Written by Vincent Carlo D. Cuzon
In the 2016 Bonifacio Day, we commemorate our hero’s contribution to Philippine Independence and Identity by tackling the contemporary identity squabbles that we have in Ateneo. From Ateneo’s two political ideologies, to the decade-long fight of the Ateneo Knightingales, and finally to the prevailing Mindanaoan Tripartite Identity, here are the predominant trends that continue to shape the Ateneo studentry.
Ateneo Identity Politics
The Ateneo student government has long been in a limbo on its identity as an institution – should it focus on student services alone, or should it extend its arms to the society at large as well?
Ateneo has always been keen about “Praxis” or the practical application of knowledge, which is geared towards alleviating the conditions of the marginalized and the unheard. People often hear about fighting and siding with the marginalized sectors of the society – the urban poor, the indigenous people (lumads), the LGBTQIA, and among others.
Identity Politics, which is primarily about organizing a movement of the oppressed to fight their own oppressors, had been rising in Ateneo. In the past few years, Ateneo’s student government had a rising trend for support of identity politics, which was also due to the ripening tenurity of political parties in the Ateneo.
Ateneo has been ruled by two strong political ideologies – National Democracy and Social Democracy. The former being embodied by the Buklurang Atenista (Buklat), and the latter by both the Pinag-isang Lakas ng Samahan ng mga Progresibong Atenista (PIGLASAPAT) and BAHAGHARI.
During the reign of Mau Villamor who ran under Buklat, changes in the student government had been institutionalized. Various support groups were established, including but not limited to the Welfare Committee, which is centered on the different movements of the marginalized sectors in the Ateneo Community. Varying committees focused on gay rights, women rights, and among others. Critics of the Villamor’s administration say that there had been so many committees in the student government. Consequently, it had drained the funds that should have been allotted for better student services.
Today, there is a downtrend on identity politics in Ateneo as students continue to vote for a student government that focuses on more ephemeral advocacies, which are dubbed as “real issues” of student services and better administration-student relationship. This focus is certainly not a bad thing but it does not fully embody our role as “men and women for others” who must uphold social justice in relation to our society at large.
Is Identity Politics the way to go? It is an open debate, especially for a student government that is so culturally, socially, and politically diverse as the Ateneo de Davao student government. With almost a month or two before the next SAMAHAN Elections, Ateneans must perhaps consider a student government that provides better student services and that is also coupled by assimilation with the society at large.
LGBTQIA and Minority Inclusivity
One of the longest advocacies in Ateneo is the recognition of the 15-year old Knightingales as an official organization in the Ateneo de Davao University. The Ateneo Knightingales is the unofficial umbrella of the LGBTQIA Community in the Ateneo de Davao University.
The Ateneo de Davao University holds its ground from recognizing the Knightingales, arguing that it is not fully aligned with the university’s VMG (Vision-Mission-Goals). Various Jesuit Institutions abroad recognize the rights of the LGBTQIA and their call for inclusivity. There is a different story in Ateneo de Davao as its administration opts for the ‘safe and conservative’ stance, which undermines the rolling of LGBTQIA discussions in a university setting.
The story of the rising LGBTQIA inclusivity in universities is not new. The Ateneo de Manila University, the oldest Jesuit school in the Philippines, also has its own LGBTQIA organization called Dollhouse. Although the Dollhouse in not accredited, it continues to call for inclusivity in Ateneo de Manila University.
Offshore, the Boston College, a famous Jesuit School in the United States, supports discussions for LGBTQIA rights and their role in promoting inclusivity. It has dedicated a specified Center that tries to cater the issues of the LGBTQIA in their campus.
The recent move of the Ateneo de Davao University to install All-Gender Restrooms is a good start. But there is no substantive move for forwarding LGBTQIA rights and inclusivity as the student-initiated LGBTQIA organization, The Ateneo Knightingales, continues to fight a big hurdle – its decade-old halt from being recognized as a student organization.
Other minority groups that try to stir discussions are rising within the university. Among them, a silent rise of the Humanist Individuals – those who claim to be Atheists and Agnostics. They will be discussed in a different article.
Mindanao Tripartite Identity
A common misnomer in Mindanao is that, a person can either be identified based on his affinity to religion – a person can either be Christian, Muslim or Lumad. This is very limiting and divisive. Mindanao, also known as Philippine’s frontier to its Asian roots, still has its century-old Sultanates, Royal Houses, and Indigenous Traditions. On top of that, it has a predominant Christian population as the Spanish introduced Christianity and institutionalized centralized settlements in the region. This mix complicates the Mindanaoan Tripartite Identity.
Today, you can hear a Lumad who prays and preaches a Catholic Creed. Should he or she be called a Lumad or a Christian? The theory of the Mindanaoan Tripartite Identity has its downfall, since the three identities often overlap. There are lumads who have been converted to Christianity or Islam. To resolve the issue of the Mindanaoan Identity, various initiatives continue to persist. These include the “Culture of Peace” movement, where differences are meant to be bridged through consistent dialogue.
The Ateneo de Davao studentry, with its unique fusion of cultures, must not only become a platform but also become a living museum of how different cultures try to fuse together. The studentry, with the lead of its student government must start a “Culture of Peace” rather than a pushing forward a divisive Tripartite Identity. Rather than emphasizing a “Christian-Muslim-Lumad” identity, it is better to use a collective term that infuses the different cultures together, an identity that centers on the Culture of Peace – “Mindanaoan.”