Education with a Heart
Inaugural Address Rev. Fr. Gregorio L. Bañaga, Jr., CM Fifth President of Adamson University December 10, 2004
The Poor in Philippine Context
“Nakakahiyang maging mahirap! Nakakahiya kasi iba ang tingin sa iyo ng tao. Mahirap ka daw at walang asenso sa buhay dahil sa tamad ka, wala kang ambisyon at ayaw mong magsikap mapabuti ang buhay mo. Hindi ka raw ma-abilidad. Kapag kaharap mo ang isang taong maykaya, nanliliit ka kasi hindi ka katulad nila na kayang bilhin ang mga gusto nilang gamit.”
“KAYA NAKAKAHIYANG MAGING MAHIRAP AT MAHIRAP MAGING MAHIRAP.”
Gerry Cortez, 35 years old, a contractual employee providing janitorial services in our university, expressed with a tinge of embarrassment and apprehension how shamefully difficult it is to be poor.
To him and many, many others, it is indeed a shame to be poor.
Why are the poor seen this way? Even the use of the term “poor” is today discouraged. Social development workers try to correct the notion of poverty by not referring to poor people as “poor,” but rather in more politically correct parlance such as “socially disadvantaged” or “underprivileged” as these terms somehow soften the negative impact of the word “poor.” Many other names are given to the poor, such as the Hebrew “anawim” as used in Old Scriptures when referring to the suffering and powerless people-- or “marginalized.” If those in the margins constitute the majority of our people, then the margin must be thicker than the center!
According to some information, those living below the poverty line have reached over 40% of our population. The poor have steadily increased over the years--those already poor still sinking deeper into this quagmire while new ones emerge everyday.
Many theories have been proposed explaining why the Philippines continues to deteriorate as a nation. One theory talks about “premature democracy”, while another puts the blame on our Catholic orientation that seemingly prefers poverty over material wealth as the value to emulate. Others readily blame a corrupt political system, our colonial past, overpopulation and even bring it down to our character which is lazy, fatalistic and easy-going. (Del Rosario, 2003) Still others attribute it to the global system of injustice that makes us unwitting victims.
As educators, and there are many of us here today, the questions that remain unanswered are: What has my school done to address the poverty situation? Where have we succeeded and where have we failed in doing so? What has gone wrong with Catholic education? If education was a way out of poverty, then why do our people remain poor? Do our students see poverty as a problem that requires a solution or a situation for personal gain? When they graduate, do they become part of the elite that perpetuates poverty or do they work for the transformation of society?
Catholic Education and Poverty
Catholic education, particularly in the Philippines, has been criticized for being elitist and for creating a new kind of elite. According to the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines:
- “Many affluent Filipinos have a cultural fixation towards elitism in education. Such elitism not only waters down education to a status symbol, but tends to produce in well-to-do students not only a feeling that they are a people apart, but also a misguided priority that education is merely a tool to gain privileges and advance one’s social class. Because high standards of education require high financial support, Catholic schools may find it impossible to express the Christian love of preference for the poor.” (no. 633)
Douglas Foley stressed that the “Filipino elite developed their own private school system to preserve their privilege and access to the colonial bureaucracy.” (p. 51) Fr. Jimmy A. Belita, CM my predecessor, wrote while citing Foley, that:
- “… Philippine education has been suffering from a perennial problem, ever since colonizers, both Spanish and American, brought about an elitist form of education. In the time of the Spaniards, education was channeled through the Church who reserved her best schools for the rich…even her schools that were founded for the poor eventually became schools for the rich.”(p. 7)
Our educational institutions have their unique interpretation and response to the needs of our society. Rightly or wrongly, they do what they believe is right and they strive to excel in doing what is right.
Our institution is no exception.
Adamson University’s History
Adamson University was established in 1932 by immigrant Greeks who saw the need for technical skills to fuel a young nation’s major leap towards industrialization. (Dela Goza and Churchill, 1993)
The Adamson School of Industrial Chemistry, as the University was originally named, was a pioneering idea that provided the impetus for the opening of future technical schools in the country – technical schools that were providing education to the middle and lower middle classes who could not afford the sectarian schools that catered to the more privileged in society.
The school prepared future technicians to run the industries owned by graduates of other schools. It had students coming from unheard of barrios in Luzon and the Visayas and even as far as Jolo in Sulu-- the sons and daughters of the working class and the peasant class who dreamed of better lives as professional engineers, chemists, pharmacists, teachers and small-scale businessmen and not as soil tillers or tenants of the hacienderos.
