Student Organizations as Social Justice Advocates

 

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Central to mission of Jesuit education is the formation of men and women ready to meet the demands and needs of the world.

This characteristic entails a course of action that goes beyond the idea of education as an economic function. More profoundly, it entails a way of proceeding that treats education as a redeeming and transforming experience directed ultimately to attain social justice.

Xavier has various programs designed to bridge theory and practice within the context of social development. We have seen this manifest in NSTP, FFP and the Service Learning Program (SLP) . Mostly are curriculum-based anchored in existing programs.

But outside the confines of the classroom and curriculum, there is a fertile ground for deepening commitment to the work of social justice within the praxis framework. This is in the community of student organizations.

Student organizations, beyond its contribution to the vibrant community life, are mediums of formation. If guided accordingly, it can become effective vehicles of learning particularly in the field of social development.

Having this in mind, the idea of incorporating “social justice science” in the leadership development program of student organizations could be worth exploring. This could start by investing on trainings that would deepen 3 core competencies that work side by side with organizational management skills:

(1) Social analysis

(2) Policy and issue advocacy

(3) Public leadership

Social analysis would help student organizations situate their position in the greater social context, understand the forces that sustain an issue and draw a general plan of action with respect to that issue.

Policy and issue advocacy could help the student organization draw a communication plan to help address a social concern.

Public Leadership would teach them how to lead organizations interacting with government, communities and other stakeholders.

Presently, there are already clear efforts in orienting student organizations towards this role. This is laudable and requires continued support.

With these three areas as rough starting points, we hope to see the growth of student organizations that commit to social causes, improve public institutions and form leaders committed to social development and ultimately, to social justice.

 

Photo grabbed from Xavier University

The CDO Local School Board: 3 years on

As I was sitting there, kissed by the 8:00 am sunshine in Kiosko Kagawasan, listening to the Mayor’s report, it dawned on me how world opening the past three years was in my personal journey in this field of youth and policy work.

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“Policy work” would be a definite sleeping pill for most people but to my mind, it has defined my choices in this period of my life and my experience in the Local School Board (LSB) is my first real experience of being “in” government. It has given me tremendous learning on political dynamics and public administration as well knowing committed public servants in City Hall and in the Department of Education.

This story started 3 years ago. I was appointed by then the newly elected city mayor Oscar S. Moreno to sit as the youth representative of the expanded local school board. This body handles the “special education funds” which is derived from the real property taxes. Money there is plowed back to the city in the form of school buildings, administrative and other education related expenses.

The expansion of representation was premised on the belief that it takes the whole village to educate a child. Up scaling it to our context, education reform requires the participation of all sectors.  The LSB now includes members from the private basic education sector, teachers and parents association, faith groups and business groups.

As the months roll on after our constitution, the body, which is mostly composed of private individuals, had its fair share of political intrigue. We can only surmise that the polarizing political climate then has spawned these kinds of intrigues ranging from allegations of overpriced school buildings to the very legality of the school board expansion itself.

These attacks were met with favorable opinions from the Department of Education and the Commission on Audit and last May 9 and after 441 classrooms were built, the people reaffirmed their approval with a fresh and convincing mandate.

Now that we are gearing for the second phase of the education reform agenda, I am more excited of the things we can achieve together. The LSB will continue to invest in school building constructions especially in far-flung barangays, strengthen training of teachers and eliminate classroom shortages. As the representative of the youth sector, we are now slowly transitioning to the SK representation and the constitution of the Oro Youth Development Council by virtue of an ordinance.

With these two major policy push, we are hoping to restart our effort in lobbying for a students rights and welfare ordinance through the SK in the City Council. At the same time, we also hope to partner with the local school board to formalize a training program for various student government officers on project management, social accountability, systems thinking and public leadership.

It is truly an exciting time for the education sector in the city. I do not make this statement just because of my political persuasions. I speak from the facts and numbers achieved. We have a long way to go in improving our education services especially that the K-12 program is rolling out for the first time but I am confident that the initial foundations are properly cemented.

Cagayan de Oro will be in a better position to face the challenges of a 21st century economy with these continuous investments in education. We are known as a hub in the island and we have to surpass this expectation by making it not just a hub for logistics, but a beacon of hope and a city of educated people ready to meet the greater world.

