MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III called on his fellow Ateneans on Saturday to “right the wrong” in society by leaving their comfort zone and striving to share the benefits of a good education with the needy.
Two days before his fourth State of the Nation Address to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Aquino said the fight against corruption involved everyone and asked current and former students of Ateneo de Manila University to help bring about the “positive transformation of the nation.”
“You should be a man for others, that you don’t just live for yourself but especially for others,” Mr. Aquino said.
The President was the keynote speaker at the opening program of the Ignatian Festival 2013 on his alma mater’s campus in Loyola Heights, Quezon City, with the theme “Lahing Loyola Para sa Kapwa (A Loyola Race for Others).”
“You are an Atenean not just because you see society’s ills but, more importantly, you find the solution and you stand by the principle of doing what is right and appropriate,” Mr. Aquino said, adding that Ateneans are “not choosy with people and circumstances” to associate with.
Now on its second year, the daylong school festival aims to gather alumni, friends, students, faculty and staff of the Jesuit-run university to commemorate the annual Feast of St. Ignatius de Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order.
Mr. Aquino reminded Ateneans that at the core of the teaching of the school was the resonant call of St. Ignatius to be a “man for others.”
He urged them to leave their “comfort zone” and to associate with people from all walks of life.
“Never ever fear to tread the righteous path and shun the easy but crooked way,” the President said.
The President said that finding solutions to the ills of society went beyond the four walls of the classroom, adding that discussing the country’s problems on social media was not enough.
“Problem solving can’t be done via marketing study or reflection paper, updating of Facebook statuses or [indiscriminately] posting tweets,” he said.
“It’s not enough that you only know the problem—it’s your obligation to contribute to finding the solution; it’s your duty to right the wrong. And you’ll be part of the problem if you will not act, isn’t that so? [If this is the case], you [will] fail [not only] your fellowman but [also] yourself and the institution that cared for and supported you,” he said.
Mr. Aquino was educated in Ateneo from grade school to college. He graduated with a degree in economics in 1981.
The President sought to draw attention to the life of St. Ignatius, who gave up the privileged life of a knight from a wealthy Spanish family to serve Jesus Christ.
St. Ignatius was a soldier and it was while recuperating from a wound received in battle that he had a spiritual conversion.
He studied the life of Jesus Christ and the saints, and chose the “greater and higher call” of forming an army of Christ, Mr. Aquino said.
“As Ateneans, this is one of the most important teachings of St. Ignatius: Let’s go out of our comfort zone; be with the people,” the President said.
He said he “owed a debt of gratitude” to his former teachers and mentors for molding his character.
Ateneo teaches that “I am in the position to help” improve the lives of others, he said, without adding that state universities and other schools also do the same.
Repeating the age-old dichotomy between success and public service (or servant leadership, as Ateneans like to call it), Mr. Aquino asked: “Isn’t this more sensible than the other institutions’ drive to enhance their students ability to quickly ascend the ladder of wealth and prestige?”
He cited the pivotal role played by his economics professor, Fr. Michael McPhelin, a Harvard alumnus, in enriching his knowledge of the subject.
He recalled debating with McPhelin on matters dealing with economics and statistics during the “last 15 minutes of each and every class” held three times a week.
After passing the course, he was told by McPhelin that “he just wanted me to be like my father so he pressured me… into getting used to going through a lot of tests,” Mr. Aquino said.
The President did not end his speech without cracking a joke.
He said Fr. Jose Ramon “Jett” Villarin, Ateneo president, once told him that becoming President of the land was not an easy job.
“Perhaps, you’ll go straight to heaven,” Villarin said, according to Mr. Aquino.
“My question at first was why did he say that. His answer was, ‘Because this is already your purgatory,’” Mr. Aquino said.
Turning the tables on the priest, the President said he had only two years and 11 months left in office while Villarin had to endure 18 more years as head of the Jesuit-run Ateneo.
“Although I’m about to exit purgatory, I’ll still remember you,” Mr. Aquino said, drawing chuckles from the audience.