Irene Marcos-Araneta’s presence at the launch of the Areté Outdoor Installation Program on the Ateneo de Manila campus has created a tempest that will not pass calmly.
The Ateneo Student Council (or the Sanggunian) issued a strongly worded “Indignation Statement against the Presence of Irene Marcos on University Grounds.” Other segments of the Ateneo community likewise expressed their hurt and anger. In reaction to this, Ateneo de Manila’s President Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ wrote a memorandum to the community, acknowledging the “missteps” from which the community can draw lessons. At the same time Fr. Villarin accepted the voluntary offer of Ms. Yael Buencamino, Areté’s Executive Director, to resign from the post.
That is arguably the politically correct thing to do. But we should likewise be aware that what is politically correct is not necessarily the correct approach in resolving complex problems. (For example, read a scholarly article authored by Lucian Gideon Conway III et al. titled “Donald Trump as a cultural revolt against perceived communication restriction: Priming political norms causes more Trump support” in Journal of Social and Political Psychology, May 2017.) The memo of Fr. Villarin can calm the protests, but it has unintended consequences that will be far more disturbing for the Ateneo community and the whole of society.
My normative stand is that it is right for the Ateneo community to condemn the Marcos dictatorship and all its ills. The condemnation cannot remain general and must specify Marcos, his relatives, his cronies, his government officials, his military officers and all his henchmen, inside and outside government, who were complicit in the criminal or evil acts of the dictatorship. These people must be made accountable for their criminal acts or for their complicity. Hence, they must be punished accordingly.
Our society has established the rules on how to exact accountability and justice. It is called the rule of law. Ours is a society of law, not of men. Sadly our institutions have broken down. Since the fall of the dictatorship more than three decades ago, justice has not been fully served to the Filipino people, especially the victims of martial law. While our 1987 Constitution itself is a rejection of the dictatorship, while those killed by the Marcos military are now recognized as martyrs and heroes, while other victims of atrocities are being indemnified, and while Imelda Marcos has finally been convicted of corruption, complete justice has not been realized. Imelda has not served her sentence. And others complicit in the Marcos crimes have gotten off scot-free. Worse, the Marcoses have made a political comeback, a fascist revanche, as it were, facilitated by the acts of an authoritarian Duterte.
Thus, we who clamor for justice will resolutely and relentlessly fight the Marcoses on every front.
Against this backdrop, I can understand why the Ateneo student council and other segments of the Ateneo community expressed their indignation over the presence of the daughter of the dictator during the launch at the Areté.
The memo of the Ateneo President is thus sensitive to those protesting the presence of Irene Marcos-Araneta on campus grounds. Thus, the memo states: “We offer our deepest apologies for the hurt this has brought.”
The apology of Fr. Villarin is the apology of the Areté executive director, Yael Buencamino. I personally know Yael. She is a most honorable woman. That she offered her voluntary resignation is an honorable gesture to spare Ateneo as an institution from further assaults and is her way of expressing what Father Villarin wrote: “our deepest apologies for the hurt” this controversy brought.
But it is very incorrect to equate the hurt caused on others as an egregious act on the part of Yael or, for that matter, Ateneo. To put it clearly, I assert that Yael and Ateneo did not commit any wrongdoing. In the first place, Ateneo has no explicit, no unequivocal policy that bans the presence of the Marcoses on the campus. Further, the physical presence of a member of the Marcos family in an Ateneo event does not suggest Ateneo’s or Areté’s “shameless compliance” to the Marcos evil. That is a leap in logic.
Especially for an institution that believes in tolerance, Ateneo must accord a modicum of civility and respect even to the meanest of men and women.