 

 

Social Media and Accountability: From Pork Barrel to a Mini-dumpsite

Clicktivism. It has often been described as an easy-access medium for concerned citizens who just don’t have the time to express their strong views on issues outside their smartphones. It comes in many ways and forms. An example of one getting popular is the change.org platform where people, with a click, can enlist their names in a petition typically addressed to governments. This of course works in the premise that governments take notice when there is a substantial base of support in the ground.

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The case of the recent Million People March Against Pork in the light of the massive corruption scandal is one good case study on this matter. It started as an “event” on Facebook but swelled into a leaderless mass movement, fuelled by the sheer anger of the tax-burdened middle class, whose epicenter of protest in Luneta inspired similar indignation rallies across the nation. This eventually resulted into the “scrapping” of pork in the national budget and the landmark decision of the Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional.

This is a good example of how activism online resulted to real concrete action in the streets, which later on resulted into policy changes and a new legal framework.

While the sustainability of the movement is another story, the impact of online activism translating into action is a lesson we need to learn as a developing democracy.

Though the Pork Barrel campaign was a product of a frustration national in magnitude and the result was also national in scope, the lessons learned from this can very much well apply, and more compellingly so in the local context particularly in the aspect of social accountability of the City or Municipal Hall. It is nearer to the people and results are seen and felt.

Government services and infrastructure are some of the basic obligations of local government. In the course of our engagement with city hall, we have observed that highlighting inefficiencies online, which is capable of being immediately remedied, can be a good starting point on building trust, good will and engagement between people and government.

One particular case involves a marker on a newly built bridge in the city – JR Borja Bridge. Part of the bridge design was the construction of a commemorative marker shaped liked a ray of the sun. No problem with the “ray” design but interestingly enough, it was permanently attached over the 2-meter wide walkway of the bridge. This ray sticking out of the pavement virtually blocked pedestrian flow. If people use the walkway, they have to step down the main road and step back again.

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This is ridiculous and dangerous.

So bewildered citizens started snapping a picture of this peculiar monument, posted it online and tagged people in power. Thank you to social media and a letter addressed to DPWH, that structure was removed and was never seen again. (but then again, public money has already been spent.)

Another one involves a citizen who, presumably prying into his office window, was shocked to see that the rooftop of a public toilet in the historic heart of the city has become a mini-dumpsite. Thanks to technology and social media again, that citizen took a picture. He posted it in one Facebook group dedicated for local public discourse and garnered so many hits. People in charge were tagged and they responded. The next day, it was ordered cleaned.

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These examples may not determine policy or change a whole set of legal framework but they do produce points of interaction and a good starting ground for trust building between people and government.

I guess the bigger question should be how these things should never happen again but the point is people are encouraged to report because they see results. If we continue to make this as a trend, it spurs a sense of co-ownership among citizens and develops an institutional attitude in city hall that social media mood matters and the Facebook can be a platform to build goodwill.

Unlike the Pork Barrel movement, which led people out in the streets and changed national policy, the experience we had was an example of what social scientists describe as short-route accountability. It denotes a form of direct client feedback, co-management and a choice related to services provided. This is opposed to long-route accountability, which involves mandates and change in policy design, much like what the Pork Barrel movement did.

Short-route accountability is a doable start in building stronger public institutions in the local level. When an issue presents itself and people come together, be it in the form of a comment or a share or a tag to push government to do a certain act or correct a wrong, such as cleaning up a rooftop (how ridiculous it might sound), it forces the local government to respond and help shape an engaging attitude.

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So the next time we hear the word “clicktivism”, it might be good to consider it a good thing under the idea of short-route accountability. The combination of a compelling picture of remediable fault, a network of concerned citizens (conveniently together in one online group), and a social media savvy city hall can bring a long way in improving development outcomes in the locality even as simple as removing a road block.

Democracy should be built bottom-up and the local government, being the closest to the people, is the laboratory to do this.

 

A Political Breakthrough: The Election of Risa Hontiveros

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Who would have known that doing a Pia Wurtzbach would also work in the universe of politics?

I imagine Senator-elect Risa Hontiveros would highlight this point in her impending victor speech that indeed, third time’s the charm.