The Adamsons somehow knew that from the ranks of the poor would spring forth the working class, the backbone of the middle class that would move the country towards economic growth and development. They steered their university towards becoming a center of technical and scientific expertise and provided an environment that upheld professionalism and excellence. They emphasized social responsibility, tapping natural resources while respecting its balance, upgrading the social status of their clientele by offering short courses, technical competence through their focus on technical education, and maintaining their main clients who come from the poor and working classes.
When the Vincentians took over Adamson University 40 years ago in 1964 from the Adamson family, the move did not come as a surprise. After having been the tenants of the Vincentians in the San Marcelino property right after the war, the Adamsons offered the University to the priests as new laws required all schools to be fully owned by Filipino nationals.__Who are the Vincentians and why did they venture into education? Many people have always wondered how the Vincentians, also known as the Congregation of the Mission, who are known more for their popular missions and the education of the clergy, ever got into education?
The Vincentians came to the Philippines in 1862 for the purpose of educating the local clergy. They established what were known as “colegio-seminarios” (College-Seminaries) in the dioceses of Manila, Vigan, Naga, San Pablo in Laguna, Jaro in Iloilo, Cebu, Jagna in Bohol, Calbayog in Samar and Tacloban in Leyte. Noted graduates from the clergy include Cardinal Santos, Cardinal Sin and Cardinal Julio Rosales. There were also those who received their education in the “colegios-seminarios” who were not part of the clergy, noted national leaders such as President Sergio Osmeña, Sr., Graciano Lopez Jaena, founder of the La Solidaridad, Jose Ma. Panganiban, brilliant propagandist during Rizal’s time, Ramon Avancena, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and many other Senators and Provincial Governors too many to mention here. (Dela Goza and Cavanna, 1985)
Two Streams Joining to Form a River: The Adamsons and the Vincentians in Adamson University
As the Vincentians took over the reins of Adamson University, they brought with them their heritage of compassionate service to the poor and core values anchored on the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, their solid experience in education, a deeply spiritual and holistic approach to the development of the human person, and even a strong sense of nationalism.
Together, the two traditions of the Adamsons and the Vincentians are likened to two separate streams that joined together to form a mighty river, converging towards many common grounds such as the same clients they serve, awareness of every individual’s social responsibility, a functional and practical education, and a continuous striving for excellence in education.
The confluence of these two streams of influence has brought Adamson its own share of glory and fame in academic excellence, professionalism, service to the poor and development impact in society. This glorious heritage is what we are called to build on and to bring forward with renewed commitment and bold creativity. At this point, I invite you to reflect with me on how we can further sharpen the vision and mission of Adamson University by putting higher education within the perspective of the poor.
Vincentian Education in the Philippines: From Servant University to Education with a Heart
It was the third University President, Fr. Rolando de la Goza, CM who conceptualized the role and identity of the University which he aptly termed as “Servant University.” Fr. de la Goza expounded on the concept of “Servant University” in his investiture speech in November 1986, when he declared:
- “Adamson University, drawing inspiration from the Gospel, should conform to the image of the Human Person, Jesus Christ, the model Servant, in order to counteract some of (our society’s) ills. We see from the evangelical perspective how Christ, our Lord and Savior, modeled the role of Servant, ministering to the needs of the people, especially the poor. His words and actions consistently showed that He came to serve all who are in dire need and that anyone who wishes to be His follower must do no less.”
Fr. de la Goza continues,
- “No less than the Supreme Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, has underscored this mission of Catholic education. In his speech before the Presidents of Catholic universities at Washington, DC in 1988, he stressed: ‘The goals of Catholic higher education go beyond education for production, professional competence, technological and scientific competence; they aim at the ultimate destiny of the human person, at the full justice and holiness born of truth.’ And what is the truth? That service to the poor is an integral part of full justice and holiness.” “A university education, therefore, and this our students should be made to believe in and recognize, should not be taken solely as a ticket to affluence and power but as necessary preparation, during which Christian values must be inculcated, for their moral obligation to be of more and better service to others.” (Dela Goza, 1986)
The socio-economic and political situation of the Philippines has worsened in the last two decades since Fr. de la Goza put forward the concept of the “Servant University” as a response to the social ills plaguing the country during his time.
