One Big Fight!
By Junefe Gilig Payot
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:06:00 10/03/2008
The Ateneo de Manila University’s blue babble battalion was already performing for the half-time break when I got to the Araneta Coliseum for the first game of the basketball finals of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines. It took time for my ears to adjust to the pounding of drums and for my eyes to absorb the spectacular sight of a jam-packed coliseum divided into blue and green. On my way up to find a place, I saw a lady wearing a shirt, half of which was blue and the other half green. It had the words, “Kanino ka ba talaga?” [“Whose side are you really on?”] I laughed inwardly, but that was not enough to get me into a cheering mood.
Having just come from a meeting of urban poor mothers in Barangay Batasan Hills, I had a brief bout of culture shock — like I had just come from a less fortunate country and now found myself in another country where people all wore clean blue shirts, smelled good, had really nice skin and spoke a distinct brand of English. Moreover, I had to deal with the feeling one gets after seeing the kind of palpable poverty which makes other concerns petty in comparison, including the greatest rivalry in Philippine sports. So I had to make some quick inner adjustments to allow myself to enjoy the game. But the questions would not stop.
My work entails constantly shuttling between communities in the opposite extremes of the economic spectrum and the things I see make me ask questions. How is it possible that some have comfortable houses to go home to after studying in air-conditioned classrooms while others sleep on the cold floor of a crowded house? How is it possible that half of urban Filipino families are said to be “illegal settlers”? Isn’t there something wrong with property laws that make so many families “illegal settlers”? Are many Filipino families poor because some are very rich?
While trying to parry the questions, I saw a batch-mate whose first question to me was not “Kumusta?” but “‘Uy, buti nakakuha ka pa ng ticket.’ [Good you still got a ticket.] How much did you pay for it ba?” I found the “ba” at the end disturbingly superfluous even as I enjoyed mimicking him silently. I said that I had paid the normal price. And he told me, “Lucky you, ‘pare. Me, I had to pay more than triple the price.”
That, of course, only led to more mimicking as he left and then to some wishful thinking: If each of the estimated 22,000 people at the Big Dome donated the same amount that they spent for their tickets to this game (I heard that some paid P25,000 for a patron ticket!), they could help formalize the tenure of at least 500 urban poor families in Batasan Hills.
The wishful thinking went on and on until the roar of the blue crowd jolted me back to reality. Rabeh had just made another shoot-miss-rebound-shoot. So I pumped my fist in the air with the crowd shouting, “Go Ateneo! One Big Fight!” But my arms soon got tired (I must be getting old), and I was alone with my thoughts again. How do we rally people against poverty? How do we generate the same level of energy that is created whenever the Green Archers and the Blue Eagles play against each other in the fight against poverty?
The two schools have been doing much to fight poverty. De La Salle University has many institutions dedicated to helping combat poverty, foremost among which is the Social Development and Research Center which for many years has been implementing projects that help the rural as well as the urban poor. The Ateneo has a long history of social involvement, too. In fact, the most famous anti-poverty movement today, Gawad Kalinga, is a brainchild of its alumnus Tony Meloto and has been supported strongly by the Ateneo community. Also, the Ateneo has long been trying to find ways for its students, who come mostly from privileged backgrounds, to experience poverty more directly through immersions in poor communities.
But I don’t know if these are enough. I don’t know if the Ateneo, De La Salle, the University of the Philippines and all the other universities in the country are doing enough to use the resources and opportunities at their disposal to fighting poverty and to changing the structures of inequality. Universities have the unique opportunity to shape young people into conscientious future leaders who will effectively change the status quo.
I remember a conversation I had with a Jesuit friend who said that the Ateneo universities must ask themselves whether the education they provide preserves, rather than transforms, the status quo. He lamented that many of the students who enroll in the Ateneo universities go there with the goal of eventually getting a job in the very social structure which the Jesuit social apostolate is professing to change. He said that there has to be more dovetailing between the social apostolate and the educational apostolate to effect change.
I cannot agree more. There is a need to produce a new bunch of university graduates who are truly committed to fighting poverty and inequality. Our universities need to inculcate a sense of social responsibility in their graduates so that they will not see their work merely as a well-deserved reward for years of studies but more importantly as an opportunity to help in nation-building.
So as I looked around the crowd of mostly young people proudly singing “A Song to Mary” after a well-deserved win, I could only wish that they were pumping their fists in the air in solidarity with the poor, like the activists of the past. The country needs their energy, creativity, expertise and commitment. This fight against poverty is truly One Big Fight!