With her consistent message of “healthy pinoy, health pinas” and a growing name recall, the lady who was often described as a woman too pretty to be an activist, who rose from the parliament of the streets, can finally sit in the highest law making body of the land.

I recall my memories interacting with her way back when she first ran in 2010. It was in Xavier University when they organized a Voter’s Ed Concert when I happily volunteered. Ever since then, my support and fascination for her grew overtime. And as I made greater effort in understanding the history and landscape of our politics, it has become clearer to me that her victory is a political breakthrough.

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In a Senate lorded by patricians, titans and celebrities, a Risa Hontiveros is an exception to the general rule we have grown tired and sadly, accustomed to. And what is even more fascinating to top this is that we just elected the first openly social democrat in the Philippine Senate.

Left-of-center politics are branded with many names in the Philippines. Some would relegate it to the extreme-armed-struggle-kind-of-left; others just box it as a group of protesters who never get contented. That is why I am doubtful if the conditions are set for progressive politics to prosper. But from the readings I made, I can fairly argue that this is the kind of politics we need in this country.

We are, as what Quimpo describes, a “contested democracy”. We have formal institutions of democracy; a regular election, a fairly free media, a court system, a law making body, a strong executive and all sorts of democratic trappings but when we remove the veil, state power is actually mired by a vast network of patronage controlled by a few elite families whose interests are far different from that of the vast majority.

This makes the elections, national and local as a sort of inter-elite competition designed to legitimize their almost feudal reign. This is the chronic age-old problem of the Philippines that has perpetuated languishing poverty especially in the countryside, fed growing inequality and embedded corruption in almost all levels of government.

So if we are to breakout to the next stage of national development, we have to confront this cancer in our public institutions politically. And that is where my hope rests in the election of Risa Hontiveros.

She does not just stand on her own name and merit. She is but part of this bigger mass movement of progressives, basic sectors and ordinary citizens who are fighting for a more democratic and inclusive society. Her background, as well as countless of her comrades has been defined by a rooted activism in the streets, in halls of power, in the communities and in the academe.

She is foremost the leader of the Akbayan Party. This is a multi-sectoral mass-based political party born out of the ashes of Martial Law and reinvigorated by the first People Power revolution. It has entered the political field after the promulgation of the 1987 Constitution as a party-list organization. Since then, they have made great strides in passing progressive legislation such as the Reproductive Health Law, the Cheaper Medicines Law and the recent SK reform Law among so many others.

Now that democratic left has a clout in the Senate, this is truly an exciting time to know and to be a progressive. My hope is that such victory would galvanize young public servants to explore, understand and appreciate the struggle of the democratic left. Her victory is a springboard to push for a unified progressive agenda and a pivot to help strengthen the mass movements in the student councils, in the countryside, in the local government units and in civil society.

At the end, what we all want is a Modern Philippine State with strong democratic institutions and a vibrant civil society. We have to understand that this would only work if we deepen democracy by constant and committed engagement to people in power and confronting the reality of our “neo-feudal” setup.

And a way of slowly unshackling the grip of elite domination in our politics is by voting and supporting progressives like Risa Hontiveros, Walden Bello and the parties they represent.

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Mabuhay ka Senator Risa Hontiveros!

Mabuhay ang Akbayan!

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

 

image from GMA Network

5 Reasons why We should vote for Ermin Pimentel #23 for CDO City Councilor

 

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  1. He has #Hugot

 

Seriously, hugot does not only apply to romantic slang, it is pretty much applicable in how we should judge politicians. Na aba ni siyay hugot? This is to contrast others who just, in one night, decide to run because they possess tons of money or hold enough network. Or in other words, they run for public office just because they can. We have been dominated by these kinds of people who just see public service as a big fat milking cow and an opportunity to protect their business interests

Kuya Ermin on the other hand has led a life that is so “hugotable”. What do I mean? He has been formed in the shadows of marital law and became socially aware of the liberating power of activism in his early years. This led him to stand with farmers against big landed corporations to the point of even risking his own life and through the years, served in various capacities within the civil society and the academe.

Who among the candidates possess this kind of personal history of standing for the people in the margins? Clearly not just lip service. This guy is the real deal.