And undoubtedly, poverty remains the main issue today as it was then.
It has often been said that education is a way out of poverty. We say education brings us into the heart of poverty, for the dynamics of Vincentian education puts the poor right at the center of our mission. This is based on the philosophy that Vincentian education is:
- “OF THE POOR”, meaning, providing the poor accessibility to education;
- “FROM THE POOR”, where the perspective of education is taken from where the poor stands;
- “WITH THE POOR”, that we are in solidarity with those who have less;
- “FOR THE POOR”, that education is transformational and for advocacy, and we orient our students to have preferential treatment for the poor.
Like any institution of higher learning, Adamson does not differ in offering a wide range of educational programs and services aimed at producing professionals who are competent and qualified in their own fields of discipline. As with other Catholic schools, we similarly pursue the quest for truth and knowledge under the guiding light of Sacred Scriptures and the teachings of the Catholic faith. What makes Adamson University unique is its Vincentian character imprinted in its programs, services and “culture” that are inspired by the life and works of St. Vincent de Paul, its Patron Saint.
Education of the Poor
St. Vincent de Paul, who lived in the 17th century, is known worldwide for dedicating his life to the poor and the needy. While he did not establish any school during his lifetime, except seminaries for the training of the clergy, the example of his life and unique spiritual perspective can serve as principles to guide our educational philosophy and process.
While Vincent de Paul welcomed all kinds of people and interacted with them, he had a special preference and concern for the poor. He saw Christ in every person he met but he treated the poor with special respect, thereby making them feel their human dignity and bringing home the message that poverty was dehumanizing yet nothing to be ashamed of.
While the doors of this university are open to everyone, the socially disadvantaged, children of the working class and those in the margins of society occupy a special place within our walls. We want to be known as a university where the poor can find opportunities to break the vicious cycle of poverty and indignity that they are subjected to. We do this by keeping our tuition fees affordable and regulating their increase as well as by providing a host of scholarships.
To date, scholarships granted by the University amount to roughly P55M, with close to 10% of our total student population enjoying a scholarship grant. We aim to increase this number twofold in five years time and we will work on being an effective channel for resources in the education of the poor.
We want the poor to have access to quality education the same way Mr. Edgardo Sitjar, a former contractual janitor, now enjoys a scholarship grant and serves as a student assistant in our Religious Education Department. By the way, the faculty members of the department, inspired by his determination, support him by chipping in P50 every quincena to pay for Edgar’s monthly board-and-lodging of P1,500.
Education from the Perspective of the Poor
Vincent de Paul was the son of peasants and was deeply immersed in the world of the poor. His perspective in life and approach to service was to start where persons were. “In a strange sort of way,” Fr. Jimmy Belita writes, “…the poor does service to a school by being critical of its institutionalism and business-like policies.” (p. 90). Quoting the Latin American theologian Jon Sobrino this time, Fr. Belita continues:“…that the university should see the world from the point of view of the poor if it wants to be a truly liberating and empowering form of education.” It is quite clear that his proposition runs counter to an education that is detached from real life situations and influenced by those in positions of power, which ultimately tilt the balance of power in our society in their favor.
Two implications follow from this perspective. In terms of transmission of knowledge, our students, especially the poor, are the starting point of our educational mission. The delivery of educational programs and services start from and revolve around the students. We consider their gifts, needs and circumstances and devise ways by which we can facilitate their growth and development in the discovery, sharing and use of knowledge and skills. In order to do this we have to immerse ourselves in the lives of the poor and make that experience the point of departure for our educational process.
Today the technical term to describe this process is “dialogue of life.” In the words of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines:
- "There should be a periodic and systematic exposure of administrators, faculty, staff and students to the context of the poor and the needy. Such a process of contextualization will help engender the development of a love of preference for the poor and of a missionary spirit in every sector of the school community. Those in the teaching profession in particular can make use of this context to lead their students towards a critical assimilation of culture, and a comprehensive synthesis of faith and life. Student involvement in outreach programs for the poor will provide the occasion for fostering talent sharing, while processing and concretizing value formation. Imbued with the missionary spirit, they stand to learn and receive much by reaching out to the poor and the needy.” (No. 642)
In terms of research, this means we have to have a strong bias towards poverty issues: causes, supportive societal structures, underlying attitudes, short term and long term solutions to this menace of society. Research must be relevant and pragmatic and, must impact the world of the poor—and not only for publication purposes. Moreover, while we believe knowledge can be discovered in isolation, the Vincentian perspective leans towards the process of discovery of knowledge by interactive dialogue with the grassroots and marginalized. In this way, the school develops a “conscience” and becomes a credible institution. (Belita, p. 90)
Education with the Poor
If you go to the Chapel of the Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity in Paris, you will see in a reliquary, the incorrupt heart of St. Vincent. God preserved his heart that had so much love. Before St. Vincent plunged himself into serving the poor, he first learned to love them and be in solidarity with them. “First the heart” he told his followers, “then the work.”
