Schools’ duty to enlighten

The Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) condemns the bullying tactics now being employed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) against Catholic schools ‘who are defying Church teachings’. This came on the heels of a statement released by 192 Ateneo professors expressing their well-considered personal opinion that the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill or House Bill 4244 is a vital piece of legislation which should be enacted immediately.

These bully tactics include: (1) the warning issued by CBCP President and Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma to schools that a showing of violation of the Church’s ethical and religious directives results in the loss of their Catholic affiliation; and (2) the statement of Bishop Leonardo Medroso, member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) Permanent Council, that professors who contradict Catholic doctrine must be warned or stopped from teaching altogether. Archbishop Palma echoed this, in reference to teachers, by saying “if you want to teach that idea…do it in other universities.”

As a historical defender of human rights, APL condemns such wholesale antagonism against the professors’ exercise of their fundamental right to expression and collective action. In bullying the professors, senior members of the Catholic hierarchy deliberately left out that part of the statement which says that the professors were “in no way speaking for the Ateneo de Manila University, the Society of Jesus, or the rest of their colleagues.” In stating their opinion, the Ateneo professors were acting as individuals even as they acted collectively. Any pressure upon the Ateneo is clearly designed to be cascaded down to the professors. This is simple bullying and is completely inappropriate.

In the same manner, the CBCP’s threats to teachers of all Catholic schools clearly impinges on academic freedom. Article XIV, Section 5 (2), provides that “Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning.”

APL notes, too, that in the wake of the attacks against the professors, Ateneo students themselves have shown overwhelming support for their professors. On the CBCP’s accusation of ‘confusing the students’ therefore, the first should understand that students have the capacity to discern and it is every school’s duty to inculcate critical thinking and respect for human rights among them [Philippine Constitution, Article XIV, Section 3 (2)].

As a labor center, APL condemns the pressure upon the Ateneo to investigate and terminate the professors simply because they expressed their opinion on an issue of crucial national importance. The professors’ advocacy should not be used to threaten their security of tenure (Philippine Constitution Article XIII, Section 3). Interest of workers are paramount and should not be abridged in any way under the policy of social justice.

It is fortunate that the Ateneo, through its President, Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin SJ, has issued a statement showing more enlightenment than either Archbishop Palma or Bishop Medroso. Fr Villarin stated his appreciation for the professors’ “social compassion and intellectual efforts, and urge them to continue in their discernment of the common good.”

The APL can only wish for the same open mindedness from the Catholic Bishops.

This being the 21st Century, the Bishops should shun medieval methods which only further discredit their cause. Instead of threats, the Bishops should engage the professors in sincere dialogue. Instead of stripping schools of their Catholic affiliation – which sounds much like excommunication – the Bishops must encourage an atmosphere of critical and creative thinking, scientific knowledge, love of humanity, and enlightenment.

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