Message of Fr. Bienvenido F. Nebres, S.J. on the resignation of Manuel V. Pangilinan from the Ateneo de Manila University’s Board of Trustees

I received with deepest regret the letter of Mr. Manuel V. Pangilinan on Friday, April 16, confirming his “resignation from the Board of Trustees of the Ateneo with immediate effect” and, “for the sake of completeness and of good order, … relinquishing the honorary degree which the university has bestowed on (him) last 26th March.”

As his letter indicated, he did this because of his concern over the division that this matter was causing in the university, of which he has “no desire to see … happen or be an accessory.” He adds that it is his “sincerest hope that the … controversy develop closure soon.”

In the Special School Forum of the Loyola Schools on Friday, April 16, I went through a brief history of the events leading up to the Board of Trustees meeting and the framework of our decision not to accept the resignation of Mr. Pangilinan. I apologized that, because of the rush of events, we were not able to fully meet and consult with the faculty. I acknowledged that I and the board failed to appreciate fully a key issue articulated by the office of the Associate Dean for Student Affairs, namely that,

“one aspect that may have needed consideration in the BOT decision is the hurt felt by the Ateneo community as a consequence of the objective act committed. Without judging the actual appreciation of the case by the BOT, it is our view that the statement issued communicating the decision, while expressing clearly and rightfully the humane understanding of the situation of the subject involved, did not sufficiently communicate appreciation of the effect of the act on the Ateneo community. As such, it may not have been sufficient in moving the community towards a satisfactory restoration of balance, fairness and harmony.”

I also said that we have since recognized this failing and that many of us have been meeting to seek to address this issue. The school forum on Friday was a key step in addressing this and other issues. The deep concern of the faculty was on questions raised by ourselves, by students and others on how this affects our value of academic integrity. The discussion engaged the question as well as the challenge of explaining to ourselves and to students the nuances of understanding this value in different and complex situations. The faculty articulated that their statement was never about Mr. Pangilinan, and in fact reiterated their respect for his honorable act, but was more about the process of how the board arrived at their decision. The forum also expressed its deep appreciation of Mr. Pangilinan for all that he has been and done for the Ateneo and our country and for his humility and magnanimity in this whole matter.

I would like to thank all who participated in the forum and express my appreciation for the openness and respect for one another. While differences do remain, I believe that we moved forward in reaching out to one another and that we can address our issues as colleagues who care very much about the Ateneo. I also believe that it was the wish of all in the school forum that we, the Board of Trustees included, dialogue and work together in a spirit of openness to bring about closure, healing and greater caring so we can continue to effectively carry on our mission for the Ateneo and for our country. This is also the deepest desire expressed by Mr. Pangilinan in his letter of April 16.

I ended my brief remarks to the school forum by asking that, as we address our very important concerns for the impact of these events on the Ateneo, we also “keep in mind the impact on a very good and honorable person.” Many commentators speak mainly of Mr. Pangilinan’s generous donations of buildings and endowments for the Ateneo. These are indeed many and very generous. As I expressed in my interview with the press last Monday, April 12, we are deeply grateful for them. They have made a very great contribution to the excellence of our academic and leadership formation. But, as I also said in that interview, what we value most is his leadership, his friendship, and his sincere desire to drive and help us be the best that we can be. He has pushed us to achieve in leadership programs, in the debate society, in the glee club, and in sports, so that, in excelling, we may not only bring pride to the Ateneo, but also help restore confidence and pride to our beloved country.

When I asked Mr. Pangilinan if he would reconsider his relinquishing of the honorary degree, he replied that he believed this was the best way to help make the healing process of a deep wound quicker and complete. On Saturday, April 17, the symbols of the honorary degree we conferred on him were returned to my office: his toga, diploma and the eagle sculpture of Kylo Chua.

In his brief interview on “TV Patrol” last Friday night, Mr. Pangilinan said that his resignation was “masakit . . . mahal ko naman ang Ateneo.” I would like to express my profound thanks to him for the manifestation of this love that he has had, and continues to have for the Ateneo, even in the midst of the personal pain of these recent events. For me personally, this has brought feelings both of deep sadness and deep gratitude.

It is my prayer that this same love we all have for the Ateneo will contribute to closure and to bringing about greater understanding and healing in our whole community.

I leave for Mexico City tomorrow to attend a meeting of Jesuit universities with our Father General. I ask for your prayers for that meeting. Above all, I ask for your prayers for our beloved community, for Mr. Pangilinan, and for myself.