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  1. Consistent public servant

This is one rare trait. Consistency. This is defined by the life choices we make. Is it consistent with your values and with your vision of and for the world?

Fairly enough, Kuya Ermin’s life has been defined by this insatiable drive to order society in a way where dignity and justice is paramount. Such lofty ideals you may say, but in his own way and sphere of influence, he has made great gains in this life mission.

Starting from strengthening the KKP-SIO of Xavier University which under his watch expanded its role not just in the university but in the whole region and beyond.

In the aftermath of the 2009 floods, Sendong and Yolanda, he led the university’s effort in brining aid to the victims as well as translating the experience  to institutional improvements.

In the political front, he has engaged the whole length of electoral engagement from non-partisan (NAMFREL), transpartisan (Kagayanon for Good Governance) , to partisan (Liberal Party).

Recently, he has been instrumental in creating the CDO People’s Council that would serve as a counter balance and vehicle for the people to directly influence the decision making process of the city.

These accomplishments in itself is a picture of the depth of his commitment to social progress.

This is what I see as his consistency. And to state the already obvious, he has been serving the public good way before he entered the partisan political realm. This is the kind of leadership that the city council needs.

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  1. Social Formator and Educator

 His life’s work can be best seen in the generations of leaders he has helped formed. I can say that I am fortunate to be one of them. He has driven the point to me of how participating in politics is a form of vocation. Though it is dirty and noisy, it is important and necessary. He taught me that it is a powerful means of realizing the whole point of our education and that is to do justice in faith.

And interestingly enough, he manages to communicate these ideas through what we call the “chalk talk”. He is a genius in this art. He does not need a PowerPoint. He can make you understand social concepts through arrows, drawings and lines – a mark of a true Engineer.

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  1. Housing advocate

When he got onboard in the reform agenda of the City Mayor Oscar Moreno,  he was tasked to help reform the Asset Management Office of the city particularly on the socialized housing program bearing in mind his engineering and community development background. This is a tedious job filled with political landmines and legal hurdles but together with the Piso-piso Committee, they were able to finally issue land titles to beneficiaries after decades of empty promises.

He also managed to cultivate the associations by linking the strengths of the academe and civil society to help meet the basic needs of these communities such as sanitation, health and livelihood.

This, as he refers to, is not just about housing per se, this is a fight for a basic human right and this is his #hugot.

Imagine if we have him as a legislator. Thousands of families living in the city’s socialized housing sites would have a clear and true champion.

  1. Youth Champion 

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Kuya Ermin is instrumental in the creation of the Oro Youth Development Council. In a way, the founding of this council is the culmination of the years of political education and youth mobilization we have worked together in school and in the city.

He helped us navigate in the tricky political terrain early on. He has committed to support legislation institutionalizing a youth council under the SK Reform Law Format. This is again not just a lip service because he was part of the whole process. His hugot, his background and his life’s work assure that this will be followed through.

The youth sector has an ally in him. Tried and tested.

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Let us stop voting career and parochial politicians who run because they simply can.Cagayan de Oro deserves better leaders and more importantly, we need strategic systems thinking leaders like him in a time when the city is rapidly growing.

A vote for Kuya Ermin is a vote for a progressive Cagayan de Oro

*drops mic* 

7 tips for the Paris traveller

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Ah, the City of Lights and the Moulin Rouge. It is a city of many things, from western political history to intense young romance. But surely, whatever your preferences are, Paris would always belong to anybody’s top places to visit.

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Here are some suggestions that I gathered after visiting Paris myself together with my brother and mother for 7 days. It was relaxed and self-paced so I hope this would help others plan their trip.

If you want to have flexibility and time to relish the scenes of the city without the nagging tourist guide who keeps on reminding you to take your pictures in 10 minutes, I would strongly advice you to not enlist in any tourist agency. But if you want to have the peace of mind that everything is arranged for, then by all means enlist in one.

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Aside from the required hotel bookings, car pickup from and to the airport and the famous “Paris Pass”, we took on the city without any agent. For us, we were a bit anxious about going around the city by ourselves but we soon realized that Paris has a metro system (subway system) that makes traveling life a lot easier.

