DURING the birthday party of a dear friend last October 2, I was at the same table which also seated a fair representation of alumni from archrival universities Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle. Anyone in Metro Manila who is not familiar with the old rivalry between the Blue Eagles and the Green Archers can only be in a time warp or was simply born yesterday.
Carrying the La Salle standard was Elfren Cruz, still gloating from the recent victory in the UAAP Men’s Senior Basketball Tournament. Former PMS Secretary, Metro Manila governor, Elfren is now a professor for Strategic Management in La Salle and a columnist for the BusinessWorld. Defending the Ateneo colors were alumni Jimmy Alabanza, Titus Santiago, Rely German and myself. Our birthday celebrator, who is forever having a “surprise” party, John Kaw, and DILG Secretary Angie Reyes, played the role of arbiters. My wife, Meyang, Dondon Bagatsing, Oling Carlos and Mike Tan became the amused spectators of the event.
All the witty exchange of repartees among the alumni of the high school classes ’55 to ’67 appeared to improve with age – regardless of whether one came from the right side – Ateneo – or the wrong side – La Salle. During the UAAP (NCAA, until Ateneo and La Salle decided to join the UAAP) games, it was not surprising to see the alumni outnumbering and “out-animating” the current students in the coliseum. Whichever way the game went, the one-upmanship surely spilled over to the brave new medium of text messaging.
Somehow, the friendly ribbing over dinner soon shifted to serious discussion when Elfren Cruz brought up the topic of how La Salle is now overhauling its entire educational approach from the elitist Catholic school it is known to be – to what he claimed was the real mission of the La Salle Brothers: To bring Catholic education to a much broader base of society. This is the reason, Cruz explained, why La Salle put up St. Benilde and the La Salle campuses in Dasmarinas, Cavite and Caloocan City.
Cruz even dared to posit that the marked differences between the missions of the Jesuits of Ateneo and the Brothers of La Salle in their original settings were:
1. The Ateneo Jesuits were aiming to provide a Catholic education to the future leaders of the country.
2. While the La Salle Brothers were aiming to provide a Catholic education to the broadest possible base in society. Somehow La Salle was sidetracked to becoming another elitist Catholic school like the Ateneo de Manila.
I have to take it on Cruz’s word that the La Salle Brothers indeed had that original mission of catering to the broadest possible base. As for the Ateneo, this “molders of future leaders” mission is something that the Jesuits were never coy about. In the Ateneo, we were always reminded that we will someday be leaders of whatever career undertaking we will eventually embark on.
A Swiss girl I met while she was here on an exchange program in 1980, was shocked when I told her about the Ateneo mission. It was unthinkable for her to learn that an educational institution would make such a claim. Oxford and Cambridge may have produced many British leaders but Oxford and Cambridge never claimed to be exclusively devoted to molding future British leaders.
Unable to resist the opportunity for a dig at an Ateneo Achilles Heel, Cruz asserted that Ateneo has a lot to answer for because the problem of the country is failed political leadership. It cannot be denied that some of the Ateneo alumni have been in the corridors of political power, whether then or now. In fact, many of them are deridingly referred to nowadays as Blue Vultures – the aberrations of Blue Eagles.
Unable to take that broadside without firing back, I countered for the Blue Eagles, saying that this purported outreach program of La Salle is nothing but public relations spin intended to cover up intensified recruitment for players for the La Salle UAAP basketball team. That drew a good laugh but it did not hide the truth that the Ateneo has produced some of the worst plunderers and nefarious characters who contributed in bringing the country to the sorry state it is in.
Eventually, we in the table had to ask ourselves if the Catholic education, which the Ateneo and De La Salle Universities are known for, has failed in its mission altogether – especially the Ateneo which set its sight to mold the future leaders of the land. Judging on the basis of our failure in leadership alone, a failure that is so essentially rooted in our failure as a Christian nation, it would appear that our premiere Catholic institutions have indeed failed miserably.
In my opinion (and this is not to apologize for the two universities) I do not think it is fair to blame the failure of leadership on either of the two universities. There are a good number of Ateneo and La Salle alumni who have become exemplary figures and productive assets in Philippine society. Many Ateneans have stood by Loyola’s ideal to be “men for others”. A few however who managed to mutate into Blue Vultures have gained so much notoriety that the good deeds of many seem lost. Bad news travels fast and lingers like a plague. To this day, the German nation suffers from the deeds of one Adolf Hitler, who is actually an Austrian, while the Goethes and Wagners of the gifted German race hardly serve to neutralize the stain inflicted by the horrors of the past World War.
The failure of leadership in our country has to be laid squarely on the failure of the families that spawned these Blue Vultures. Many of these are the same families who form the oligarchy that has been exploiting us since those Illustrados stole the Malolos Congress from the real revolutionaries during the late 19th century. Charity, as well as greed, begins at home and neither the Ateneo Jesuits nor the La Salle Brothers can undo the transfer of values that scions of oligarchs invariably obtain from their forebears.
In high school, I saw how some Ateneans flaunted flashy cars which not even highly paid executives could afford. While many of us were happy with a weekly allowance of P20, these children of privilege splurged in the hundreds of pesos. Some had bodyguards while others were even allowed to carry guns (not in school though where expulsion is the penalty), which they proudly brandished.
No Jesuit or La Salle Brother can reverse the moral decay and twisted values that a father has inculcated on a son who thinks that their family:
1. Has the right to own the largest tract of prime land in their district while many of the people around them lived like nomads in temporary hovels.
2. Has the right to control the local economy in their sphere of influence.
3. Has the right to have three servants to every member of the family.
4. Has the right to employ a private army in order to protect their feudal domain.
5. Has the right to kill, if need be, any threat to their interests.
6. Has a hereditary right to what are elective political positions.
This is no different from the failure of the Church during the Middle Ages to reform the feudal lords of that era. That era produced saints who set good examples but their examples were not the key instruments that changed the oppressive feudal structures. Revolution and political upheaval ended the era of feudalism in Europe, not Christian (or Catholic) education.