of Truth through the production, advancement, and transmission of knowledge,” and that knowledge demands discourse, not dogma. The same is true for The Varsitarian. A body that calls itself “a chronicler of campus events” and “a repository of student talents” has no business closing its doors to dissent and declaring all who disagree fools by virtue of their disagreement. There are universal principles that govern the practice of journalism, opinion or otherwise, and exceptions are not made even for the second coming of God.
The public trust of journalism is truth, however inconvenient that truth is. That The Varsitarian took a stance against the RH bill is not the concern, it is in its lack of reasoned analysis and its unwillingness to consider the value of dissenting opinion. Those who disagree are enemies. Those who question are disloyal. One of its columnists went so far as to deride a student who on Facebook demanded why no survey was conducted on behalf of the Thomasian community. “Such arrogance!” was the response of Lorenzo Luigi Gayya. The student, he said, “along with other UST students and alumni who are attacking their Alma Mater for its stand on the RH bill” have lost their right “to call themselves full-blooded Thomasians.”
The same irrational logic is present in the larger national debate. The CBCP continues to claim it stands for the will of the Catholic nation, just as that same Catholic majority demonstrates that men in robes do not always define Catholic spirituality. The unity that The Varsitarian celebrates is as tenuous as the Catholic unity the CBCP claims. The only difference is that the CBCP operates in the context of a secular democratic nation, where its claims are tested by facts and debate in the public forum. UST does not permit this testing, and appears to fear the results of free speech. Questions are dangerous, and are considered a threat to “solid Catholic education.” Both school and paper declare a united stance and yet find it necessary to “crack the whip” on “offensive views,” demanding that all members of the institution “toe the line.”
It does not matter how much UST distances itself from The Varsitarian. The choice to limit academic freedom belongs to UST. Professors are punished for statements, students are given points for negative online comments posted on pro-RH bill sites, and a repressive school paper receives the tacit support of a school-sanctioned adviser. The editorial, irrelevant of its haphazard and largely illogical shopping list of reasons why the RH bill is a plague on the Philippines, shares the same point as UST. “Over and above academic freedom, the Catholic university exists for evangelical purposes.” This is what makes the entire issue ominous. A university, a place of learning and critical thought, declares that independent thought is a sin, and that to question is a violation of conscience.
The point, says UST, is to see to it “that all members of the Thomasian academic community” continue to “resonate with one voice.” This is not unity or intellectual conviction; it is rank dishonesty, and insults those who legitimately stand against the bill according to their own conscience. The UST administration and The Varsitarian may be within their rights, but they are in no way to be applauded for it. There is no reason to celebrate the moral conviction of an unwilling flock.
This is not written in opposition to the grand institution of UST, many of whose alumni have fought bravely in defense of the right to speak. This is a judgment against those who celebrate tyranny and call it Christianity, and is written in sympathy with the many Thomasians who are forced to call The Varsitarian their own.
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