Apr 14, 2019

This week saw the whirlpool of events that transpired in Areté, the creative hub of Ateneo de Manila University, which began when a photo made rounds online showing Irene Marcos-Araneta—the third daughter of late president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos who also haven’t acknowledged her father’s sins to the country—attending the creative hub’s launch of an outdoor amphitheater last Apr. 7.

The fact that the school allowed Marcos-Araneta to waltz on the campus grounds despite the university’s long-established stand against martial law is more than ironic and hypocritical. Ateneo allows (and even encourages) its students to hold exhibits, rallies, and other events critical of Marcos’ tyrannical rule. Ateneo pushes its students to move against brutality and atrocities, against people like the Marcoses. Not only did Marcos-Araneta’s presence dismayed students, it also betrayed them.

They weren’t just mad because a Marcos was on campus, they were mad because the school let their values and morals down. All this time the students believed that the school was with them in fighting oppression; but it turned out some of the administrators weren’t truly in for the fight. 

In a statement released Apr. 8, the university’s student government said: “[The invitation of a Marcos] is a grave insult and vehement mockery to Martial Law survivors and martyrs that a Marcos was present in the same space that staged Dekada ’70, a polemical discourse against the fascist-authoritarian regime of Martial Law; and Desaparecidos, a play that showcased the struggles and abuses endured by Filipinos during Martial Law and the trauma it left upon the Filipino people.”

On Apr. 10, university president Jose Ramon Villarin SJ acknowledged that the invitation of Marcos-Araneta was a faux pas. “The university recognises that her presence, even in a personal capacity, has cast doubts regarding its solidarity with the victims of the Martial Law regime. We offer our deepest apologies for the hurt this has brought.”

Because of this gaffe, Villarin said Areté’s executive director Yael Buencamino, who invited Marcos-Araneta to the event, voluntarily resigned. Buencamino is the niece of Gregorio Araneta, Marcos-Araneta’s husband.

It’s good that the school owned up to its mistake (*coughs* when will politicians ever). But aside from that, this gaffe is also showing us that there is a change in the role of education in a democratic setting, especially in a country with polarized stances on history, and more schools should learn from that.

We cannot blacklist people from schools. As dean Tony La Viña said in a Facebook post, “blacklist is a black hole, bottomless, and can go on ad inifinitum.” Our concept of “bad people” is still subjective. Yes, we know the Marcoses committed crimes and aren’t holding themselves accountable for it; but if we’re going to ban them, we might as well ban all cronies of the Marcoses who turned a blind eye when the dictator was in power. Banning will just lead to a series of events that are just a waste of time. It’s unnecessary.

We cannot also tell students directly what to and not believe in. This could entail an individualistic approach to democratic education and could counter the schools’ responsibility of allowing their students to develop and express themselves in their own, unique ways.

What schools should do is to be more mindful of their actions, events, words, and even the people they invite. Our generation is more aware than ever that personal is political. Even something as simple as an invitation or even just a poster is already a value judgment in itself. 

Schools should also develop a more active approach to dealing with the changes in our society, especially now that information is accessible everywhere. Students in first grade already have Facebook accounts. Most are able to browse the internet without any supervision. This influx of sources of ideas changes the course of education thoroughly.

It is not like Ancient Greece anymore, when teachers, political, and education thinkers just transfer their knowledge to their students. The school’s belief on issues still matter significantly to their students, but when the students find something that’s questionable, the schools have to do some action.

As Hannah Arendt said in A Political Conception of the Democratic Person, students are not simply the empty vessels waiting to be filled with their teacher’s wisdom. They already have their pre-conceived notions on issues even before they went to school. It is now up to the institutions to shape it in a way that could make them better members of the society, and the best way to do that is pushing some action into the scene.

If a school preaches on honesty, it shouldn’t put the spotlight on people who aren’t truthful. For example, politicians with corruption records who aren’t behind bars (for some reason) or people with authority who peddles disinformation shouldn’t be invited as guest speakers in academic conferences, most especially when they are also vying for more power. Why would students who are well aware of those people’s sins to the country even want to listen to them? It’s misleading; a propaganda.

Schools cannot just preach, they must also practice. Their rules, codes, missions, and visions should be reflected by their actions and transcended in every part of the institution. They should carefully assess each situation and address what should be addressed. With the country’s current political climate, it’s a sin to act passively on problems. It’s a sin to neglect concerns and criticisms.

It’s about time schools learn from the stands of their students whose beliefs are valid and may be rooted from the sides of the oppressed, the silenced. 


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Read more:

Enrile and his ever-changing concept of reality under the Marcoses

A martial law childhood spent among Marcos loyalists

Imelda Marcos’ aide finally goes to jail for art conspiracy

Even this Spanish children’s book can’t deny the Marcos dictatorship

TAGS: Arete arts Ateneo ateneo de manila Creative hub dictatorship Irene Marcos Marcos martial law museum