As Vincentian educators, this is an invitation to love our students enough to “walk” with them. This will demand that we sincerely listen to them and have compassion for them. It also means that we become receptive and humble, opening ourselves to learn from them for they have much to offer to us.
Vincent de Paul’s genius lay in his ability to share his vision and inspire a wide spectrum of people to get involved in his work. Vincentian educators are called to share their vision with others and to involve different stakeholders—administrators, faculty, staff, alumni, industry partners, and students—in creating a learning community where unique talents and abilities are recognized, appreciated and utilized. In so doing we create a very powerful and rich environment for learning. In the words of Fr. Robert Maloney, the former Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, speaking at the installation of the President of St. John’s University, a Vincentian university in New York City:
- “Let the Vincentian mission… be a collaborative effort. Let it mobilize the efforts not just of the members of the Congregation of the Mission, but of all the lay administrators, faculty members and staff who labor in this great university. Let them feel a part of this mission… If there was anything Vincent de Paul knew how to do, it was to draw everyone into his captivating vision of life. At his one side was the queen of France, Anne; at his other side was a peasant girl who did not know how to read or write, Marguerite Naseau. He energized rich and poor, men and women of every rank in society, because he shared his vision with them…”
Education for the Poor
Vincent de Paul had a heart for the poor but did not romanticize them. He assisted them in their needs but saw to it that those who were able went to serve the poor themselves. Our educational process intends to assist our students to become not only competent professionals and compassionate Christians but persons who are committed to personal, institutional and social transformations for the poor.
In the commencement speech delivered by our alumnus, Mr. Jose Roland Moya, during the graduation ceremonies last October, he shared a story about his fellow alumni, Dennis Afinidad and Maricel Mendoza, whom he met during a NAMFREL visit in the hills of Tanay during the 1998 elections. Dennis and Maricel were both active in church work and with the NAMFREL. The husband and wife team, Mr. Moya narrated, foiled a cheating attempt during that election without minding the danger inherent in such an action. Their volunteerism and bravery continue to inspire many young people to get involved in social transformation.
The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines muses that:
- “We must sadly admit, however, that many of the graduates of our schools…do not seem to have sufficiently assimilated Christian values in such a way as to renew their Christian living… Many seem to look at Catholic education simply as a passport to better opportunities for earning a living, rather than as a grace to live better human and Christian lives, entailing a serious responsibility to build a better world. Many graduates of Catholic schools have been successful economically and politically but they have also contributed to the dismal economic and political imbalances existing in our country.” (No. 627).
As Vincentian educators, we are advocates of an education for social transformation. Our intent is to educate students who will be agents of change and catalysts in the transformation of society—not to become a class apart nor to perpetuate the vicious cycles that marginalize the poor.__This implies that we further enhance our processes and services, especially community service, to create a mentality and a “culture” of social responsibility in the academe. Our approach is to make volunteerism and service to others an integral component of academic disciplines.
To the many unsung heroes out there and those who share our vision of social transformation and who can complement our efforts for empowering those in the margins of society, we open up the human and material resources of the University. Our alumni, heeding this call, have become our partners in this endeavor. Mrs. Lourdes Supetran, an alumna from our Chemistry Department, together with her husband, built ACS Manufacturing Corporation, the company that produces several popular household brands like Star Wax, Pride Powder Detergent, Smart Dishwashing Detergent and Unique Toothpaste. ACS Manufacturing is listed among the top 1,000 corporations in the country.
Mrs. Supetran narrates how she did not participate in the commencement exercises after her studies because she did not have the means. Today, she serves her alma mater by employing many Adamson University graduates in her company and by providing scholarship grants to deserving Chemistry students. She also served as President of the Alumni Association for two years.
