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Marcos and the Jesuit ‘Subversives’

February 19, 2010

By Amadis Ma. Guerrero

First published in Graphic, March 18, 1970, p. 6-7.

“Absolute obedience” was the command on which Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus more than four centuries ago. Today the word “obedience” is rarely uttered when young Jesuits get together. Their ranks include protest marchers, draft-card burners, bishop-baiters and jailbirds. The community of 8,000 American Jesuits is caught in profound internal ferment …

— from the Atlantic Magazine, November, 1969

THE HEADLINE in the afternoon daily caught one’s startled eye: Marcos Tags Jesuits on Revolt, and the reader’s instinctive reaction was that the President was giving the SJs more credit than they deserved.

“President Marcos today accused the Jesuits of inciting revolution in the Philippines,” the report began, bylined by a veteran Malacañang reporter. “Mr. Marcos hurled the accusation during a conference with newsmen this morning (March 2), adding that he will not countenance the ‘continued acts of rebellion’ by the religious order.’ The story was substantially duplicated in the other afternoon paper, and its lead was even more dramatic: Marcos declared today an open war against the Jesuits…

The Malacañang ploy however backfired, and reaction set in favor of the Jesuits. The following morning the Palace issued a blanket denial of the reports. Its tone was typically self-serving and innocucus:

“The President believes that the Jesuits in the Philippines are fully aware of the separation between the church and the state and will not risk being publicly condemned for interference in the affairs of government.”

Two leading Jesuit officials immediately took up the cudgels for their order. The reaction of Fr. Horacio de la Costa, provincial superior of the Society, was a model of understatement: “If the President has been correctly reported as saying what he did, I would like to state, with all due respect, that he must have been misinformed …

“As for interfering with the affairs of the state, I would simply say that those of us who are Filipinos believe that, as citizens of a free country, we have the right, and occasionally the duty, to speak our minds on what we believe to be the state of the nation, and how we believe that state can be improved to provide justice and a better life for all.”

The rejoinder of Fr. Pacifico Ortiz, Ateneo president, was more blunt: “It would be a tragedy which could bring us even nearer to revolution if no persons or institutions in this land could speak the truth about the state of the nation as he sees it without being branded as inciters of revolution.

“If we have come to such a pass, as indeed this accusation of the President might lead us to believe, then thought-control and fascism are just around the corner.”

An original impression of newsmen was that the President’s remarks had been printed in one of those “onion skin press releases.” In the trade, this means that a reporter’s contacts give him some “background” material, printed on onion-skin paper, “not for attribution.” The real story, however, subsequently filtered out to the press. Marcos had let down his guard, and revealed his feelings during an informal afternoon chat with newsmen while playing golf at the Palace greens.

The radicals were understandably annoyed, feeling that the President had conferred on the Jesuits a badge of honor reserved exclusively for their own militant groups. Those who know the Jesuits well were amused: very flattering really, but we haven’t reached that stage yet and we probably never will, unless we’re driven to it.

There may be one or two far-out radicals among the SJs, but the truth is that most of them have come out for peaceful reforms. And if only for this reason, they constitute no immediate, violent threat to men like Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Why FM Dislikes the Jesuits

The Jesuits for years now have been crying out for reforms, warning that the alternative would be a bloody revolution. This call naturally has not endeared them to the One in Power (and we do not mean the other world), it being a reflection on his Administration.

The Presidential distaste surfaced for all to see during the opening of the Seventh Congress, when Marcos openly seewled while Fr. Ortiz was delivering his invocation, causing newsmen present to exchange meaningful glances. Fr. Ortiz’s phrase — “trembling on the brink of revolution” — may sound a bit poetic, but his invocation also contained the following passage:

“With us into this hall, O God, we bring the growing fears, the dying hopes, the perished longings and expectations of a people who have lost their political innocence; a people who now know … that salvation, political or economic, does not come from above, from any one man or party or foreign ally; that in the last analysis, salvation can only come from below — from the people themselves …”

There are other reasons for the Presidential distaste for Jesuits and Jesuit-influenced laymen. Let us cite them here:

