Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Bluer Than Blue and Other Metallic Hues




Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, former chairman of the board of trustees of Ateneo de Manila University, had irrevocably withdrawn his support for the Ateneo because of differences over mining issues and the Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

After serving in a high post in the university’s Board of Trustees, and as a generous benefactor to the Jesuit university’s many programs of excellence which include the MVP Center For Student Leadership, the sports program, the school’s debating society, the glee club and many other projects that benefited from his financial support he decided to disengage himself with finality on affairs that are Ateneo.

His parting message was “...we have come to the irretrievable point where it is best and appropriate to draw the line in the sand, to conclude that we have little or no common interest, and to say that I’d look like a fool helping an institution which opposes my conviction diametrically and unequivocally.”

Expectedly, a wave of reactions, some good and some unfortunate, came from the Alumni and the studentry of the Ateneo ensued. Many understood MVP’s situation and were sympathetic to the decision made by him, others felt that this was a wake-up call to Ateneans and the Ateneo not to be overly dependent on a single benefactor and to be self reliant by rallying the alumni to be more active in their support of their alma mater. There were those who said that he may have been less of an Atenean because he was not really “true blue” as he had his formative years with San Beda and only joined the Ateneo in college. A remark like this did not go unnoticed because it smacked of elitism, a “kayabangan” that Ateneans have been accused of by many for years long standing. It ruffled the feathers of those alumni who did not spend their early years in the Ateneo as this ill advised attempt at categorizing Ateneans into different shades of blue alienated quite a few whose blueness have now been placed in scrutiny.


One could not completely blame those who tried to make this differentiation. The hurt was palpable and the umbrage taken was deserved; a reaction to MVP’s abrupt and resolute disengagement with the Ateneo. Others felt that it was almost a treasonous act, a stinging rejection of the beloved alma mater, an affront to the revered and closely held Ignatian values. Of course, denigrating MVP’s stature as an Atenean is unconscionable and some of those who originally felt this way have relented and have expressed regrets for their impulsive reaction. After a while most agreed to just let it be to have a closure to the whole thing but the odour of it may linger for a while as sensibilities have been roused and frayed.


The Jesuit Reaction

To the credit of the Jesuits their reaction to the event has been conciliatory and has expressed their gratitude for all the support that MVP has lent to the Ateneo. A praiseworthy and non-recriminate response to what could have been a tinderbox situation. Fr. Roberto Rivera, SJ of the John J Caroll Institute on the Church and Social Issues has represented well the Jesuits response in his article “The Jesuit Paper”. He said: “Differences of opinion in the application of principles can sometimes arise even among sincere Catholics. When this happens, they should be careful not to lose their respect and esteem for each other” (Mater et Magistra, 238). If indeed there has been a necessary parting of ways, it is eased by an overriding sense of gratitude and respect.


Art Hilado of college class 66 made a call to unity as an aftermath of this event. He said that this may well be a wakeup call to Ateneans to be more united and to be more active and dedicated to their support to the alma mater. Perhaps, after the reconciliatory note, the Jesuits could also review the treatment and regard they gave a benevolent man who gave unstinting support to them and their institutions. Was there an inordinate focus and a zeroing in on mining, an industry where MVP had a lot at stake and may also be a cash resource to fund other ventures that he had audaciously launched?

Another sore point in the MVP Ateneo relationship is the contrarian stand that he had made against the stance of the Catholic Church. Should he be taken to task by the Jesuits for siding with the pro RH Bill proponents? In this issue, the Jesuits, even amongst themselves are not one in their stance against the RH Bill.


The Golden Mean of Mining

Was the language used in the Jesuit paper on mining really just a “talking point” or did it actually identify and underscore the non-negotiables, the values and bottom-line stances?

The Jesuit paper suggests that these are guidelines to SJSA and its members who would study and mull the issues in mining. If it is such then it should not be taken as dictates coming from the church. But the way the paper was nuanced and crafted it conveyed almost unequivocally, was that most of it were non negotiable and are bottom-line values and stances to be maintained. If the Jesuit guidelines on mining are not absolute, negotiable and for further debate and discussion, then MVP’s rash reaction would seem uncalled for, immature and a tad hysterical. It is an MVP reaction that is easy enough to understand and not surprising to us and to the many of us may who consider it to be adverse to him. 

Did the Jesuit paper reinforce the CBCP general statement that mining is evil…the Mining Act of 1995 destroys life, and categorically opposed mining per se? Calling the paper as “talking points” may well have been just Jesuitical doublespeak?