Education with a Heart
“Those who have less in life must have more of your heart” asserted Fr. Pilario CM, the Dean of our School of Theology, during his Baccalaureate Mass homily last October. But before we even engage in the task and mission of education, we have to look into our motives as these determine and influence how we give ourselves and the kind of work we do for others. As Christian and Vincentian educators this is an invitation to put ourselves wholeheartedly behind this vocation. There is no room for half-heartedness—only for single-minded devotion. Hopefully, our example will inspire the youth under our care to also give themselves to whatever they will be involved in the future—even if this would lead them to giving up their lives.
“It is not enough to do good, we have to do it well,” St. Vincent would always advise his followers. We have to renew our commitment to excellence and dedication. The poverty of our students is not an excuse for not striving for excellence in our services and programs and not putting our whole self into our vocation and mission. We must not rest on our laurels in technical and professional education; we have to keep on transforming ourselves, doing “more” and blazing new trails.
Journeying Towards the Future
The story of Adamson doesn’t end here. Like a big, mighty river it continues to swell and flow, cutting through rocks and dead branches along its path, forging new streamlets that would later become new rivers. I wish to take this opportunity to thank all those who made Adamson University what it is today—from those who envisioned it to those who developed it and brought it to greatness all these years. The past was not without challenges. Still, the future is replete with them and difficulties can be daunting.
I wish to thank the Board of Trustees for electing me to be at the forefront of this great institution. It is truly humbling to be given such great responsibility. What gives me strength and confidence is the fact that I am surrounded by the University’s greatest resources: our capable and devoted administrators, our dedicated faculty and staff, our supportive alumni, countless other partners and of course, our treasured students. We have within us all the human resources that we need to face these challenges and craft a new future for the university.
I also wish to express my profound appreciation to my brothers in the Congregation of the Mission, particularly those who work closely with me in the University for their friendship, support, and counsel; the members of my family starting with my mother, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends for their continued understanding, love and support.
Adamson is nearly 75 years old; we will be celebrating our Diamond Jubilee in 2007. This can be a curse—considering all the baggage that we have accumulated from our past, the innate resistance to change, the reluctance to move outside our comfort zones, and inertia born out of complacency and cynicism. Or, we face an opportunity—to dig deeper, to leverage on what we have built and the reputation we have made for ourselves.
It is not coincidental that this ceremony is held inside this historic church (the first church to be built using reinforced concrete in the Philippines) and preceded by the celebration of the Eucharist. It is meant to remind us that the God who inspired St. Vincent de Paul more than 300 years ago with a mission towards the poor will be behind us as we continue this mission of touching the lives and forming the character of the youth entrusted to our care. “What God has done for us in the past is so great,” St. Vincent wrote, “that we can look to the future with hope and confidence.”
Gerry Cortez, nais kong malaman mo na mayroon kang karapatang magkaroon ng edukasyon at dignidad bilang tao at hindi kailangan ikahiya ang pagiging mahirap.
May God, who inspired us in the beginning, continue to guide us and bring success to the work of our hands.
Thank you very much.
- Belita, Jimmy A., CM. Teaching and Being-A-Church: Towards an Ecclesiology of Education. Manila: Adamson University Press, 1997.
- Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. Acts and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II). Manila: St. Paul’s Publications, 1992.
- Dela Goza, Rolando S., CM. Investiture Speech. 1986.
- Dela Goza, Rolando S., CM. and Bernardita Reyes Churchill. Adamson University: A History (1932-1992). Manila: Adamson University Press, 1993.
- Dela Goza, Rolando S., CM. and Jesus Ma. Cavanna, CM. Vincentians in the Philippines: 1862-1982. Makati, Metro Manila: Salesiana Publishers, 1985.
- Del Rosario, Ramon R., Jr. “Perspectives and Transitions in Private Education”, Educational Leadership and Management Development Seminar Series, March 10, 2003.
- Foley, Douglas. Colonialism and Schooling in the Philippines,1898-1970. Education and the Colonial Experience, ed. By Philip G. Altbach and Gail P. Kelly. New Brunswick: NJ: Transactions, Inc., 1984.
- Maloney, Robert, CM. Address at the Presidential Inauguration, St. John’s University, NY, October 5, 1989.
- Moya, Jose Roland. Commencement Speech during the Graduation Ceremonies of Adamson University, October 26, 2004.
- Pilario, Daniel Franklin, CM. Baccalaureate Mass Homily. October 26, 2004.