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Choose a hotel near a metro. The Paris metro is the most advanced in the whole of continental Europe. It has more than 300 stations scattered in almost all corners of the city. It also connects you to some major tourist attractions such as the Palace of Versailles, Disneyland and of course the Charles de Gaulle International Airport. Our hotel is conveniently situated just across a metro station called Porte de Champerret in Metro Line 3. We can be in the platform in just around 2 minutes form our hotel. It made traveling a lot easier.

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View from the  Montparnasse Tower. This is included in the Paris Pass.

Get the Paris Pass. I mentioned “Paris Pass” earlier. This pass is like an all in one museum entrance pass (such as the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles) plus a 5 day unlimited metro ride. It also has a skip-the-line feature. It is really convenient. Do not ever attempt to buy tickets right on the spot especially in the Louvre Museum because it will take forever.

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My brother booked this online but we have to claim the actual Paris Pass Kit in their office in the middle of the city. So initially, we have to pay for our metro going to the station called “Sentier”. Their office is located a couple of blocks away from the station. You just have to line up and show them your printed receipt. For more information just visit: http://www.parispass.com

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The Hall of Mirrors is the central gallery of the Palace of Versailles in Versailles, France.

Study the Paris Metro before hand. You have to first make a list of the places you have to visit and plot it in a map. The Paris Pass also gives you recommended itineraries if you want some help. Then form their know the nearest metro and trace it to your hotel or point of origin. Know which station to transfer to another line. It might be intimidating at first but it is really easy. You just have to know the line and follow the directions conveniently located inside each metro station. A word of caution though, the metro is a fishing round for pickpockets so be extra careful.

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Download a Google offline map. Going to the Paris Pass office proved to be our first test in navigating the city. But this is not a hard thing if you have a google map with you. We did not avail a 3G roaming since its quite expensive but there is a nifty alternative. You can just download a Paris map in your Google map app. Even if it is offline, it can still track the GPS location of your ipad and moves as you move. It was very helpful in times when we could not find our way in narrow streets of Paris.

Be careful of scammers. Like in all major cities in the world, Paris is still flooded with scammers and petty thieves who thrive in taking advantage of naïve tourists. Thankfully we did not have any experience with them, we did observe from a far a couple of things. There are groups of people called the “string men” who would commonly target women. They would approach you and introduce themselves while putting a string in your wrist. They would say that it is a friendship string and then would demand money. They would never stop following you or nagging you until you give them money. So the best way is simply walk away and never interact with them. Just say no.

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There are also young girls who would approach us and ask if we speak English. If you say yes, they would ask you to sign a “petition”. If you are naïve enough and sign it, they would ask for money – plain and simple. So the best thing is just say no and walk away.

Learn Basic French.  We had a couple of occasions where French sales people just speak french to us. It would be helpful if you learn basic hi and thank you just to start the conversation rolling. They will speak English eventually, like after a full sentence of French.

Walk, metro, walk. The best way to enjoy the city is to walk and occasionally use the metro to go to farther points. You will find that Paris is a very walkable city. Just be careful though because some French drivers have a reputation to drive fast.

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The Jardin du Luxembourg, a good 15-minute walk from the Montparnasse Tower 

Paris is truly a beautiful city. Its architecture is consistent and its history stretches beyond a millennium. Every traveller can always find their nook in the city, be it in fashion, in history, in cuisine. Enjoy every moment of it and the best part is going back home with a wider, richer view of the world.

 

 

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My 22 year relationship with Xavier University

xuWhat would you say when you are about to end a 22 year old relationship?

it is a weird but familiar mix of stinging sadness and profound joy. Sad to end seeing the world through the lens of a formal student but, deep within, there is a brewing sense of joy coming from the idea of the possibilities this education can bring; of unleashing to the world what this institution and its people gave me.

Looking back, I have nothing but immense gratitude to the institution that shaped most of my conscious life – like 85% of my life.

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These are scribbles of thought, some random images that emerge when i think of the word “Xavier”.

It was in Xavier when my mom got so excited seeing my first ever test results in Nursery. She fondly recalls that I got all exams, well modesty aside, “almost” perfect and she hurriedly carried me to nearby Dunkin Donuts to celebrate. I think this was the moment when getting good grades was a “good rewarding thing”, thank you for the donuts!