—Mr. Raul S. Manglapus, whom Mr. Marcos tried to win over to his side, unsuccessfully, not too long ago, and whose ideas he does not share. Item: Manglapus’ Decentralization bill, which sought to clip the powers of the Presidency, was opposed by Mr. Marcos. Item: the nationalistic Congressional Economic Planning Office (CEPO), which Mr. Manglapus staunchly supported, was suppressed by Mr. Marcos;

—the National Union of Students (NUSP), headed by an Atenean, Edgar Jopson, and the Young Christian Socialists (YCSP), headed by a Manglapus-influenced Bedan, Ben Maynigo, have been breathing down the Olympian neck of the President;

—A pamphlet by Fr. Vitaliano Gorospe, SJ, entitled “The Morality of Violence and Demonstrations,” which stated that violence on the part of the exploited masses is justifiable as a last resort. Now this may cause concern to those in the Establishment (particularly to those who may have been warned by their seeresses that they will be assassinated by a young man in the guise of a priest), but it is old hat really. It is inscribed in the Catechism books, and even Pope Paul — hardly a revolutionary — is not against it.

—The mysterious figure of one Fr. Jose Blanco, SJ, alleged to have unseated Mr. Sukarno with one fell swoop of his slender arms, and alleged further to have told a CSM seminar: the people better “rise up in arms before others will do it for them.”

In an interview with the Chronicle, Fr. Blanco said he had been misquoted, and that what he had actually stated was “what we need is a revolution of a change of heart… to convert someone to a real Christian, that is the revolution I sell.”

As for the allegations that he had been involved in the student uprising in Indonesia, Fr. Blanco said he had stayed in that country for six years as an English instructor, then had to leave when summoned to be near his ailing father. This slim and tall (for a Filipino) Jesuit is no stranger to controversy. Last year his remarks before another seminar — that Christ is not in the Sacrament but in the heart — were distorted and made to sound “heretical” and “communistic,” leading to a confrontation with the Archbishop of Manila which still has to be resolved satisfactorily.

Jesena and the Sacadas

—The report by Fr. Arsenio C. Jesena, of the Loyola House of Studies, which exposed the miserable conditions of the sacadas in Negros and which alienated President Marcos because his closest political allies belong to the Sugar Bloc.

The exposé opened with this sentence, almost Hemingway-like in its simplicity: “In April 1969 I went down to Negros to live as a sacada among the sacadas.” But as it began to describe in graphic detail the exploitation of the migrant workers under the hands of the hacenderos and the contratistas, the report took on a tone of bitter indictment:

“I saw the injustice of it all, and I began to understand why the Communists are Communists.”

The Jesena disclosures were an outstanding piece of Jesuit enterprise which capped the last year of the decade just over. In its wake came a challenge from the Christian Social Movement to the sugar planters to submit to an investigation. The planters agreed, then resorted to all sorts of delaying tactics. Early last month, impatient NUSP students took to the streets, and one of their demands was the immediate prosecution of sugar planters found violating labor laws.

This time a new task force team was formed, headed by Undersecretary of Labor Raoul Innocentes, and its findings substantially confirmed the Jesena report. From all indications a better deal is in store for the sacadas, thanks to Fr. Jesena and to others like him who in the past tried to secure justice in sugarland. May their tribe increase.

Through the Pages of History

The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola, the soldier-saint — a symbol, to all Ateneans, of manliness and virtue. Under his unwavering tutelage, the vow of obedience became an asset rather than a liability. Jesuit influence spread, and by 1650, 500 colleges had been established on the European continent. “This was the great baroque period when Jesuit drama, ballet, art and music flourished,” notes the contemporary Jesuit poet and writer, John L’Heureux.

It was also the period, he adds, “when the accusations of ‘Jesuit price’ began, the political machinations of court favorites that would finally lead to the suppression of the Jesuit order.” The Jesuits had become a threat to the absolutist monarchs of France, Spain and the two Sicilies. The autocrats banded together and applied pressure on Pope Clement XIV. Accordingly, in 1773 a papal decree outlawed the Society. The reasons have never been clarified to the present day, and the Pontiff’s statement at the time, since then often quoted by historians, said his move was “suggested to Us by the principles of prudence and which We retain concealed in Our breast.”