Parenthetically, Yael’s invitation to Irene is a personal one. Irene is her aunt by affinity. Yael’s mom Elvira is the sister of Irene’s husband Greggy who incidentally is a blue-blooded Atenean. So, imagine this kind of absurdity: An Ateneo alumnus is denied the company of his wife in a social event like the homecoming because Ateneo unwelcomes the wife for being a Marcos. Or will Greggy himself be unwelcome for marrying a Marcos? One can stretch that absurdity further. Ateneo might as well pronounce that all descendants of Marcos and all those associated with Marcos’s politics are unwelcome on its grounds. How this can be enforced beats me.
Kinship or affinity by itself does not define one’s politics and values. I do know Yael’s politics. Perhaps, family influence matters in the sense that she was reared by a lola (Nini Quezon Avanceña) who was at the forefront of the militant anti-dictatorship political struggle. A politically irreverent, rebellious father, Boom Buencamino, influenced her way of thinking. Beyond family, she drew inspiration from the life of a fellow alumna from Assumption, the departed Maita Gomez, a radical activist jailed by the dictatorship. Yael once told me that Maita’s core values sprung from teachings learned from Assumption.
Some argue that Yael or the Ateneo leadership should have known the sentiments of the Ateneo community with respect to the Marcos family. But here’s the rub: Without any clear-cut policy or guideline, one can only second-guess what the institution wants.
And the fact is, Ms. Marcos-Araneta has been attending events on campus sponsored or sanctioned by the school itself. Wouldn’t she be in the company of her husband, an alumnus, when attending Ateneo affairs? Further, I have been told Ms. Marcos-Araneta had attended a Salvador Bernal book launch at the Ateneo, and had participated in a conference on urban planning at the Manila Observatory.
In short, the institution is sending a bad signal regarding rules — that the executive director of Areté is being made accountable for a rule that does not exist or for a practice done at the university but tolerated in the past.
The bigger question is: How will Ateneo deal with tolerance and what Amartya Sen calls plural identities? Everyone has plural identities. The communist Jose Maria Sison and Fr. Villarin are ideologically apart; yet they have a common identity of having received Jesuit education. The militant Muslim and the fundamentalist Christian will clash about religion, but they might find commonness in being fans of the same basketball team. The La Sallite and Atenean will be taunting each other as part of school rivalry, but they will vote for Chel Diokno, a La Sallite, and Erin Tańada, an Atenean, because they all share the value of human rights.
Shouldn’t Ateneo recognize such plural identities — that there is civic space even for the daughter of a dictator who visits Ateneo because of her love for the arts and humanities?
After all, Areté is open to everyone regardless of one’s politics, ideology, religion, and race. Ateneo does not screen the politics of any person who enters the campus whether she is a Marcos or a Manglapus (the pride of Ateneo though should we be surprised about the intermarriage of the Marcos and Manglapus families?)
Yael learned the value of plurality and tolerance when she was still small. Her grandmother’s home on Gilmore Street welcomed everybody. Her lola was staunchly anti-Marcos, but that did not prevent Marcos loyalists from enjoying the hospitality of the family. Even Imelda was not barred from visiting Gilmore. Also welcome were the anti-Marcos activists including communists, the drug peddlers and drug users, the priests and sinners, the VIPs and common folks.
And that is the way it should be. Ateneo stands for tolerance, plurality, and civility — the very anti-thesis of the dictatorship. To go against this leads to the unintended consequence of doing some of the things associated with the Marcos dictatorship.
Tolerance in no way suggests that Ateneo is succumbing to the dictatorship. There are many ways — both using the formal institutions and society’s norms — to register opposition to the dictatorship. In the case of the latter, Ateneo has encouraged its community to undertake protest actions against the Marcoses.
Ateneo de Manila’s motto is “Lux In Domino.” It also means spreading the light of reason and enlightenment. Ateneo must always be conscious of the significance of that motto: That even anger, passion, and emotion at their most intense should not sacrifice reason and enlightenment.
The author is an alumnus of the Ateneo de Manila, having graduated from its grade school and high school in 1969 and 1973, respectively. He also joined the underground resistance to the Marcos dictatorship. He did not vote and will not vote for Imee or Bongbong.
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.