By Rodolfo SB. Virtus Jr.
Coinciding with the 46th Anniversary of Martial Law last September 21, the Ateneo de Naga University (ADNU) held a forum on “The Atenean in the Time of Duterte’s Change: Re-examining Compassion and Conscience,” with Kalookan Bishop Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio ‘Ambo’ S. David, D.D. as resource speaker.
Bishop David or Bishop Ambo, as he is widely known, shared his views of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s promise of change as translated into his anti-drug and criminality policy, and its implications on human dignity and life.
“Compassionate commitment to change” and “conscience” are two of the “4Cs” in the profile of an ADNU Student/Graduate. Bishop Ambo used the 4Cs as basis to examine President Duterte’s change agenda. He asked the audience to reflect on four questions. “Does he (President Duterte) care for persons?” “Does he have compassion?” “Does he have a functional conscience?” “Is he committed, and does he have the will to pursue the dictates of his conscience?”
“Change has indeed come. But is it the kind of change that we wish for our country?” David further asked.
The prelate cited the “bloody war against illegal drugs” to be the most notable change in the current administration. Kalookan is one of the cities with the highest number of drug-related killings. He said the administration’s drug war, mostly against poor Filipinos, gave rise to the culture of impunity and violence, marked by warrantless searches and arrests, illegal detention, and summary executions justified as “nanlaban”.
He also drew parallelism between the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos and the issues in Duterte’s administration. He says the similarities of change-driven slogans speak for themselves; Presidents Marcos espoused “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan” while Duterte administration stresses “Tapang at malasakit. Tunay na Pagbabago.”
In his reaction, Dr. Stephen Henry S. Totanes pointed out that the country is virtually under Martial Law mentioning cases of illegal detention and extrajudicial killing. He echoed the popular anti-dictatorship catchphrase, “Never again,” which was repeated by many in the audience.
David urged the students “to be participants, never onlookers or fence-sitters”. With the relentless EJKs, and the climate of impunity and violence, he said that “if you don’t see anything wrong, something has gone wrong.”
He also encouraged them to take advantage of their Ignatian education in learning the art and discipline of discernment. Stressing that conscience has to be functional, he warned that a strong political will “detached from conscience is dangerous” as it is one that will pursue its own agenda without regard for the means and consequences.
One student asked for his advice on how to deal with a person with a dysfunctional conscience. The prelate cautioned not to judge the person, but rather understand where s/he is coming from, and help expose her/him to the truth.
“When you see in a victim someone who is no longer ‘other’, gumigising iyon (conscience). Ang konsensya ay nagsisimula sa pag-gising ng malasakit sa kapwa. Pwede palang anak ko ‘yan. Pwede palang kapatid o tatay ko ‘yan. Sa bawat pagpatay ng isang biktima, may nabyuda at mayroong naulila.”
The activity, organized by the Office of Student Affairs under the auspices of the Office of the President and the Office of Mission and Identity is part of the Leadership Development Program for student leaders and organizations. It was attended by around 400 students, employees and Jesuits.