The Society was restored in 1814, but the old militancy was gone. “Tradition,” says Fr. L’Heureux, “with its safety and its aura of respectability, embalmed the restored Society of Jesus … The spirit was crushed beneath mountains of legislation, and the Jesuits became a group of dedicated and harmless schoolteachers for the sons of the upper middle class.

“When a few years ago change finally came to the Jesuits, it came with a rapidity and a violence which neither they nor the Church was prepared.”

The history of the Jesuits in the Philippines is divided into two, the period of 1581 to 1768 and that of 1859 to the present. The first period is more colorful, and Fr. De la Costa in his voluminous work on the subject, tells of how a Jesuit secured the allegiance of Portuguese Macao to the Spanish crown, and of how a Jesuit represented the conquistadores of the Philippines.

Jesuits were also accredited ambassadors to the sultanates of Mindanao and the Moluccas. They sailed as chaplains in the Spanish ships that fought the Dutch for the sea lanes of Eastern Asia. The epoch of the Jesuits unfolds before a panorama of “sea battles, native customs, Portuguese rivalry, court intrigue, the opening of China, martyrdom and hard work.”

Although the Society was restored in 1814, the Jesuits did not return to the Philippines until 1859 and they, like their colleagues around the world, confined themselves to the schools, to missionary work and scientific study.

The SJs in the ’50s, ’80s

A Jesuit product acquires an extreme consciousness about his background. The feeling can be an ambivalent (accept-reject), one, and perhaps one could quote here the words of an American correspondent, a hardened newsman, to a young Filipino friend: “A Jesuit education is something to be thankful for, but it is also something to be suspicious about.”

Those fortunate (or, in the view of others, unfortunate) enough to receive an Ateneo education are immediately tagged as “Jesuit boys” — in derision or in envy. But you seldom hear the label applied to the products of the Christian Brothers, the Benedictines and the Dominicans. For when an Ateneo boy goes out into the world, he identifies himself with his Jesuit mentors — or rejects them altogether.

—The author studied for seven years under the Jesuits, during the ’50s, and the pleasant memories of that seemingly distant period go hand in hand with the unpleasant ones. Academic standards were maintained at all costs, and often at a heartbreaking cost. One student was not allowed to graduate because he had a grade of 74 in Social Science, and a 71 in Latin. This youth — an orphan whose mother toiled as a teacher so he could get a good education — was only 14 years old, and so the good fathers decided he was not fit to graduate from High School. He was told to repeat the year. His mother refused, and sent him to another college.

Discipline was exerted most during High School because this is the period when the student’s character is being formed. Punishment was swift, and, depending on the gravity of the offense, could come in the form of expulsion, suspension or the Saturday morning “post.” The latter consisted of strenuous calisthenics, forced marches around the campus, the “gripping” session, during which the student gripped his fingers unrelenting, and other devices worthy of the Inquisition. The atmosphere of the school was rigid, spartan.

But in the ’60s, the winds of change blowing throughout the Jesuit world reached our shores, and what a welcome breeze it was. Student dissent was now tolerated, even encouraged. Ateneans began to expand their horizons, and to involve themselves more extensively than before in social and political issues. A more aggressive nationalism reared its head, and the American Rector — “liked as a friend but disliked as a symbol” — resigned. The torch has been passed on to Fr. Ortiz, the second Filipino to become President of the Ateneo.

Extent of Jesuit Involvement in Social Action

The Jesuits run an Institute of Social Order, whose members conduct courses on credit unions, training programs, agricultural projects, family development and research. Complementing the Institute are the smaller like-minded organizations, like the Corps Youth Group of Fr. Blanco and the Mindanao Community Development Center.

In addition there are individual Jesuits who fan out to the barrios, to the slum districts and other underprivileged areas to improve conditions. You will find a Jesuit working with the parish priest of Sapang Palay, coordinating with Maryknoll students in Pansol, a small barrio behind that school, and with Ateneo students in Barranca another small barrio, in Marikina.

The Jesuits have a common ideology calles SPES, which stands for the Social, Political, Economic and Spiritual aspects of Filipino life. Within his field of competence, a Jesuit is expected to promote the common good in these four spheres.

In their drive to give the people a better life, the Jesuits are armed only with their ideas. Perhaps they provoke so much irritation among those in power because to the totalitarian mind, an idea can be just as dangerous as a Molotov cocktail hurled by an agent provocateur.#

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