Despite the schism that exists within the Ateneo, the Jesuit paper echoes the official position of the CBCP.


The bishops as a group may have lost some traces of credibility. They have this penchant for making general statements without any empirical proof to support their statements…worded like sermons and homilies to parishioners, invariably left unchallenged. As Catholics we allow ourselves to accept the veracity of the church acclaimed mysteries as an act faith but to carry this further in issues that are lay and political in nature is going beyond their bounds.  There is some amount of arrogance amongst some of the clergy who seem to feel that they are still the Spanish frailes that can talk down their parishioners without fear of contradiction. Not everyone, even those who profess to be practicing Catholics, are as tractable as the faithful of old. The church must realize that they no longer have the supreme authority to prevail on people, to impose their stand on all issues, lay ones included. In the mining issue and to a certain extent, in the RH Bill, persuasion through reason should have been the tact and not merely on the strength of words emanating from the pulpit.


 Has the church been overly politicized? The Jesuit Paper puts forth a political and pro poor position by allowing the poor subsistence miners despite their disregard to the sins that big scale mining have been indicted for. It is kind of “laissez faire” that contributes to a national habit of mediocrity, an anathema to excellence, a coddling of those who choose to be inefficient and an encouragement to the “puede na” fractured mentality. It is a pro poor attitude that makes us a poorer nation...big scale mining in the long term will alleviate the poor. Instant amelioration and transformation of the poor man's plight is a myopic view and has never worked. Responsible big scale mining will benefit all in the long term.


The Church together with militant socio civic groups had always been suspicious of the motives of industry and big business. They have good reason to be. A series of corrupt government administrations in collusion with cronies in business (varying only in degrees of greed) have earned them this regrettable regard. Perhaps a lifting of the cloud of suspicion should happen since never have we had a more honest and sincere leadership whom we can trust to do good on the citizens behalf. Might it not be different under Pnoy whose track record has remained unsullied thus far? Does Pnoy have cronies in business and industry? Is MVP one of them?


It is true that MVP should not have been rash in his decision to disengage with the Ateneo but it would be naive to expect that somebody who has felt that he has been mistreated by an institution that he has showered with his time and money and that the least that the Ateneo could have done was to have refrained from taking positions in public that are diametrically opposed to those of MVP’s. He may have felt that the Jesuits with their paper on mining have singled him out by attacking mining, an industry where he has a lot at stake and may be a fund resource to fuel his other audacious business ventures.


One has to ask, why mining? Why not fishing, logging, manufacturing, insurance, education plans, banking, the medical business, beverages, the foods business, etc. etc. All businesses and industries should attract the attention of those who seek to protect the environment, correct social injustice, cultural warping, minority group displacements, labour exploitation and other ills which you can throw in to criticize any profit motivated venture and institution could easily be criticized for. The same fine tooth comb should be applied to them as was done to mining. If we were to make a Golden Mean for all these industries and businesses our economy will be hamstrung by so many restrictions and probably ground to a halt.


MVP, in his mind, may have asked why mining? And why the Jesuits had to pick up the cudgels for this cause? Are these the reasons why MVP chose to dissociate himself from the Ateneo or are his daring investment and acquisition ventures souring up and he needs a gracious exit from his predicament?   The mining issue which he might have depended on to fund his other ventures seem to have reached an impasse and that  he had expected the Jesuits to be a bit more sympathetic of his woes because of the favours that he had showered on them. The mention of plagiarism case may really be just an additional beef (pamparami ng sumbat), Trillanes’ accusation in the China deal didn’t help quiet his discomfort and elicited another emotional outburst of threatening to pull out his investments in more clement business climes like Hongkong.




It may seem that the Jesuit involvement in this is a puzzlement, but then again, maybe not, as morals and ethics are necessarily involved here.    

Is there some form of Jesuit hubris at play here? Was this a way of saying that we have not been bought by all the contribution MVP has made; not beholden by any means and will not be acquiescent to his expectations of support in mining.

 Maybe we should add a new line to the phrase from the synoptic gospels  "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" ...and to business things that are of business’. As in the separation of the church and the state there are basic items in each that are antithetical. More so with business and the church; as one deals with matters in the spiritual realm, and the other, on the more pragmatic and utilitarian aspects of existence. Although the relationship will be marked with overlaps as in church and state, we may well be aware and cognizant of the irreconcilable differences (the non negotiables) between business and church and veer away from possible collision courses.


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