Ateneo Guidon’s editorial on the “Life and Love” fair vs the Reproductive Health Bill

Ateneo Guidon Editorial March-April 2011

Gray Area

Last February, as a major graded requirement for Theology 131 class, some students held a “Life and Love” Fair: a week-long event where various moral issues, among them the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, were presented to the Loyola Schools community with the objective of promoting the pro-life stand of the Catholic Church.

During the same month,k students under Theology Professor Aguido Florence Jalin, Jr. from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) flooded the Akbayan Party-list Facebook fan page with “anti-RH Bill messages” in exchange for higher grades.  Professor Jalin mentioned in his comment on the Akbayan Youth WordPress site that the messages posted by his students “were not ill-formed decisions” but consistent with the contents of the July 26 Pastoral Letter of the CBCP.

The students who posted these maessages on FAcebook were naturally practicing their right to express their opinion regarding the RH Bill.  However, a more significant question must be raised–how are these opinions formed?  The manner by which universities influence their students to form their own stands should be in the context of a culture where academic discourse is encouraged.  In light of the RH Bill, this academic discourse involves the critical study of the issue, where students are driven towards forming their own stands, and not simply complying with what is told to them as right or wrong with the threat of a low grade. It is of value to remember this–that despite universities having their own opinions on relevant issues, it does not mean that students must be required to echo their sentiments on these matters as amoral automatons.

This dissonance in views can be illustrated by stands taken by various members of the Ateneo community.  Fr. Bienvenido Nebres mentioned in a memo last March 25 that the university will continue to stand in opposition of the RH Bill.  A few days prior to this, it was reported that over 200 faculty members from the ATeneo and the University of the Philippines called for teh passage of the RH Bill.  It is important to remember that this divergence of views may exist even in the microcosm that is the classroom–and that the students who participated in the “Life and Love” Fair may have simply been afraid to voice out their own personal opinions of the RH Bill in class and in public in fear of a low grade.

A critical stud of the RH Bill and other sensitive issues is best done when ideas from both sides are exchanged in debate.  The RH Bill cannot be seen in mere black and white; when this happens, people form stands either for or against the RH Bill that are not supported by the foundation of a through understanding of the issue.  In addition, it is important to strike the right balance between the simplification of the issue and the emphasis on the gray areas–both the bill’s very essence and its nitty gritty must be taken into consideration.

Being a Catholic university, the Ateneo will always be anchored to the Catholic faith it perpetuates.  However, it is also the unversity’s responsibility to form and inform consciences in order to help students make better decisions.  In the context of the RH Bill debate, the fulfillment of this responsibility entails the school’s engagement of its students in the critical study of the issue.