It was also in Xavier where we always get to convince our kindergarten teacher to allow us to play “gira-gira” in the soccer field and innovate our own games.

It was also in Xavier that I look forward to the first week of December. For most of it, it was a carefree experience, going to the science lab, trying the food booth and the fun interactive games. It was walking in the park.

Then as the years progressed, it was also in Xavier days where I observed how my roles also changed. From being a field demonstration dancer in grade school, I then found myself organizing activities in Xavier days during high school and it remained until my college days.

It was also because of Xavier that i got my first talking line in a video ad, during the XU at 75 celebration and my first “ramp modelling” experience which is a stark departure of the “I”.

It was also because of Xavier that I first joined a public demonstration, talked truth to power, immersed with communities in the margins and earn mentors for a lifetime.

And in a lighter note, who would forget those precious moments during the cheer dance competition. Thousands of individual stories get weaved together every year on that faithful day. It is the story of the cheer dancer who spent exhausting months preparing for it. It is the story of the council officer who prepares the face paint for the crowd. It is the story of the freshmen who, for the firs time, saw how the college spirit manifests itself in one beautiful barrage of chants and streamers.

These are just snapshots of thousands of precious images of Xavier seen through my eyes. It is just one in thousands of others. From mundane moments to life-defining or heart breaking experiences, Xavier has her way of weaving together all these randomness into one life narrative that makes you see the deeper nature of things and in the process, inspires you do something in the now. I think that is the magic spell of an Atenean Education. It could not easily be described but i will attempt to capture, at least in 3 points, the ideas that made Xavier what it is in my life.

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  1. INTERCONNECTEDNESS: REASON AND SPIRITUALITY

Everything and everyone is interconnected. I felt that this idea was the overarching theme of almost all reflection points delivered by our facilitators. I would often think that this point makes scientific sense. Considering that the universe was a singularity before the big bang, we are after all, in some weird sense, one with everyone and everything, made with the same stardust as the majestic spiral galaxies beyond.

You can see it in the scientific processes from photosynthesis to the water cycle, to social psychology and physics. Beyond this “new-age-ish” undertone, there is a spirituality that springs from it. Understanding this inherent intimacy with nature and with others unleashes an indescribable sense of oneness, of being in a loving, universal family. So treat creation with tenderness and compassion for this is one with us. And that is enough to make me feel so alive and ready for the world.

 

  1. WHAT IS THE MORE: EXCELLENCE AND MAGIS

It is in Xavier that I somehow realize that education is not neutral. It should not be. It should lead you to become something or in our case, do something for others. Like in any Jesuit Institution, faith plays a central role. And it is no wonder why the University Church is located at the very heart of the campus. It signifies the source and the end of our education.

It is in Xavier that I appropriated my own definition of excellence in the light of faith. Excellence is not so much of an absolute standard like getting “A’s” or being in the top. It is in a greater sense, a lifestyle that spontaneously surfaces if you begin to see beyond the self and more on others and the common good. If your effort is ultimately geared towards the improvement of lives of people, then excellence will naturally surface.  This can be seen by countless of students who, even after a tiring day, volunteer to teach basic English to kids in the streets and labor to innovate their teaching day in and day out. This is excellence. This is Magis.

 

  1. CHARITY VS JUSTICE: THE WORLD AS INTERCONNECTED STRUCTURES

And what is that excellence for? Xavier taught me that education is not just a mere ticket to economic security. Through the programs of engagement and immersion, I have seen the liberating power of an educated mind. It gives dignity. It creates a society that ensures people can live their full measure of happiness. But this education should not just be used as a mere charity work. Xavier taught me to be analytical, strategic and structural in approach. Injustice could not be met simply by giving food every Sunday. It should be accompanied by sustained engagement against the structures of power that perpetuate such injustice. And this is one thing most Ateneans are not comfortable talking about because it dives into the controversial world of power, money and politics. But if we are to expect change for the better, we should involve ourselves into this arena. This is what Xavier made me see.

 

 

Xavier is home.  And like all explorers of frontiers in this world, they always look forward to that day when they come back home.

 

 

 

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