Skip to main content

How secular really is the University of the Philippines?

If this isn't a Christian religious metaphor,
then I don't know what Christianity is!
The Anglican Use Society Philippines prays regularly in the University of the Philippines Parish of the Holy Sacrifice. The society which is composed of Catholics and Anglicans meet once a month for prayer with intentions for the country, the world at large and the university.

After the prayers, the members hardly talk much about religion but various issues that affect Philippine society.Of course this is seen through the lens of Christian experience but recently the topic on secularism has popped especially in this debate about reproductive health which the Catholic hierarchy opposes.

Our Anglican cleric, the Reverend Dr Father Joe Frary who in his first visit to the church wanted to see if the main church was full. So he asked if he can join the Catholics for Mass. And he was amazed that the whole church was filled and most of the worshipers were students. And this was not Sunday Mass but just the regular weekday Mass.

The Reverend Father immediately concluded that the secularist agenda advocated by some vocal Filipinos is doomed. He rightly concluded that in the Philippines "there is really no space for the secular" and that for harmony in a multi-religious society we have to keep secular appearances! And I concurred that this would work since Filipinos are really religious but their religiosity is tolerant. Sects that preach an "exclusive" faith are really imports and are imports from America!

One of the myths that we have to bust is that of UP being a "godless" university. At UP God is all over, what differs is how people see God. For instance there is a student organization of atheists. They are accepted even if they see God nowhere! And that is what makes UP such an interesting place to study religion! It is only at UP where you find a Marxist attending Mass on a daily basis. In fact one of the pastors at the Protestant church in campus once proposed a religious studies center as part of the university. Rev Frary thinks this is sensible since in this country, religion plays a large part. I have to admit that studying it should be not in a sectarian setting but in the setting of a secular university.

The UP's first Board of Regents had the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila, The Most Reverend Jeremias Harty sitting as a regent. But the Archbishop was not assigned in things dealing with curricula and teaching at all. He was tasked on improving the University's infrastructure and did not impose a Catholic presence on campus. A secular appearance was thus maintained. Abp Harty's appointment did not draw controversy.

The third President Dr Guy Potter Benton was a Doctor of Theology and an ordained minister. He incurred controversy not because of his religious beliefs or affiliation but due to his attempts to impose a higher standard of scholarship in the university, managing a budget cut and reforming the tenure system. The UP's problems on academic standards is still the problem hounding the university in 2011!

In the 1950s, Dr Gumersindo Garcia sat as a regent. He was a prime mover in the Protestant ministry and the Protestant church in UP has its pastoral center named in his honor. He persuaded the Regents to allow the building of a Protestant chapel on campus in 1954. In 1955, the Catholics has their Church of the Holy Sacrifice which is now a national treasure because all the architects and artists involved in its construction and appointments became National Artists.

It was in the 1950s when the most memorable clash between the secular and the religious happened. Fr John Delaney SJ who was instrumental in building the Catholic chapel, drew controversy for his involvement in student catholic action whose members  backed candidates for the student council elections. This was seen as political meddling by a cleric.

The UP is a secular university but it maintains that for appearances only. Another member of the society Ren Aguila (an Ateneo alum) credits the UP community for being honest in not denying the religiosity of the students, faculty, staff, alumni and residents of the university. So we had to tell Fr Frary that if one really wants to see a real secular university, one has to cross Katipunan Road to Ateneo! In Ateneo, the Catholic chapel rarely gets filled to the rafters by students. And Ren quipped that Ateneo has religious appearances but really is secular, the opposite of UP!

Some university rituals are almost copies of Vatican practices. In the election of the new UP President, the Board of Regents goes into closed door session (Not much different from a conclave). In the latest election, I saw a crowd at the peristyle of Greek-inspired Quezon Hall waiting for the Board secretary to proclaim the results (not unlike what the Dean of the Cardinals does). What UP lacks is a chimney that spews smoke. It could be green for "We have a  President" and maroon "We have no President!"

And the University icon. the Oblation is really a Christian metaphor of the Crucifixion. The Roman Rite of the Mass still refers to the Sacrifice of Christ as an "oblation"!

Well as long as students are in perennial danger of flunking their courses and the chances of getting into the UPCAT lessens and lessens as each year passes, the UP will never be secular.


kagbalete said…
UP is secular in that the students do not allow their beliefs to influence how they view other students who do not follow the same faith. UP is also secular in that the university does not profess any allegiance to any faith and for that matter tolerates atheism ... as for the church in UP being full, i notice that most of those attending are not students or faculty of UP but those people living around UP, mostly older people....

Popular posts from this blog

Kartilla of the Katipunan

In celebration of Andres Bonifacio Day on Nov 30, I am blogging my English translation of the Katipunan's Code of Ethics or Kartilla (Kartilya). Recruits to the revolutionary association had to learn these by heart. The code was first written by Emilio Jacinto. The Kartilya remains as relevant today as in 1896 .

My apologies for errors in translation. I know there are better translations than this one.

1) A life not spent for a holy and noble cause is like a tree without shade or a noxious weed.

2) Acts that stem from pride and selfishness do not come from a desire to help others..

3) True holiness comes from helping others, charity towards others and the measure of such is in each reasonable act or word.

4) Dark or white your skin may be, all men are equal though one may be greater in knowledge, material wealth, beauty these do not add to one’s humanity.

5) Those who are men of goodwill put honour before concern for self and those who do no good puts the self before honour.

6) For an ho…

President Manuel Luis Quezon's Code of Ethics

Being a denizen of Kyusi, in honour of the man who gave my city its name and for being the most colourful prez the Philippines ever had, I have the pleasure to post Manuel L Quezon's Code of Ethics on his birthday. Let us profit from the wisdom of the Kastila.

1. Have Faith in the Divine Providence that guides the destinies of men and nations.

2. Love your country for it is the home of your people, the seat of your affection and the source of your happiness and well-being. It's defense is your primary duty. Be ready to sacrifice and die for it if necessary.

3. Respect the Constitution which is the expression of your sovereign will. The government is your government. It has been established for your safety and welfare. Obey the laws and see that they are observed by all and that public officials comply with their duties.

4. Pay your taxes willingly and promptly. Citizenship implies not only rights but obligations.

5. Safeguard the purity of suffrage and abide by the decisions of the…

Simoun's lamp has been lit, finally.. not by one but by the many!

"So often have we been haunted by the spectre of subversion which, with some fostering, has come to be a positive and real being, whose very name steals our serenity and makes us commit the greatest blunders... If before the reality, instead of changing the fear of one is increased, and the confusion of the other is exacerbated, then they must be left in the hands of time..."
Dr Jose Rizal "To the Filipino People and their Government"
Jose Rizal dominates the Luneta, which is sacred to the Philippine nation as a place of martyrdom. And many perhaps all of those executed in the Luneta, with the exception of the three Filipino secular priests martyred in 1872, have read Rizal's El Filibusterismo. Dr Rizal's second novel is a darker and more sinister one that its prequel but has much significance across the century and more after it was published for it preaches the need for revolution with caveats,  which are when the time is right and who will instigate it.